Green Wire: Rhino Poaching and Conservation in India, Nepal and South Africa

"My Horn Is Not Medicine." A fresh mural being painted on the walls of a business establishment in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. All Photos: Kashish Das Shrestha

“My Horn Is Not Medicine.” A fresh mural being painted on the walls of a business establishment in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. All Photos: Kashish Das Shrestha

On a recent trip to the Chitwan National Park, Nepal, I watched a man put the finishing touch on this mural (pictured above) he had freshly painted. Across the street from the mural, in the local Army compound, a rescued orphan baby rhino rested lazily under armed protection even from visiting photographers. The veterinarian in-charge had recently decided it was a bad idea to allow the public and the press to interact with the recuperating animal as they had initially permitted initially. That sense of renewed and heightened protective instinct is on the rise in Nepal’s wildlife conservation efforts today. But not without challenges.

Here’s a wrap up of three news reports published recently on Rhinos and the state of their conservation in three different parts of the world. Reuters reported on the South Africa, the BBC on Nepal, and the New York Times on India.

South Africa:

It hardly comes as a surprise that South Africa is in the most dire situation of all. In its report titled Despite armed guards, Africa’s rhinos losing battle to poachers, Reuters grimly reported:

“South Africa, home to almost all rhinos on the continent, has deployed its military, diplomats and police to protect the animals from legions of poachers. But that has not been enough to put rhinos on the brink of species decline, whereby more of the animals are being killed than are being born each year.”

Poaching of Rhinos in South Africa has not just put the animal at risk, but even those working to protect it. Late last month, on March 31, the BBC reported this:

“Five members of the South African military have died in a helicopter crash, officials said. The aircraft was patrolling the Kruger National Park on Saturday evening looking for rhino poachers.”

India and Nepal:

India and Nepal, however, appearing to be faring better, and for the same three same reasons:

  1. The local community’s support for conservation efforts.
  2. An increased security presence.
  3. Development and implementation of landscape management programs.

At least that is the case for Kaziranga (430 sq km) in India’s Assam state and Chitwan National Park (930 sq km) in Nepal.

The New York Times article, titled Kaziranga Remains a Success Story, Despite Rising Poaching,” notes:

“When visitors roam the park by jeep or by elephant safari, they can see rhinos almost everywhere. Whether they are wandering through the high grasses, or cooling themselves in the park’s wetlands, rhinos are now resurgent at Kaziranga, in what has become India’s most successful conservation effort, if one tempered by growing concerns about renewed threats from poaching.”

A young rhino resting in the late afternoon inside Chitwan National Park with its mother (not in picture). 2010.

A young rhino resting in the late afternoon with its mother (not in pic)  inside Chitwan National Park (2010).

Nepal’s Chitwan National Park is more than double the size of Kaziranga. And it too has seen a drastic rebound in its population in a relatively short period of time. According to the 2011 Rhino Census in Nepal, “There are  534 rhinos in Nepal, marking an increase of 99 rhinos from the 435 recorded in the last census in 2008.”

Last year, Nepal also made some headway when it arrested the “Most Wanted Rhino Poacher” on Chitwan Naitonal Park’s list. You can read that news, published by Kantipur media, here.  

On Nepal’s conservation efforts, the recent BBC report, titlted Nepal’s Rhino Hunters Become Hunted, says this:

“It is a rare successful conservation story in South Asia, where park officials and the Nepalese army have managed to turn the tide against poaching in the last few years.

The successful conservation effort is attributed to a variety of initiatives, including tough action against poachers, enhanced intelligence and involving villagers living around the park in conservation efforts. It has crucially involved the re-deployment of soldiers inside the park.”

Maoist rebels in Bardiya district of Nepal, where the Bardiya National Park is, home to rhinos, tigers and other endangered species. (2005)

Maoist rebels in Bardiya district of Nepal, where the Bardiya National Park is, home to rhinos, tigers and other endangered species. (2005)

In India, “some of the poachers at Kaziranga have ties to local insurgent groups, who barter the horns for weapons at the Myanmar border,” the Times article reports.

Nepal’s Maoist insurgency proved to be take its toll on Rhinos and conservation efforts too. The BBC reports:

“About 10 years ago, when the country was deeply mired in a civil war between government forces and Maoist rebels, there was hardly any focus on wildlife protection in one of Nepal’s most famous parks.

The number of army monitoring posts in and around the park was reduced from 30 to seven as soldiers were shifted to anti-insurgency operations.

In 2002, about 37 rhinos were killed by poachers, triggering grave concern over the future of one-horned rhinos.”

For now, at least in parts of India and Nepal, that future is looking brighter for the rhinos. But rhinos don’t live in a vaccum, and to protect them means to protect countless others. For this, a blog post by the International Herald Tribune / New York Times Correspondent Bettina Wassener is worth reading. Titled More Proof That Rules Alone Won’t Save Threatened Wildlife, she notes:

“Poaching and illegal trading of wildlife has soared in recent years. And it is hitting not only well-known animals such as elephants, tigers and rhinos, but, increasingly, creatures that were not in great demand until recently… the sheer speed of these changes – taking in new species and geographies – is leaving scientists, conservationists and enforcement agencies scrambling to keep up.”

Her post also links to great articles on who and what are keeping the illegal wildlife trade alive.