By Kedar Man Singh
Agence France Presse
November 27, 1999
KATHMANDU, Efforts to save the endangered Asian one-horn rhinoceros
in Nepal are proving so successful that despite poaching, park authorities
have admitted to a problem of overpopulation.
Although at least 10 rhinos, which distinguish themselves from
four other sub-species by their single horn, have been shot by poachers
in the last 18 months, the population in two national parks has
grown to 600, a third of the world's total. "At Chitaun national
park we have a problem of overcrowding of the one-horn rhinos and
we are, therefore, planning to translocate them to other parks in
the far southwestern zones," Director General of the Wildlife
Protection Department, Tirtha Man Maskey, told AFP.
Rhinos are generally solitary, grazing or browsing on grass and
leaves, and require large territories. Their horns are highly prized
as an aphrodisiac, particularly in Asia, with one kilogram of rhino
horn fetching up to 700,000 rupees (10,234 dollars).
Maskey said that over the last 18 months 54 rhinos had died in
the protected parks of Chitaun and Bardiya, south and southwest
of the capital Kathmandu. As well as those shot by poachers, three
were apparently electrocuted, a "few" were poisoned and
for four their fondness for wallowing in muddy pools proved fatal
when they were swept away and drowned in floods which hit Nepal
every year. The rest died of old age, Maskey said. Fifteen suspected
poachers had been arrested in the same period and if found guilty
will be imprisoned for 15 years and fined 100,000 rupees (1,461
dollars). The Nepalese Royal Army, which guards the parks, has government
orders to shoot poachers on sight if they are caught trying to kill
protected species, which also include Bengal tigers, snow leopards
and musk deer.
Maskey said the snow leopard population in the Himalayan foothills
had also increased to 500 since anti-poaching efforts were stepped
up. Two hundred of the world population of 5,000 Bengal tigers also
live in Nepal, he said. "The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has
been financially helping the Nepalese government to set up anti-poaching
units," said Maskey. "So far we have set up 15."
Nepal's forested areas, which make up much of the national parks,
have dwindled over the past two decades. Until the mid 1980s 38
percent of Nepal was covered by forests, but that area has since
shrunk annually and now only 29 percent of Nepal is wooded. All
five species of rhino, found in Asia and Africa, are endangered.