Washington - Results released today by World Wildlife Fund of the first assessment done in two years in one of Nepal's premier national parks reveal an alarming decline in tiger and rhino populations, indicating widespread poaching. The area only became accessible for visits since the ceasefire between the Maoist insurgents and government troops a month ago.
Since 1986, 70 rhinos were translocated to Bardia National Park, but only three were found last week in the Babai Valley. Thirteen tigers were reported in the area between 1998-2001 but the WWF team found evidence of just three. This significant decline is due to poachers who took advantage of the absence of antipoaching patrols in this critical rhino and tiger habitat, which was under the control of Maoist insurgents.
"It became too dangerous to send staff to that area in 2004 when Maoist insurgents detained and assaulted four members of a rhino monitoring team. The recent ceasefire between the government of Nepal and the Maoists allowed us to enter the area and conduct a study of the wildlife for first time in two years," said Mingma Sherpa, director of the Eastern Himalayas Program at WWF. "The results are discouraging, but WWF will take advantage of a new climate of peace to revisit and revamp strategies for antipoaching operations, forge new partnerships, and translate commitments into action."
The May 2006 assessment, done by a 40-member team on elephant back that included Bardia National Park staff, IUCN (the World Conservation Union) and WWF, also apprehended two poachers armed with locally made muzzle guns. Four weapons and a large cache of ammunition were seized along with more than 660 pounds of smoked Sambar, spotted deer, barking deer, and four-horned antelope -- all important prey species of tiger and other carnivores. Virtually all the guard posts inside the Babai valley were found to be destroyed by the Maoists.
Based on these recent developments, WWF immediately conducted emergency meetings with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation and the Nepal Army, who committed to conducting regular anti-poaching patrols in Bardia National Park before the monsoon rains begin. One new antipoaching post will be established inside of Bardia as soon as possible, while arrangements are being made to create new antipoaching posts around the entire Babai Valley.
"This is clearly a very disturbing situation, and one that needs urgent action. But with the strong commitments already made by the Nepal government and given the new political climate of peace we are confident we can turn this situation around like in the remaining protected areas in Nepal, where tigers and rhinos are still doing well," said Sybille Klenzendorf, acting director of WWF's Species Conservation Program.