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SOS Rhino : In the News : Nepal rhinos dwindling because of poaching

Nepal rhinos dwindling because of poaching

  April 19, 2005 1:35 PM

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - The population of the endangered great Asian one-horned rhinoceros in Nepal's biggest wildlife reserve has fallen to 372 from 544 five years ago, mainly because of poaching, an official said on Tuesday.

A census at the Royal Chitwan National Park in the central Nepali plains, home to the second largest number of single-horned rhinos in the world after India, showed their numbers had fallen to the lowest level in more than a decade.

"The decrease of rhinos is due to increased poaching," said Shyam Bajimaya of Nepal's National Parks and Wildlife Conservation department who led the three-week census in March-April with the support of the conservation foundation WWF.

Bajimaya told Reuters that poachers had killed 94 one-horned rhinos since 2000 while the rest died of natural causes.

Officials and environmentalists said poaching had become easier after a number of small security posts in the reserve were merged with the bigger ones because of a threat from Maoist insurgents, leaving the park less protected.

The Maoists, fighting to overthrow the country's monarchy since 1996, have targeted poorly equipped army and police posts in their violent campaign to set up a communist republic.

Poachers sell rhino horns, hooves and other body parts to criminal syndicates producing powders and ointments for Asian buyers who believe they will cure a range of illnesses and increase sexual potency in men.

"The horns are also in great demand by rich people in the Middle East who use them for dagger handles," Bajimaya said, adding that a kilo of rhino horn fetched more than $10,000 (6,275 pounds) in the international market.

Nepal launched an aggressive conservation scheme in the early 1970s after the rhino population in the Himalayan kingdom fell to 108 in the late 1960s from 800 in 1950.

Nepal has tough anti-poaching laws and anyone found guilty can be jailed for up to 15 years. Officials refused to reveal the numbers of poachers arrested in recent years.

India's rhino population has been steadily increasing after decades of slaughter with numbers now estimated at 1,500 thanks to conservation efforts.

But poaching for horns is a threat in both Nepal and India and killing methods include electrocution, environmentalists say.

Last month Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered a police probe after more than two dozen tigers vanished from a sanctuary in less than two years.


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