Political instability leading to increased poaching, and a lack of adequate protection over the past five years, have drastically reduced Nepal's rhino population according to World Wildlife Fund.
Preliminary results from government census figures reveal that the population of endangered greater one-horned rhinos in Royal Chitwan National Park has dropped from 544 in 2000 to 372 today -- a 31 percent decline in five years. At least 94 rhinos were lost to poaching. Other causes of death included flooding, fighting, predation and age. Increased poaching is probably due to the reduction in the number of anti-poaching posts from 32 to eight, but a more detailed analysis is currently underway. The Maoist insurgency has led to a situation where it is no longer practical for park staff and soldiers with the Royal Nepalese army to maintain a large number of anti poaching camps.
The Census was conducted by a team of 25 trained field staff led by a scientist who swept the park on elephant back identifying and counting individual rhinos.
"Despite the best efforts of the Government, Park Staff and conservation groups, a loss of at least 94 rhinos to poaching is cause for serious concern and concerted action is needed," said Mingma Sherpa, Director of WWF's Asia/Pacific Program. "It is essential that His Majesty's Government of Nepal implement a new anti-poaching strategy to expand protection to parts of the park that have recorded a drastic loss of rhinos."
The current rhino census was conducted in Nepal's Royal Chitwan National Park, about 120 miles South of Kathmandu and the home of most of the country's rhinos. In the 1960s, there were less than 100 rhinos in Nepal. Intensive conservation action, especially anti-poaching efforts, pushed the numbers to 612 in the year 2000, with Chitwan alone having 544 rhinos.
WWF believes that despite civil unrest and the rapid decline in rhino population, it does not spell the end of the species, but in fact, highlights the need for even stronger conservation action. In 2002, 40 rhinos were poached. The Government of Nepal with support from WWF, then increased strict anti-poaching and community efforts, reducing the losses to 29 in 2003 and 10 in 2004. Without such measures, it is likely poaching would have gone totally unchecked.
"We brought Nepal's rhinos from the brink of extinction once and we will do it again with the joint effort of conservation partners from around the world," Sherpa said. "In addition to being biologically essential to Nepal's Terai grasslands, the rhinos serve as an economic lifeline to local communities by providing millions of dollars in tourism income.