Return of the rhino, Nepal winning war against poachers
Monday 23 November 2009
Nepal’s greater one-horned rhino population is on the road to recovery, following almost a decade of steep decline caused by poaching.
Conservationists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have joined forces with local communities to form a team of rhino bodyguards on elephant-back to protect the species’ last remaining strongholds in Bardia and Chitwan National Parks.
The new patrol guards, who are trained to recognise individual rhinos and adhere to strict scientific monitoring, are proving to be highly effective as not a single rhino from the Bardia population has been poached since the patrols began 18 months ago.
Bardia was initially sought as a safe-haven for a new population of rhinos translocated from Chitwan National Park, in central Nepal. However, heavy poaching quickly turned the park into a killing field and the rhino population plummeted to just 22 individuals.
Rogue members of the Nepalese army stationed to protect the rhino were eventually exposed as being responsible for killing the animals. This betrayal prompted a new collaborative approach between the army, conservationists and local people to secure the future of the greater one-horned rhino in Nepal’s grasslands.
Dr Richard Kock, ZSL conservationist says: “When we first arrived in Nepal, the barbed wire and machine gun mounts were still evident, and the losses of rhino from the last refuges in the Terai were horrific.”
He adds: “We have seen a steady change in the country; the slow and painful peace process is helping and our Darwin Initiative project has catalysed increasing commitment from Nepalis, restoring pride in their National Parks and recovering their dwindling wildlife. It has been a privilege to bring British skills and money to support this process.”
Invasive species, deforestation and settlement encroachment are some of the other threats facing Nepal’s greater one-horned rhinos. ZSL continues to work with the local communities and its other conservation partners in Nepal to address these problems and patrols are now being implemented in Chitwan, where encouraging results are already being seen.