By Deepak Gajurel
Environmental News Service
KATHMANDU, Nepal, April 8, 2002 (ENS) - Conservationists here are
shocked to learn that 39 endangered one-horned rhinoceros have been
found dead during past 12 months in Royal Chitwan National Park.
The majority were killed by poachers, new information released by
the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC)
According to DNPWC officials, 25 of the rhinos were killed by poachers,
while nine died of natural causes. Two others were electrocuted
and three were poisoned.
Of the dead, 15 rhinos were male and 13 were female, while the
gender of 11 of the dead animals could not be identified, an official
said. The missing horns and other body parts of most of the dead
rhinos suggests that poachers are active in the national park.
Since the bodies of the rhinos electrocuted and poisoned were found
intact, officials suspect those five rhinos were killed by the angry
villagers living in the park's buffer zone because rhinos frequently
destroy their corps.
Between 10 to 15 rhinos die natural deaths every year. "Dozens
of rhino deaths annually is something to be worried about,"
says Tribhuwan University zoologist Narendra Khadka. "Effective
measures have immediately to be taken to stop poaching," he
One-horned rhinos are critically endangered around the world. Slightly
more than 1,800 one-horned rhinos presently survive in the wild
according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Nepali conservationists are worried about the growing number of
rhino deaths here in recent years. A total of 42 rhinos died during
1999, while 23 rhinos were lost during the period 1997 to 1998,
DNPWC records show.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Royal Chitwan National
Park in the Terai, the southern plains of the Kingdom of Nepal,
is home to 529 one-horned rhinos, according to a rhino census in
1999. Their numbers are up from a census conducted in 1994 which
put the rhino population in the park at 466.
According to information made available by the DNPWC, there are
63 rhinos in Royal Bardia National Park in the western Nepal, and
four in Royal Shukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve in the far western
part of the country.
Covering an area of 1,000 square kilometers, Royal Chitwan National
Park was established in 1973, with fewer than 80 rhinos. A government
policy of substantial financial investment and strict conservation
strategy has resulted in the increased rhino population.
Many experts say that rising rhino population can not be sustained
in the limited area of Chitwan National Park, and the rhino habitat
there is shrinking.
Though the Nepali government has conducted a rhino census twice
in last eight years, no scientific study has been carried out on
the sustainability of rhinos in terms of territory and the number
of animals in Chitwan. But the increasing occurrences of rhinos
straying outside the park and the abundant number of them everywhere
in the park suggests overcrowding.
To keep the park from getting overcrowded with rhinos, officials
have translocated 63 rhinos to Royal Bardia National park in the
western Terai in the past few years.
The parks department is translocating more animals to Bardia National
Park this year. "We will stop adding rhinos in Bardia once
the number of rhinos there reaches 100, a DNPWC official said.