Nepal's greater one-horned rhinos

The greater one-horned rhino is restricted to less than a dozen protected areas, scattered across north and north-eastern India and southern Nepal. Poaching and the loss of their grassland and wetland habitat have left just 2,575 rhinos alive today.

 

Why are greater one-horned rhinos threatened?

Poaching of greater one-horned rhinos for horns to sell on the international market as a bogus ‘miracle cure’ is an ongoing threat to this magnificent species. Their horns are very valuable on the black market, despite being much smaller than African rhino horns, and despite bans on trade by the Nepali and Indian governments and globally by CITES (the international treaty aiming to protect species by regulating trade).

The lowland grasslands, swamps and meadows favoured by rhinos also represent prime grazing for cattle and very fertile cultivable land. As a result, these habitats have become densely populated by people.

Greater one-horned rhino and calf in Chitwan National Park
Greater one-horned rhino and calf in Chitwan National Park

 

What is ZSL doing to help?

Reduced poaching

Anti-poaching patrols are key to protecting rhinos. In Nepal, these have kept poaching low since 2014 (there was one case of poaching in 2017 and two rhino horns confiscated in 2018) enabling greater one-horned rhinos to stabilise and increase. However, the small, fragmented populations are still under threat, so the species is still listed as Vulnerable to extinction.

Of 645 rhinos in Nepal, 605 are in Chitwan National Park (up from just 100 animals in the late 1960s); the second-largest population of one-horned rhino in the world. ZSL has worked there since 1997, and supported anti-poaching patrols since 2013, in partnership with local communities, the National Trust for Nature Conservation and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.

The increase in Chitwan’s rhinos even enabled some to be translocated to build up new populations in Bardia and Suklaphanta National Parks. In Bardia National Park we support anti-poaching patrols to protect these rhinos the Babai Valley, and ran an amnesty in the buffer zone for locals to hand in illegal muskets.

 

Community livelihoods and healthy grassland

As well as protection from poaching, rhino conservation needs healthy grassland. ZSL worked with communities around Chitwan and Bardia National Parks to support livelihoods and address the competition for grazing between livestock and wildlife. These lowland communities rely on selling milk and dairy products, which in turn depends on grassland for grazing. However, overgrazing damages habitats and increases the risk of disease transmission to wild animals, while a lack of veterinary care exacerbates low livestock productivity and poverty.

Grassland in Bardia National Park Nepal
Grassland in Bardia National Park

We supported farmers to raise productive breeds of cattle, provided access to veterinary services, and encouraged better grazing practices. The healthy grassland is helping Chitwan’s rhino population to grow, such that translocated rhinos could begin to repopulate Suklaphanta National Park.

Suklaphanta National Park is home to globally important species, including Bengal tiger, Asian elephant, Bengal florican, Hodgson’s bushchat and the world’s largest herd of swamp deer, as well as the reintroduced greater one-horned rhinos. Also, around 22,000 households live in the Park buffer zone, and in 2015, 18,000 cattle grazed within the Park’s core and buffer zone every day.

Since 2015, ZSL has brought our livelihood support model to Suklaphanta. We set up two women-led cooperatives, which enable poor families to obtain more productive breeds of livestock, and provide financial support through soft loans (this approach means cooperatives can help more members in future). The project also provided two veterinary clinics for local farmers, supported the park’s biodiversity monitoring and – critically – linked all this to better grassland management based on regulated grazing. 

As a result, over 60km2 of grassland is under improved management by communities and the Suklaphanta National Park Authority; there have been no wildlife disease outbreaks since the veterinary clinics were established; and illegal grazing is down 30%. This benefits all the biodiversity within the park’s borders, including its small population of reintroduced rhinos.

 

Greater one-horned rhinos, Chitwan National Park, Nepal. Image (c) ZSL/NTNC/DNPWC
Greater one-horned rhinos in Nepal

 

Project information

Key species 

  • Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris), endangered  
  • Greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), vulnerable 
  • Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), endangered 
  • Bengal florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis), critically endangered 
  • Hodgson’s bushchat (Saxicola insignis), vulnerable 
  • Swamp deer (Rucervus duvaucelii), vulnerable 

People involved

  • Dr Hem Sagar Baral, Project Leader and Nepal Country Manager
  • Dr Bhagawan Raj Dahal, Trans-boundary Tiger project Manager
  • Tek Raj Bhatt, Programme Officer

Partners and sponsors 

  • The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation
  • The National Trust for Nature Conservation
  • Himalayan Nature
  • Community groups under the national parks' Buffer Zone User Committees
  • The UK Trust for Nature Conservation in Nepal funded anti-poaching and livelihoods work in Chitwan and Bardia National Parks
  • The UK Darwin Initiative funded the livelihoods work in Suklaphanta National Park

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