Rhino population soars in Nepal thanks to collaboration, conservation and community
The rhino census in Nepal in 2021, carried out for the first time in six years, estimated the figure at 752 individuals – an increase of 107, with 694 rhinos in Chitwan National Park, 38 in Bardia National Park, 17 in Shuklaphanta National Park and three in Parsa National Park.
Just a few decades ago, the country’s rhino population had been dramatically reduced due to poaching and habitat degradation. However, the Nepalese government’s anti-poaching and conservation initiatives have helped to increase the numbers over the past six years.
Babu Ram Lamichhane, a conservation biologist from Nepal, announced the good news of the 2021 census on Twitter:
The rhino population in Nepal has increased by 107, the national population is now 752. Major increase in Chitwan (89). The population of Chitwan is now 694. pic.twitter.com/mn4jnfzOHa
– Babu Ram Lamichhane (@ 1baburam) April 10, 2021
Translation: National Rhino Count 2021, Press Meet and Closing Program, April 10, 2021. Chitwan National Park, Sauraha, Chitwan
The latest rhino count in 2015 found that there were 645 animals in the country, including 605 in Chitwan, 29 in Bardia, eight in Shuklaphanta and three in Parsa. About 161 rhinos have been killed since the last census, including six poached.
The largest one-horned rhino population fell to just 100 individuals in Nepal in the 1960s thanks to indiscriminate poaching and habitat destruction, but with the establishment of Chitwan National Park in 1973 and the efforts of the In strict law enforcement, the population recovered, reaching a total of 612 by the year 2000.
The nationwide tally that began on March 22, 2021 involved around 300 people – and 60 elephants. The rhinos were counted by trained observers who recorded information about the individual rhinos, including sex, approximate age, individual characteristics such as the size and shape of the horn, the folds present on the neck and rump, as well as body marks, including cuts, scars, and skin lobes. The tedious count had to be stopped twice, after a wild elephant attacked the team in Chitwan and a tiger killed an elephant driver in Bardia.
Rhinos – giants of 2 to 2.5 metric tons, after elephants in size – once roamed the entire northern subcontinent of India, ranging from the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra river basins, from Pakistan to west to Indo-Burmese. border to the east, including parts of Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan. However, rhino horn hunting and habitat degradation subsequently restricted them to the plains of southern Nepal and northeast India.
Poaching fueled by a thriving black market
Rhinos have been poached throughout history, and to this day, for their most precious possession – their horns. They are primarily made up of keratin, a protein that is also found in hair, scales, nails, claws, and hooves and has long had healing properties in many Asian cultures.
The horns are used in traditional medicines across the continent, in Malaysia, Korea, India, Vietnam and China – the latter two being the most lucrative of these black markets. Pieces of horn, or powders made from their grinding, are used to treat ailments from gout fever, high blood pressure headaches, snakebites, food poisoning, and possession by evil spirits. Meanwhile, carved rhino horn cups – once believed to be able to detect poison – and figurines are purchased for display, and rhino horn jewelry is in high demand.
While Western media have touted its use as an aphrodisiac in Asian cultures, Scientific American reports that this has always been minimal and that in fact the use that occurs could even be motivated by incorrect Western reports suggesting it is widespread. However, rhino horn is increasingly popular for recreational use – in Vietnam it is consumed as “a party drug, health supplement, and hangover cure by the newly wealthy elites,” as the Guardian reports.
And it’s not just the horn that’s appreciated. According to Hemanta Mishra and Jim Ottaway Jr in their acclaimed book The Soul of the Rhino, all rhino body parts are swapped out – from the tip of the tongue to the tip of the tail:
â¦ Many Indians and Chinese still believe that a ten gram dose of powdered rhino horn mixed with cinnabar is an instant cure for any type of fever. Dried rhino tongue, powdered and mixed with milk, is believed to cure children with speech difficulties. Rhino meat is believed to increase virility. Rhinoceros urine is taken to cure asthma. Even rhino dung is considered the best fertilizer for growing hot peppers. A rhino tail placed under the pillow of a [expectant] the mother is supposed to relieve the pain of labor. Powdered rhino penis is ingested as a remedy for impotence.
The rapid spread of the tropical plant mile-a-minute or Mikania micrantha with other invasive species such as Chromoloeana odorata, Parthenium hysterophorus, Lantana camara and water hyacinths, the drying up of wetlands and water points, and the succession of vegetation have all contributed to the degradation of natural rhino habitats in Nepal. In addition, the encroachment of forest plots in buffer zones and forest corridors, as well as the conversion of the forest into fields for settlement and agriculture, has further fragmented them.
Wildlife researcher Sujita Dhakal is concerned about this habitat degradation:
This is the time to rejoice because the number of #rhinos in Nepal rose to 752 after the census. However, the current habitat degradation bothers me and wonders if it will be able to keep the viable population healthy in the years to come. #Preservationhttps://t.co/yf1XxatabU
– Sujita Dhakal (@ForesterSujita) April 11, 2021
However, despite threats to their existence, rhinos are now thriving in Nepal. Government agencies, communities, conservation organizations and security agencies have worked together to revive the population of around 100 individuals. Initiatives including community-based anti-poaching units and army patrols – using an Android-based real-time SMART patrol system with CCTV cameras in protected areas – have played a big role in the preservation of these pachyderms.
The Great One-horned Rhino Conservation Action Plan for Nepal (2017-2021) prioritized forest restoration in priority watersheds and buffer zones, grassland management and construction and the maintenance of water points. Nepal has also established effective cross-border cooperation with India and China to protect wildlife, including rhinos, and curb illegal wildlife trade.
Local populations also play their role, awareness being an important factor in ensuring this protection. Those who live near protected areas have understood that conserving forests and wildlife can actually improve their economic prospects, by attracting tourists. Initiatives to keep these travelers (and their money) in local areas and out of large hotels, such as homestay programs around Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park – in which tourists to the seeking authentic experiences staying with local families – generated monetary returns to communities, as reported by Mongabay.
As Mishra writes in The Soul Of The Rhino: âLocal people recognize that Nepal’s national parks and wildlife areas help maintain clean air, protect river valleys and watersheds, and save water. clean – all the vital forces of mankind. “