It is good news for Nepal, in particular, and South Asia, in general, that the number of the endangered one-horned rhinoceros has increased over the last few years. A new census released Saturday has stated that the number of rhinos has risen to 99 in Chitwan, Bardiya and Shuklaphata National Parks, the traditional habitat of these marvelous beings. In Chitwan alone, the number has risen from 408 to 503, an increase by a whopping 95. Similarly, two more rhinos have been discovered in Bardiya and Shuklaphata each, thereby taking the total number in these sanctuaries to 24 and seven from 22 and five respectively. This is a remarkable achievement for a developing country like Nepal where resources required to be diverted toward wildlife preservation is scare and a region where illegal trade in animal parts is rampant.
Nepal is considered a poaching hub and an easy route for storing and smuggling of animal parts, mainly from India to China. Rhino horns are mostly traded to China where it is used in manufacturing traditional Chinese medicines as well as decorative pieces. Nepal has, however, invested a lot of energy, effort and money to fight this illegal trade and to save the rhinos. In the last two years, notorious poachers have been put behind the bars and the police, in collaboration with NGOs and INGOs, have busted huge illegal trade rackets which has helped to save the rhinos.
It is a result of a well coordinated state sponsored program to save endangered species like the rhinos and tigers – the last tiger census put the number of Royal Bengal Tigers in Nepal at 155. Nepal also has the support of the World Bank and international animal welfare organizations in its endeavor to save these spectacular animals from the threat of extinction. Last year, the country received exceptional international accolade for its national campaign and the role played by the vigilance agency, the Army and the government. Much was also achieved due to large scale use of the collar tracking device used on the rhinos.
Unfortunately, however, rhinos continue to be killed for their horns in the national parks of Nepal. The organized crime, with its network all over South Asia and beyond, continues to pose a big threat to the species. It is already a foregone conclusion that till the time the market demand stays, poaching will go on. Rhino horn is processed into pills, tablets, treatments, and tonics and sold worldwide.
Currently, fewer than 14,000 rhinos exist in the wild in the world. If illegal trade is not weeded out and rhino horn substitutes are not promoted by specialists as an acceptable alternative, it could certainly translate into the extinction for some of the few species whose ancestors can be traced back to the dinosaur age. Nepal needs to pen tripartite talks with both its giant neighbors. We already signed a memorandum of understanding with both the neighbors last year, who in turn have committed to fight this crime.
The focus now must be on implementing those commitments. The new government must work towards this end and, at the same time, engage India and China and the Tiger Range Countries to nip the problem from its bud. Cooperation among states to fight poaching can save the rhinos and their habitats.