Biodiversity Nepal
For the Future Generation

Existence of Rhinos and Our Responsibility

Rhinos have to be one of Nepal’s most spectacular animals.

Chitwan National Park is home to the second largest population of greater one horned rhinoceros. Pic: Vivek Raj Maurya

When dinosaurs became extinct on earth, rhino species emerged. About 55 million years ago, a geographical period was called as the Eocene. Animals belonging to the rhinoceros group are believed to have originated in India at a time when India and Nepal were separated from the Asian continent.

Eocene was a warm and hot time. At that time there was a place called Paraceratherium where mammals lived. It is considered to be up to 5 meters high and weigh up to 20 tons. It had the leaves and branches of tall trees as its food. The rhinoceros belonging to this group of animals belong to the Perissodactyl group, which is the ancestor of the present horse, zebra and tapir.

Thus, from Eocene to Oligocene and Miocene, towards the end of the Pliocene geographical period, about 5.6 million years ago, and the beginning of Eocene, when the earth was ice-free but cold. At that time, the rhinoceros (long-billed rhinoceros) is believed to have originated in Tibet, the highest region of Asia. Thus the rhinoceros is believed to have spread to Europe and Asia.

The spread of the rhinoceros is limited to five species, changing and surviving at different times due to climate change, hunting of various carnivorous animals and human prey. Of these five species, the one-horned rhinoceros is found only in Nepal and India. Found in eight protected areas of India and four protected areas of Nepal.

Both countries have more than 3,500 one-horned rhinos. There are a total of 645 rhinos in Chitwan National Park, Bardiya National Park, Shuklaphanta National Park and Parsa National Park.

Rhinoceros, Buffer zone and Public Participation

The Buffer Zone Management Regulations were implemented in 2052 BS and the Buffer Zone was established, who adopted the provision of shelter outside the park. Community forests, especially in the intermediate zone, proved to be an excellent habitat for rhinos. For example, we can take Baghmara, Kumroz, Namuna Buffer Zone Community Forest, etc. of Chitwan.

Thus, community and rhino conservation has been advancing through community forests. Therefore, the concept of intermediate zone has been associated with the people’s participation in the conservation of biodiversity. The increase in the number of rhinos along with public participation is another success. Under the direct supervision of the Ranas, from the King Maharaja’s hunting reserve to the people, there have been countless ups and downs in the conservation of biodiversity.

However, there is no word to praise the elders who work day and night for the protection of rhinos, sacrificing their own interests in adverse circumstances. The sustainable future of rhino conservation is seen in the triangular interrelationships and cooperation with the park administration, the Nepal Army and the community. It is necessary to make the community responsible by maintaining their belonging to nature.

At the same time, the community needs to be at the forefront of fair distribution of all kinds of benefits for conservation. For this, it is very important to have the necessary policies, plans, programs, etc. in the interest of the community.

A one-horned rhino spotted after leaving water in Chitwan National Park, Nepal.
© Sumanth Kuduvalli / Felis Creations / WWF

Climate change and rhinos

There are indications that climate change has had a negative impact on rhinos and rhino habitats. This can affect the life cycle of the rhinoceros and can lead to a decline in habitat quality. For example: loss of water sources, declining grassland, spread of invasive species, spread of unnecessary trees etc.

According to rhino expert Santaraj Gyawali, especially the rhino habitat is the riparian area and the adjoining grasslands and swamps. The natural management of the grassland is going on according to the flow of the river in that area. However, climate change directly affects the rivers flowing from the mountains, ultimately affecting the rivers flowing into the Terai, adversely affecting rhino habitat.

At the same time, the example of the rhinoceros being swept away by the big flash flood is fresh among us. There is an urgent need to prepare in advance for a sustainable exit during these droughts.

Rhino horn trade and deeply rooted superstition

Illegal wildlife trafficking involves complex, multibillion-dollar, multi-tiered levels. Rhino horn is illegally traded and consumed. Studies have shown that the price of horn is higher than that of gold, silver, diamonds and drugs, which is a major challenge for the conservation of this species. Its consumption is used as cultural, social, traditional medicine.

Although CITES has banned all these trades, illegal poaching and trading have been going on. Studies have shown that the growth of such trade is due to the extensive economic progress in the Asian region. With the economic progress of China and Vietnam in particular, the region is considered to have established itself as a major market for horn trade.

Surprisingly, the Chinese and Vietnamese have a superstitious belief that they are looking for wild rhino horn in private Chinese medicine, especially in private countries (especially in African countries where it is legally practiced) and are willing to pay for it. Such deep-rooted superstitions have called into question the future of the rhino species.

Need of Effective Management

Since rhinos are herbivores that eat green grass, grassland management is essential. With limited grasslands, rhinos roam the buffer zone in search of grass, creating a human-rhinoceros conflict. There are many challenges in grassland management. Such as having limited resources, having too much area to manage, lack of scientific knowledge flow to the lower level, administrative slowness etc. 

Therefore, it is necessary to manage the grassland based on cyclical blocks including solving the above challenges. As a result, grasslands can be managed in a planned and simple manner, uncontrolled forest fires can be reduced and patrolling can be more effective.

The park community grassland partnership can also be promoted. It is necessary to manage the grassland in partnership with the Buffer Zone Committee, Community Forest Group, Community Based Poaching Control Group, and Cooperatives present in the Buffer Zone. It is important to pay special attention to the timing of grassland management.

There is a proper time for grassland management and if it is not at the same time, it makes no sense. Similarly, the use of modern technology in grassland management (as if it came late or hard) has recently taken place. Of course, this may have some negative effects, but it is not possible to cut thousands of hectares of grassland in the park by hand.

Therefore, it seems essential to use technology for grassland management on a large scale. As rhinos are a riverine species, it is important to pay attention to the quality of the water flowing in the river and how it affects the rhinos.

Similarly, water solution and springs need to be cleaned and properly managed from time to time. Rhinoceros is a water loving species so it is essential to manage the overgrown solutions in time, remove the overgrown weeds like water hyacinths, build new solutions where necessary and monitor these solutions regularly.

Poaching is another major problem. Poverty and illiteracy are factors to increase the rate. The effects of the current Covid-19 epidemic could be far greater than previously thought and predicted. Therefore, there is an urgent need to increase modern and strict security arrangements and, in a sustainable manner, to prioritize social, economic and educational development in the park and its Buffer zone areas.

Finally, poaching of rhinos and the trade of their organs, habitat destruction, fragmentation and degradation are major challenges to rhino conservation. To address this, there needs to be high and effective coordination and cooperation between the federal, state and local governments and all the bodies and partnerships under these governments. Their role in effectively implementing international and regional (especially with China and India) protection treaties and agreements. 

In doing so, the Ministry of Forests and Environment and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation will achieve the national goal of increasing the number of rhinos to 650 by 2022, 700 by 2025 and 783 by 2030 in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of Nepal.

Translated from the online version of Setopati published on 5th October 2020, written by Avinaya Pathak



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