A Rhino Resurgence In Nepal

Steven Katsineris welcomes the resurgence of the rhino in Nepal. Steven Katsineris is a Melbourne based contributor to TPQ.

“At a time when the world is facing difficulties to protect and conserve wildlife, including rhinos, Nepal has seen an extraordinary improvement in wildlife conservation,” said Diwakar Chapagain, an official at World Wildlife Fund.

A rise in the number of endangered Greater One-horned (or Indian) Rhinos has brought some cheer to earthquake-hit Nepal. According to a recent census of rhinos held in April the country’s population of endangered Greater One-horned Rhinos now stands at 645. This is up from 534 rhinos since the last census in 2011, an increase of 21 percent.

The nationwide month-long rhino count is conducted every four years in Chitwan National Park, in the southwest of Nepal where most rhinos are found, in Parsa Wildlife Reserve and other national parks, wildlife reserves and rhino habitat forests. Chitwan National Park alone has recorded 503 rhinos.

Nepal’s encouraging example is a huge achievement, considering the dire decrease of rhinos worldwide. Today, just 29,000 rhinos exist across the Asian and African wilderness, down from over 500,000 at the beginning of the 20th century. Rhinos are mainly threatened by habitat loss and poaching. The increase in Greater One-horned Rhino numbers in Nepal reflects the success of conservation efforts for the species and is a result of improved rhino protection measures and habitat management.

Nepal has also attained another year without any poaching of rhinos for the third time in five years. The country has seen a steady increase in the number of Greater One-horned Rhinos over the past 10 years, thanks to anti-poaching measures and made the country an example of how poachers can be defeated. Nepal has celebrated zero-poaching years in 2011 and 2013 when not a single rhino was killed by poachers. This successful feat in rhino conservation in Nepal has been hailed around the world.

In 2002, 37 rhinos were killed by poachers, leading many experts to express deep concern over the future of the Greater One-horned Rhino in the country. By 2005 the population of rhinos stood at only 375. By 2008 there were 435 rhinos. Since then, numbers of Greater One-horned Rhinos have continued to grow considerably.

Key factors behind the increase in the number of rhinos have been tougher penalties for poaching, a streamlined judicial system dealing with the offence and the use of the military patrols in the parks. Wildlife across Nepal suffered greatly during the 10-year civil war, which ended in 2006. The Nepal Army plays a key role in anti-poaching with one battalion of army soldiers deployed in Chitwan National Park. The police have also been successful in breaking up poaching networks and arresting poachers.

WWF along with other conservation groups and the government of Nepal have also worked together directly with the local people to gain support for the protection of rhinos. Close links with local communities have now been built up, with systems set up to ensure they receive around a third of the revenues derived from tourism for development projects.

The biggest threat to rhinos remains the demand for rhino horn. Poaching of Greater One-horned Rhinos for their horns continue to be a major problem. The horn is used in traditional Asian medicines for the treatment of a variety of ailments including cancer, fevers and strokes. There is no evidence rhino horn helps cure any of these health issues. Although international trade in rhino horn is banned under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora) and although some traditional medical practitioners are using alternatives to rhino horn, the demand for horn remains high. The Greater One-horned Rhino has a large horn that can weigh up to 2, 500 kgs. The rhino uses the horn for digging out roots. he month-long census kicked off with the help of WWF Nepal, a total of 34 elephants, 40 technical staffers and a whole heap of clipboards. Habitat loss is a concern too, as human developments encroach on forests and they are fragmented or destroyed.

The World Wildlife Foundation has about 100 people working on conservation efforts across Nepal. According to a WWF spokesperson, “Amid the heart-breaking human tragedy of this earthquake, my colleagues in Nepal have done their best to continue their work and have recently shared a bit of welcome conservation news – that rhino populations in the country are increasing. They will have much work to do over the following months – rebuilding their homes and communities. But this achievement gives me great hope for the recovery that will come.”

The latest positive result of the rhino census shows that the rhino population is on the rebound in Nepal, due to effective conservation efforts. But the Greater One-horned Rhino still remains one of the most endangered animals in the world. So it is essential to continue to support efforts to save these rhinos and their vital habitat. Considering the terrible decline of so many of our precious animal species, this is definitely a successful conservation story. It is very encouraging to hear such good wildlife news. Well done Nepal. 

PS. The world community can best support the Nepalese to reconstruct their lives and nation by to donating to reliable charities or visiting the country. Sustainable nature tourism contributes much to uplifting the standard of living of the people and the preservation of rhinos, elephants, tigers and other wildlife in Nepal. 

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