Nationwide rhino count postponed due to Covid-19 concernsThe count was taking place amid alarming deaths in Chitwan.
The ongoing Covid-19 global pandemic, which has already impacted various sectors of the country, has also started affecting wildlife conservation efforts. The much-awaited nationwide rhino count, scheduled to begin on Monday, has been called off indefinitely.
The count, which was to take place in Chitwan, Bardiya, Parsa and Suklaphanta, has been postponed as the government has banned gatherings with more than 25 people in view of the potential to outbreak.
“Keeping the government directive on Covid-19 in mind, the rhino count, which involves a large number of people, has been postponed for now,” Bishnu Prasad Shrestha, spokesperson for the Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation told the Post.
This year’s rhino count, which was to begin on March 23, was taking place amid an alarming surge in deaths of the iconic species in Chitwan National Park. Although no rhino has died at the hands of poachers in the last few years, they continue to die mysteriously due to “natural causes”. In view of the deaths, the government had launched a carrying capacity study to look into the causes of rhino deaths. But the team of experts had also been waiting for the rhino count results before drawing conclusions.
According to officials, nearly 40 elephants, 160 individuals, including government officials, technical experts, representatives of partner organisations and Nepal Army personnel, were expected to be involved in the counting. They would have to gather at one place to receive training on the count. This time, the two-day training was scheduled to begin on Friday, according to Shrestha.
The first phase of the rhino count was to begin in the Chitwan-Parsa Complex and later move to Bardia and Shuklaphanta national parks.
“It would not be a wise decision to gather such a large number of people at one place,” said Shrestha.
The census, which was scheduled for last year, had to be called off after the government could not manage the required budget for the count. This is also not the first time the count this year was postponed. The enumeration was originally scheduled to begin last Saturday.
“We are still ready with all the preparations,” said Shrestha.
For the first time, the nationwide rhino count was being done with the state using its own budget. The government had allocated over Rs11 million for the census.
According to the last count, which took place in 2015, Nepal is home to 645 rhinos—605 in Chitwan, 29 in Bardiya National Park, eight in Shuklaphanta National Park, and three in Parsa National Park.
“This was individual counting of rhinos so the census result would have given us details about their distribution pattern,” said Shrestha. “We will also know the status of their habitat, which has also linked with rhinos’ deaths. Further, the census report would have helped authorities determine future conservation strategies.”
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of September 22, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 has spread to 213 countries and territories around the world and infected more than 31,405,983 people with 967,505 deaths and 22,990,260 recoveries. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 5,557,573 with 88,943 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 306,304 confirmed cases with 6,420 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 65,276 cases with 427 deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.