Chitwan National Park saw dramatic rise in rhino mortality in last three years, says reportSince the start of October this year, five rhinos were found dead in the park.
On Thursday, Pem Narayan Kandel, director general of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, met with the representatives of Chitwan National Park, Buffer Zone Management Committee and other stakeholders after a series of rhino deaths were reported in recent years.
“I discussed the challenges in rhino conservation with the concerned stakeholders and requested them to collaborate,” said Kandel, who arrived in Chitwan on Wednesday night. “In the last few years, the number of natural deaths of rhinos has increased in Chitwan National Park.”
Eight rhinos have been found dead inside the park since the start of the current fiscal year.
Ashok Kumar Ram, assistant conservation officer of the park, who is also the information officer of the park, said, “Except for one, all the rhinos found dead on September 1 had died of natural causes. Some of the rhinos had died of drowning.”
On September 1, a rhino of about 20 years of age was found dead in the Laukhani post area inside the park with a gunshot in its head. The postmortem report showed that the rhino died of bullet injuries but the park authorities were unable to find the bullet.
Following the incident, the department mobilised a group of experts to find out the causes behind the high death rate of rhinos. A study performed in the leadership of Shyam Bajimaya, the former director general of the department, is at the final stage.
Since the start of October this year, five rhinos have been found dead in the park. In the last fiscal year, 26 rhinos were found dead in the park whereas 43 rhinos died in the fiscal year 2018/19.
“All of these rhinos died of natural causes,” said Ram.
According to Ananath Baral, chief conservation officer at the park, three rhinos were killed in floods this year.
“These days, rhinos are found mostly in the western part of the park, which is near Narayani River. This has put the rhino population at risk of floods,” said Baral.
A separate study titled “Chitwan National Park Rhino Mortality Report (2018)” conducted by the Veterinary Initiative for Endangered Wildlife says, “Out of 141 documented rhino deaths from 2004-2017, 111 (79 percent) deaths were due to unknown/natural causes and 30 (21 percent) were due to poaching.”
The report had also concluded that the park had seen a dramatic rise in rhino mortality rate in the last three years compared to the previous decade. The report also recorded that among the 141 rhinos found dead, 114 were adults (older than five years) followed by 23 calves and four sub-adults.
According to the government record, there are two broad categories of rhino deaths—natural/unknown and poaching. As per its category, all deaths including territorial clash, drowning, injuries, old age, diseases and everything other than poaching are defined as natural.
To accommodate the growing rhino population, park officials also began reviving grasslands in the eastern part of the park in the last few years. But this has failed to yield the desired effect.
Baral claimed that park officials have started to decentralise rhinos to limit the number of fights among them when they come in close proximity.
“The western part of the park is more prone to floods as they are near Narayani and Rapti rivers. This is why we have been working to attract rhinos to the upper belt of the rivers,” Baral said.
According to him, the park is planning to reform the habitat of rhinos and invest millions of rupees in conservation efforts.
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, according to the 2015 rhino census.
Ramesh Kumar Paudel in Chitwan contributed reporting.