The rhino population in Nepal has increased from 645 during 2015 to 752 at present, as seen in the latest consensus results. Nepal is one of the few countries all over the world that is the home to the one-horned rhino. The one-horned rhino population was inching closer to extinction during the previous century. However, the recent revival of this animal in Nepal as well as India is considered as one the biggest success for conservation across Asia.
Haribhadra Acharya, a senior official of the National Parks & Wildlife Conservation Department, expressed their delight with the positive conservation efforts of firstly, tigers, and now rhinos. According to the survey findings, the rhino population status improved to vulnerable from endangered.
Over 90% of the entire rhino population resides in the National Park of Chitwan. This park is also the home to tigers, leopards, elephants, and fish-eating crocodiles named Gangetic gharials.
Nepali officials think that the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly helped the animals as they were able to roam freely in their habitats without tourist interference. Meanwhile, poachers took advantage of the situation and killed 4 rhinos last year.
Positive Rhino Population Census
The census of rhinos was postponed from 2020 because of this pandemic. Almost 35 experts along with the officials from the forest department traveled deep inside forest land for almost 3 weeks. Based on their visual headcount, they tallied an increased rhino population. Their estimates are in accordance with unique identifying characteristics including size, horn, skin folds, sex, and ear shape.
The census faced various difficulties mainly due to limited roads. Moreover, Chitwan Park covers vast land of 950km² that was traversed by officials on domesticated elephants. Many officials suffered severe injuries because of an animal attack, chased by wild elephants, or panic. One of the elephant trainers was also killed by a tiger while gathering fodder near Bardiya sanctuary that is a small habitat of 400km.
Despite hardships, the census was completed and showed positive results. Nonetheless, experts emphasized that the situation is still vulnerable because the growth percentage of the rhino population has decreased, from a biological perspective. The rhino population saw a 5% annual growth from 2011 to 2015 while the recent survey revealed a decline to 3%.
This increase in deaths is mainly owing to natural reasons like flooding, old age, diseases, and territorial fights. Approximately 160 rhinos died from 2015 onwards and most of them drowned in the recent flooding.
Major Factors For Declining Rhino Population
Earlier Nepal sheltered thousands of rhinos. However, the mass settlement and political unrest around Chitwan Park from the 1950s onwards led to a rapid decline in the rhino population. Deforestation, encroachment, and poaching further reduced the numbers. The number fell to an alarming level after a decade when there were a mere 100 rhinos left.
Gradually the numbers started to increase with the help of stringent anti-poaching measures along with forestland protection. Nonetheless, the ten-year civil war in Nepal till 2006 led to devastating effects on the wildlife. This unrest was capitalized by poachers who killed countless rhinos for the horns.
Ananath Baral, Chitwan head conservation officer, informed the lack of manpower to protect the forest resources from poachers with advanced weapons. After the war ended, the government intervened and deployed hundreds of soldiers to safeguard the local communities and parks. Police drives also disrupted the poaching network engaged in illegal activities.
The country is getting valuable income from the rise in rhino population as well as improving tourism. The authorities invested 40% of revenue for developmental projects around the park. The wildlife department plans to create a favorable population in neighboring parks. Chitwan Park has already moved over 80 rhinos to Bardiya sanctuary during the 1980s but had to stop due to falling numbers.
The recent census showed Bardiya with 38 rhinos, Parsa Park with 3, and Shuklaphanta with 17. Although the lack of space poses a problem. However, the increase in rhino population in a poor nation like Nepal is commendable.