Nepal’s rhinos are on the increase, according to recently released data from a three-week National Rhino Census in Nepal by WWF. There are now 534 rhinos in Nepal, marking an increase of 99 rhinos from the 435 recorded in the last census in 2008.
Conservationists recently spent 3 weeks riding elephants to count rhinos in the forests of Chitwan in southern Nepal and Bardia in the southwest. The surveys were a combined effort by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation of the Government of Nepal, WWF Nepal and the National Trust for Nature Conservation.
Of the total 534 counted rhinos, 503 rhinos were recorded in Chitwan National Park, 24 in Bardia National Park and 7 in Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve.
Poached for traditional medicines
The Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), or greater one-horned rhinoceros, was once widespread throughout the northern floodplains and nearby foothills of the Indian sub-continent, between the Indo-Myanmar border in the east and the Sindh River basin, Pakistan, in the west.
Threatened by habitat loss and the illegal trade in rhino horn, which is used in traditional Asian medicine to treat a variety of ailments, today the remaining 3,000 Indian rhinos are found only in a few protected areas in north-eastern India and lowland Nepal. Although international trade in rhino horn is banned under CITES, the demand for rhino horn remains high.
The rhino population in Nepal suffered particularly severely during the decade of fighting between government troops and Maoists rebels. During the conflict, soldiers were pulled out of conservation duty to fight the insurgents, leaving the forests unguarded and allowing poachers to hunt the rhinos with little resistance.
Since the end of the fighting in 2006, soldiers have been redeployed to keep poachers out of protected areas, and the government has introduced programs with villagers living near the forests to preserve these vital ecosystems.
Success for conservation
The recent increase in Nepal’s rhino population reflects the success of conservation efforts for this species, which includes increased rhino protection measures and the improved management of rhino habitat.
“This is a fine example of working together where all conservation partners and local communities are contributing to the conservation efforts of the Government of Nepal”, said Krishna Prasad Acharya, Director General of Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.
“Support received from WWF Nepal is appreciated and we are hopeful that this support will continue in the coming years with more vigor”, Mr Acharya added.
Yet, even though the current census shows a rise in rhino numbers in Nepal, conservationists are warning against complacency. Nepal has already lost one rhino to the illegal rhino horn trade in 2011, meaning continued conservation efforts to improve rhino protection and habitat will be required to ensure the preservation of this iconic animal.
Find out more about the Indian rhinoceros on ARKive.
Read the full story at WWF – ‘Nepal rhino census shows increase’
Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author