Managing wildlifeThe rhino population can show better growth if their habitat is less congested.
Published at : April 12, 2021
Updated at : April 12, 2021 09:44
The latest nationwide rhino census reveals that the population of the endangered one-horned species in Nepal now stands at 752, up from the 645 last counted in 2015. As per the latest findings, Chitwan National Park alone accounts for an increase of 89 rhinos. The enumerators found a further 38 rhinos in Bardiya, 17 in Shuklaphanta National Park and three in Parsa National Park. The rhino population, which has increased by 107 in a gap of six years, indicates that our conservation effort is on the right track. However, much remains to be done to ensure that the species can thrive in their natural habitat.
Take, for instance, the surge in reports of rhino deaths due to ‘natural causes’ and poaching since the fiscal year 2016-17. A total of 120 rhinos have been reported dead in the last four years, including one killed by poachers. This fiscal year alone, 22 rhinos have died in Chitwan National Park while poachers killed five. While the latest rhino census puts an encouraging number despite concerns that the population could have gone down due to recent deaths, wildlife experts say the decline in the annual growth of the rhino population is still a cause for concern.
The 2015 census recorded an annual growth of 5 percent, up from 534 rhinos in 2011. The growth rate from 2011 to 2015 was an encouraging 21 percent; but between 2015 and 2021, the growth rate has averaged at 16.6 percent. The latest census shows the annual growth rate remains below 3 percent. This lower yearly growth, wildlife experts say, could indicate if we are approaching the saturation level in rhino population density.
The rhino population, researchers also say, can show better growth if their habitat is less congested. According to a study, a male rhino requires an estimated 14 sq km as its home range, and a female rhino needs about 9 sq km. For the increasing number of rhinos in the country, it is a competition for territory and resources. A limited area could invite preventable confrontations as the animals are forced to share the same habitat.
Wildlife experts who investigated the increasing deaths have long established that overcrowding of the rhino population has led to a recent surge in fatalities as they engage in territorial battles for pasture and water. This is besides the increasing number of flash floods in the wake of recurrent extreme weather events, also leading to their deaths. To minimise these deaths and ensure the rhinos have their minimum space to thrive, experts say, the rhinos have to be translocated, and a long-term habitat project must be initiated.
Nepal has been hailed for its exemplary conservation efforts to recover the rhino population from the brink of extinction. We were able to do so by gradually reversing years of deforestation and human encroachment of wildlife habitat, and by implementing strict rules to protect wildlife species and discourage poaching. What has been evident from our conservation efforts is that habitat management and wildlife conservation go hand in hand.
Loss of habitat anywhere in the world has directly resulted in a decline in the wildlife population, an increased rate of human-wildlife conflict and a host of ecological problems. But strategic interventions not only recover wildlife population but can also reverse the negative impacts on the environment. The recovery of the rhino population from less than 100 in the 1960s to 752 today results from political will, effective policies and community engagement in conservation. The rhinos have taught us that this is the way forward.