One-horned Rhinoceros | Conservation | Poaching | Chitwan National Park
Two one-horned rhinoceros were found dead in the Chitwan National Park (CNP) last week, alarming the conservationists of the great one-horned rhinos.
According to the information officer at the CNP, the victims were six and 18-year-old female rhinos, both discovered dead in two different pits, and notably, their horns missing, leading conservationists to believe them to be acts of poaching.
The incident occurred in a pit 3.5 km southeast of Chaparchuli post in the park’s eastern sector. An investigation has been initiated after the incident details surfaced on Thursday evening.
At the beginning of this year, two other rhinos were found dead — a 14-year-old female and a 4-year-old male calf — in Chitwan in January 2023 killed by electrocution. Reportedly, the horn of the female rhino was missing while the calf had yet to grow a horn — the case was also believed to be poaching since the adult rhino's horns were sawn off.
Nepal faced a rampant record of poaching in the early decade of 2000. According to the data from the DNPWC, 108 rhinos were poached between the period of 2000 and 2004 in the CNP and Bardiya National Park.
However, the recent cases of poaching come after Nepal recorded a successful streak of zero poaching years between the period of 2010 and 2020.
Nepal recorded its first zero poaching year in 2011 and then recorded a streak of zero poaching years on two occasions between 2014-2016 and 2018-2020, which is attributed to collaborative efforts among government and conservation agencies and stakeholders along with community engagement. It also involved using modern tech like Real Time SMART patrolling, drones, CCTV, SMART eye cameras, and tracking dogs for continuous park surveillance.
There is also stringent punishment for rhino poaching and trafficking of their horns in place — a fine of Rs 500,000 to one million or imprisonment for 5 to 15 years or both, as outlined in the National Parks and Wildlife Protection Act.
The population of rhinoceros also rose in the meantime reaching 752 in 2021 from 645 in 2015 — an increment of 107 rhinos (16.6%). In 2005, their population was 409.
Chitwan National Park was home to 694 of them while others were found in Bardia National Park (38), Shuklaphanta National Park (17), and Parsa National Parks and their surrounding areas (3).
Although poaching incidents decreased from 2010-2020, the recent cases of poaching, which resurfaced post-2020 is attributed to security lax due to covid lockdown.
As per DNPWC Annual Reports, four rhinos were poached in fiscal year 2020/21 and two in 2021/22. The 2022/23 annual report is yet to be released while this year  four rhinos are reported to have been poached.
The rhinos are hunted for their valuable horns, having higher demand in China and Vietnam for medicinal purposes, which makes poaching a significant threat to the existence of the vulnerable species.
However, it is not only poaching that is killing them. Apart from poaching and natural deaths, loss of their floodplain grassland habitat, invasive species and swampy areas, construction activities around national park areas, and self-fighting are other reasons behind a surge in their deaths over the years.
[This work has contributions from Dibyak Kapali]
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