Rhinos Lost as Nepal's Park Police Fight Elsewhere

By Deepak Gajurel

KATHMANDU, Nepal, December 18, 2002 (ENS) - Endangered and protected wild species face threats to their survival in Nepal's national parks as a result of continuous bloody violence by Maoist insurgents for the past seven years. Since a state of emergency was imposed on Nepal in December 2001, security forces have been reduced in national parks and protected areas, which has encouraged poachers.

As a result, 33 one horned rhinos have been found dead in the seven months from May through November. Twenty-nine of the rhinos were found dead in Royal Chitwan National Park in central Nepal, while the other four died in Royal Bardiya National Park in western Nepal, according to Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.

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One-horned rhino in Chitwan National Park (Photo courtesy Namaste Photos)
Security check posts in and around Royal Chitwan National Park have been reduced from 39 to 12 in the last few months, department officials say.

While conservation officials were compiling information on loss of the rhinos, they were informed by park personnel that two royal Bengal tigers were found dead in Chitwan Park. The big cats, a male and a female, were killed by poachers, according to officials, who found the carcasses with many of their body parts missing.

"Poachers have accelerated their activities in the parks areas since security check posts were reduced by more than two-thirds. Our vigilance capacity in the national park is narrowed," says an official at the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation.

Officials say poachers killed 25 of the 33 dead rhinos, while eight lost their lives in mutual clashes or other natural causes.

Most troubling for conservationists is the fact that eight rhinos were killed by poachers in one month's time - from mid-October to mid-November. All these animals were found dead in Royal Chitwan National Park, a World Heritage Site.

Valuable body parts like horns and hides were missing from most of the rhino carcasses, according to information provided by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.

Poachers use various methods to kill rhinos. In the past year anti-poaching units at Chitwan Park have confiscated at least 24 traps placed by the poachers. They use toe-chains and dig pits to trap rhinos, and they also poison the animals.

"Poachers killed 11 of the giant animals with gun shots. Poison and other weapons were used by the poachers to kill another 14 rhinos," the Parks and Wildlife Department said.

In the years 2000 and 2001 a total of 72 rhinos were found dead in Nepal's national parks. During 1999, 40 rhinos lost their lives, 12 of these killed by poachers.

"The present trend suggests that we are going to lose huge number of this wild species in the near future," worries zoologist Dr. Mukesh Chalise.

Poachers kill rhinos for their horns, which are used in Chinese medicine. There is also a lucrative trade in rhino hides and meat.

Poaching is a serious problem in the national parks of the Tarai, Nepal's southern plains. Poachers take anything that comes their way, from fish in the rivers to deer, wild boar and one-horned rhinos.

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Rhino in Chitwan National Park (Photo courtesy Classic Nepal)
Poaching was widespread in these forests before the national parks were first set up. After the establishment of the national park in Chitwan in 1972, officials used a network of local informants to round up poachers. Anti-poaching units that involve local people were established in 1992 in both Chitwan and Royal Bardia national parks.

Army battalions have been stationed in the national parks, but army patrols are limited only to areas within the park boundaries. Many endangered wild animals live in forests outside the national parks.

Forests outside park boundaries are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Forests. Forest guards, trained to tackle poaching, keep an eye on poachers there.

The anti-poaching units are supported by several national and international organizations. Among the first organizations to support the anti-poaching units is the International Trust for Nature Conservation which raises funds from tourists visiting the parks.

The King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation, a national nongovernmental organization, also works closely with the anti-poaching squads.

Only 1,800 one-horned rhinos presently survive in the world, according to WWF, the conservation organization. They are found only in Nepal, India and Bhutan.

Covering an area of 1,000 square kilometers, Royal Chitwan National Park, established 30 years ago in 1972, started rhino conservation with less than 80 animals. Huge investment and strict conservation strategy allowed the rhino population to increase in the following years.

Chitwan is inhabited by some 580 one-horned rhinos. A census in 1996 put the rhino population in the park at 466.

Now there is a total of some 650 one-horned rhinos in Nepal's national parks, including 62 in Royal Bardia National Park in the western Nepal, according to a rhino census in 2000.