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Wildlife in Nepal: Rhinos

Rhinos have to be one of Nepal’s most spectacular animals. Throughout Asia there are 3 species of Rhino, but only 1 of species lives in the Nepal. The Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros. Nepal is home to 645 of these rhinos as of April 2018. Thanks to Nepal’s zero tolerance of poaching this species is no longer on the brink of extinction.

The Greater One-Horned Rhino is also found in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Mayanmar. The population has grown from 600 in 1975 to 3,500 in 2015. Unlike their cousins, the Javan Rhino only 63 left in the wild and the Sumatran Rhino with fewer than 100 individuals.

Nepal Rhino
Photo: Wikipedia

The Nepal Rhino is a giant, adults usually weighing 2 to 2.5 tonnes. This means that the only other land-animal larger than them is an elephant. The Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros is commonly found only on South and South East Asia. Rhinos are usually solitary animals and don’t live in ‘heards’ but they do live in concentrated areas. But only two of these areas have more than 100 rhinos. These are the Kaziranga National Park in Assam, India (1,200) and Chitwan National Park, Nepal (605).

Nepal’s Rhino History

Nepal once had a very vibrant rhino population, with an estimated 1,000 in the Chitwan Valley until 1950. This was largely due to the area being protected by the Ranas (the ruling family in Nepal) for sport hunting. Malaria was also widespread in the area. Only a few local communities that had become naturally immune to Malaria lived in Chitwan. And their impact on the environment was minimal.

But the Rana rulers were overthrown in the 1950s and the creation of the malaria vaccination meant that Chitwan was finally open to outsiders. This created a huge influx of immigrants from Nepal’s mid-hills who were in search for flat land to live and farm on. Vast areas of forest and wildlife habitat were cleared for human settlements, agriculture and other development. Poaching also became rife and many Rhinos were killed. As a result, by the late 1960s the rhino population in Nepal dropped to less than 100 individuals.

The Government of Nepal, realizing the immediate crisis for the Nepal rhino population established an armed Rhino Patrol Unit called ‘Gainda Gasti’. In 1973 they also designated about 544 sq km as the Chitwan National Park. This was later extended to cover 932 sq km. It was listed a World Heritage Site in 1984 for its high biological diversity.

Thanks to these efforts the Nepal rhino population started to steadily increase. Chitwan national Park has shown the world that a population can rebound when sufficient habitat and protection are provided. It is a great role model for the world, as it is an example of a population that was almost on the verge of extinction but has recovered while still maintaining a high genetic diversity.

Rhino's in Chitwan National Park

Poaching

Nepal’s anti-poaching policy has been a huge success. As of 9th April 2018, no rhino’s were killed in the previous 365 days. This is the fifth time that Nepal has achieved this amazing success since 2011! Which makes Nepal one of the leading countries when it comes to showcasing anti-poaching results!

However, poaching of the Greater One-Horned Rhino continues to be a major problem in other countries.

The horn is used in traditional Asian medicines for treating a variety of illnesses such as epilepsy, fever and strokes. Asian rhino horn is believed to be more effective than African horn. But this has never been medically proven.

Other animals are simply killed by poachers who sell their skin and body parts for high prices. Because rhinos horns are used in medicine it increases the demand for this type of animal. There are even rumors that one-horned rhino can cure caner. This is not true. But it is this ignorance that puts these animals at risk.

A large part to Nepal’s anti-poaching success is the Nepalese army. Normally Chitwan National Park has a battalion of soldiers deployed to it. That’s a minimum of 1,100 soldiers. They patrol 24/7 and have greatly helped the success of anti-poaching.

Nepal army on Partrol for poachers of Nepal rhinoPhoto: News Nepal

Nepal Rhino Habitat

The Nepal rhino lives on the Terai. An area of low flat land in Nepal’s. Nepal is most known for its multitude of mountain peaks over 8,000m. But in the south the land is as low as 60m above sea level. This creates a very tropical area that the rhinos in Nepal thrive in.

Rhinos live in subtropical climates where water and grass is available all year. They have a picky diet as they will only eat certain grass species. But the regular monsoon flooding help to fertilize the ground and make these types of grass grow quickly.

The regular flooding also creates Oxbow Lakes and other water bodies which are important to rhinos. They can speend around 8 hours a day in wallows or streams during the high humidity months (July to Spetember).

Greater One Horned Rhino
Photo: Renaud Fulconis

Rhino’s are sensational animals and along with Nepal’s many other animals are in desperate need of protection. Seeing these animals in the wild is a highlight and while Nepal is leading the way for anti-poaching, they are still at risk. From Chitwan there are many trips that will take you out into the jungle to try and spot these magnificent creatures and we highly recommend it. Through education and responsible tourism Nepal will continue to grow the number of Rhino’s and see their habitat flourish!

(Facts sourced at WWF)

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