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SOS Rhino : In the News : Rhinos fall prey to Nepal turmoil

Rhinos fall prey to Nepal turmoil
July 13, 2005 12:43:24 PM IST

Kathmandu, July 13 : Things continue to be bleak for Nepal's one-horned rhinos, with 10 of the endangered animals being killed in a national park over the past three months.

Poachers gunned down the animals in the Royal Chitwan National Park in south-central Nepal.

The figure, reported by the Kathmandu Post daily Wednesday quoting an official of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, comes as a further blow to Nepal's success story in breeding the rare animal.

The one-horned rhino currently survives only in Nepal, India and Bhutan. This year, India celebrates the centenary of its Kaziranga National Park, famed worldwide as the home of the one-horned rhino.

Eclipsed by Kaziranga, Nepal nevertheless was hailed by conservationists for its success in breeding the disappearing animal.

A survey in June 1968 conducted by the government estimated there were about 81-108 creatures left. If the state did not take measures to protect them, the report warned, the species would vanish from Nepal by 1980.

In December 1970, the then King Mahendra approved the establishment of a national park and by 1973, the Royal Chitwan National Park had been officially gazetted.

In the 80s, Nepal became a success story in stopping the decline in the rhino population and improving on it.

In 2000, there were 544 animals in the park, according to official figures. However, by that time, the effects of the escalating Maoist insurgency, which started in 1996, began casting a cloud on the rhino story.

The state started concentrating its security resources on battling the underground rebels and the rhino became increasingly vulnerable to poachers.

According to the Post, in the past, there were over 30 security posts manned by soldiers from the Royal Nepalese Army to keep vigil in the park. But after 2001, they were reduced to just seven.

This summer, when the government released the figures of its Rhino Count 2005, the population in the park had dwindled to 347. While 37 rhinos were taken to other national parks and 66 died of natural causes, 94 were killed by poachers for their horns.

And now comes the news of 10 more having fallen to poachers' bullets between March end and June.

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