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Dudhwa rhino rehabilitation in limbo over sedation drug (the hindu )

The drug, banned in India, is needed to immobilise the animals to shift them from their present enclosure to a new protected area

The plan to replicate one of the country’s most successful rhino rehabilitation programme at the Dudhwa National Park in Uttar Pradesh is stuck for want of a sedating drug that is banned in India.

The state’s forest department has now sought to obtain no-objection certificate (NOC) from the Central government to acquire — Etorphine (M99) and its antidote — a drug banned in India and produced in some African countries, the officials said.

“The drug is used to immobilise large animals like the rhino. It is required to shift some of them from their present enclosed area to the new one, and to do tests,” Dudhwa National Park Director Sunil Choudhary said.

The plan is to rehabilitate three rhinos in an enclosed area of 14 in the Belraya Range of the forest, some 15 km from the present 24 sq km Sonaripur Range’s enclosure where 34 rhinos thrive.

Abode to a highly diverse ecosystem at the heart of Terai region bordering Nepal, Dudhwa has several endangered animals, including tigers, elephants, Indian rhino, leopard, barasingha (swamp deer), sloth bear and others.

Considered as an example of one of the most successful rehabilitation programmes in India, rhinos were re-introduced in Dudhwa in 1985 after the region was stripped off its last free-ranging rhino by a hunting party in 1878.

“The rehabilitation case of Dudhwa is one of the most successful in India. There is a need to replicate it. We have everything at place, the electric fencing is complete and the new area is ready,” Dudhwa Deputy Director Mahaveer Koujalaji said.

Pointing to a months-old rhino calf playing with its mother, Mr. Koujalaji says that Dudhwa has a great scope for them in near future. However, the second phase of the rhino rehabilitation in Dudhwa has been delayed for over 25 years.

The Indian Wildlife Board in 1991 strongly underlined the urgency of creating another viable rhino breeding area here and identified a site. The department, however, needs to speed up the process and complete the logistics demanded of the programme to make up for the lost time.

For this, it needs to sedate and immobilise rhinos so they could be transferred to a new place.

Unfortunately, the drug used for sedating and its antidote are banned in India and need to be procured and imported from African countries, which have a substantial numbers of rhinos and where trans-location is often practised.

Rhinos as a routine are not tranquillised since they cannot be left in that state for longer than 60 minutes. Sedating is practised to immobilise them so that, during handling, they do not become aggressive and attack the people around. “The NOC is sought from at least four different ministries, including agriculture and environment ministries, and the Narcotics Department. It would take next two to three months to obtain the drug,” Mr. Choudhary said.

To avoid in-breeding, which drops the immunity levels of the next generation, a male free-ranging rhino that came wandering from Nepal and was captured, will be used. Two females will also be shifted.

“The other option is to use one of the Dudhwa’s male rhinos named Sehdev and Raghu. We also have option to bring females from Assam, West Bengal or Nepal in future if required,” Mr. Choudhary said.

He added that the rhinos will be going through some tests and their behaviour around the new area will be observed. “We had roped in experts from the WWF and Kaziranga National Park. We hope to get results in a year or two,” Mr. Choudhary said.

Referring to another ‘lost’ free-ranging rhino from Nepal, which is wandering around the periphery of Lakhimpur-Kheri district, he said, “We will try tranquillise and run some tests on that rhino as a mock drill. If required, we will rehabilitate it in the new enclosure.”

A natural habitat for rhinos, with a mixture of dense Sal forests, grasslands and ponds, Dudhwa’s first batch of six rhinos was brought from Assam in 1984. — IANS


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