Nineteen Endangered Rhinos Killed in Nepal This Year

By Deepak Gajurel

KATHMANDU, Nepal, May 22, 2001 (ENS) - While on patrol in the jungle a few months ago, armed soldiers of the anti-poaching unit at Royal Chitwan National Park spotted a dead rhinoceros. The horn of the dead animal was missing, but other body parts were intact.

While Park officials were investigating for clues to the death of the rhino, local people reported another rhino found dead in the park. Then park officials were flooded with information on the deaths of one after another of this endangered species.

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One-horned rhino in Royal Chitwan National Park (Photo courtesy Nepal Tourism Board)
In total, 19 one-horned rhinos were found dead in Nepal's protected areas during last 12 months, according to officicals from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conversation, the government body responsible for the protection and management of the national parks and wildlife reserves.

Only 1,800 one-horned rhinos presently survive in the world according to the World Wide Fund for Nature. They are found only in Nepal, India and Bhutan.

Department officials say that six out of the 19 rhinos that died in Nepal last year were killed by poachers, while others died of natural causes. "Poachers killed four giant animals with gun shot. Poison and other weapons were used by the poachers to kill other two rhinos," the Department says.

Five rhinos died of mutual fighting while seven died of old age. One of the reported deaths was due to entrapment in a swamp, according to officials.

Many poachers use traps to kill the rhinos. Last year anti-poaching units confiscated at least 24 traps placed by the poachers. They use toe-chains and dig pits to trap the rhinos, and they also poison the animals.

Alhough 19 rhinos died in Nepal in a single year, officials do not appear worried about the loss. "Going by the number of rhino deaths the previous year, the situation has improved this year," a park official says.

During 1999, 40 rhinos lost their lives. Among these, 12 were killed by poachers. "Thanks to our patrolling anti-poaching units at the national parks, we lowered the killings by poachers. It is a sign of improvement," says the department's Director General Dr. Tirtha Man Maskey. "We are doing out best to more tighten the security at the parks," he says.

Poachers kill rhinos for their horns, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Rhinos hide and meat also support a lucrative black market trade.

Poaching is rampant in the national parks on Nepal's southern plains, known as the Terai. Poachers take anything that comes their way from fish in the rivers to deer and wild boar and even one-horned rhinos.

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. Official figure suggests that poaching toll was 13 in 1992 alone. Anti-poaching unit was established in 1992 in both Chitwan and Royal Bardia national parks that involve local people.

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Rhinos at home in Royal Chitwan National Park in the foothills of the Himalayas (Photo courtesy Sunrise Trekking)
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 where they are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Forests. Forest guards, trained to tackle poachers, keep an eye out for them at all times.

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 NGO, also works closely with the anti-poaching squads.

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Royal Chitwan National Park in the Terai is home to over 550 one-horned rhinos. There are as many as 650 one-horned rhinos in Nepal's national parks including 62 rhinos in Royal Bardia National Park in the western Nepal, according to a rhino census in 2000.

Covering an area of 1,000 square kilometers, Royal Chitwan National Park, established in 1972, started rhino conservation with less than 80 animals. Huge investments of time and money and a strict conservation strategy have allowed the rhino population to increase.

Besides providing a suitable habitat for rhino, Royal Chitwan National Park is one of the world's 50 best natural sites according to the World Wildlife Fund. The park is home to dozens of mammal species including the endangered Royal Bengal tiger, hundreds of birds and dozens of aquatic species.