Amidst the Trauma of the Great Earthquake Nepalis Celebrate Unprecedented Conservation Successes

Nepal's Chitwan National Park is home to the second largest population of one-horned rhinoceros. Image by Sanjib Chaudhury

Nepal's Chitwan National Park is home to the second largest population of greater one horned Rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis), an endangered species. Image by Sanjib Chaudhary

Amidst the gloom and tragedy caused by the April 25 earthquake that killed 8,000 people and caused damage affecting millions of people, conservationists in Nepal have a reason to celebrate. This year’s rhino census has highlighted incredible strides in rhino conservation with the number of one horned rhinoceroses in Nepal reaching 645: a 21% rise from the last count four years ago.

The conservation organisation WWF UK tweeted:

With three consecutive years of zero poaching, rhino numbers have increased to 605 in Chitwan National Park, 29 in Bardia National Park, 8 in Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve and 3 in Parsa Wildlife Reserve.

Rhino Horns and Rhino Census

The greater one-horned rhinoceros, also called Indian rhinoceros, weighs up to 2.2 tonnes and is poached for its prized horn. Believed to contain aphrodisiac and healing properties, the horn is in high demand in Asian markets. Besides this, the horn is also used to make the handles on daggers in the Middle East.

Ancient Persians believed that rhino horn cups had the ability to detect poison in liquids — also a popular belief in the royal courts in Europe. Likewise, the Vietnamese believe that the horn's powder has cancer-curing properties, while young people use it as a cocaine-like party drug.

In spite of the high demand and constant threat from poachers, Nepal’s conservation efforts have revived a rhino population that had dwindled down to 100 in 1966.

The rhino census, conducted by the government’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation and Department of Forests in collaboration with conservation organisations, is essential to inform conservation policy.

The count is a tedious task conducted using a sweep operation involving trained observers and Nepal Army representatives riding on elephants. Observers systematically comb through the rhino habitats and record individual rhino information including the sex, approximate age and individual markings together with GPS* locations on data-sheets accounting for the unique and special characteristics of each rhino: horn size and shape, folds present on the neck and rump, and body markings.

Other Reasons to Celebrate Conservation Success

A wild yak, spotted by researchers in Limi of Humla district in Far-Western Nepal, gave conservationists another reason to smile. Thought to be virtually extinct bar a small presence in remote regions of China and India the animal was sighted for the first time in almost 50 years in the country.

Kashish Das Shrestha, a sustainable development policy advisor, tweeted:

The species once found in abundance throughout the Tibetan Plateau, had been viewed as having disappeared from Nepal and Bhutan according to recent studies. These animals, larger in size than their domesticated counterparts, weigh between 500-550 Kgs.

In addition to this find, ornithologists found two new species of birds during nest counting in Nepal's Chitwan National Park and surrounding areas last month. While one of the new species belongs to the Robin family, another one is a very rare species: the Kashmir flycatcher (Kashmir Arjunak). Chitwan National Park is home to 24 out of the planet's 36 endangered bird species.

Thus, while the country is healing from the trauma and pain of the great earthquake, these conservation successes represent bright lights in the fog of its aftermath. Such gains in the face of adversity, it seems, can offer a powerful inspiration for Nepalis looking to rebuild and recover.

*Global Positioning System

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