Rhinos still threatenedComplacency might also have crept in among the authorities after years of zero poaching.
Once, large numbers of rhinos roamed freely in the dense forests of Nepal. Over the years, sport hunting and excessive poaching drastically reduced their population, pushing them into the endangered list.
Despite the country’s recent achievements in zero poaching, there have been sporadic incidents that point to the persistent risk illegal hunters still pose. A couple of one-horned rhinos were found dead on the banks of the Narayani River last week. (The river flows through the famed Chitwan National Park.) They had been electrocuted, a method of killing commonly used by professional poachers. This suggests our forests continue to be a safe haven for them, putting the country’s years of achievements in wildlife conservation at risk.
According to reports of Chitwan National Park compiled over the past five fiscal years, a total of 165 one-horned rhinos have died, six of the deaths a result of poaching. This may not sound like many, but it is still a significant number given Nepal’s stellar success in achieving zero poaching of rhinos, first in 2011 and then in six different years since.
Zero poaching was difficult to achieve, but several initiatives made it happen. The government established bodies like the Wildlife Crime Control Coordination Committee and the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau to stop poaching and curb wildlife crime. Similarly, more personnel from security agencies like the Nepal Army and the Nepal Police were deployed in the protected areas. They conducted night patrols and used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to improve anti-poaching operations. Moreover, several community-based anti-poaching units and intelligence networks were formed. They in turn coordinated with other organisations working in the sector. Hence, rhino poaching plunged from 157 during the Maoist insurgency (1996-2006) to zero in 2011.
One obvious reason for hunting rhinos, according to officials, is the high demand for their horns in China: They are used in traditional Chinese medicine and also as status symbols by the wealthy. A study based on poaching statistics of rhinos shows that over time, poachers get accustomed to patrolling techniques like use of UAVs or night patrolling and adapt accordingly. A touch of complacency might also have crept in among the authorities after years of zero poaching. Possibly, there is also lack of general awareness that hunting endangered species is a crime.
Without a doubt, the government’s stringent anti-poaching initiatives have helped to reduce poaching. However, the recent killings demonstrate that they are insufficient. Local communities manage community forests, which account for 38.4 percent of Nepal’s total forest area, and they help save both forests and wildlife. Several community-based anti-poaching units have been established to reduce (often successfully) tiger and rhino poaching. The focus should be on strengthening and further educating such units, emphasising the importance of wildlife preservation and biodiversity through a bottom-up approach. This should also entail taking the marginalised communities living in and around forest areas—and whose right to a dignified life has sometimes been ignored while drafting conservation strategies—into confidence. It will be hard to sustain any anti-poaching effort without the help of these communities who know the surrounding jungles inside out. Only with such a collaborative approach will the country be able to successfully preserve the one-horned rhinos as well as other precious wildlife.