27 rhino poachers arrested in the current fiscal yearMany poachers who were on the run are coming forward to surrender, Chitwan park administration says.
Thirty-year-old Rajman Magar, an alleged rhino poacher, surrendered himself to Chitwan District Court last week. Two separate cases have been filed against Magar, a resident of Gaindakot Municipality-3, at the Chitwan District Court and two others at Nawalparasi (East) District Court.
According to Lokendra Adhikari, the assistant conservation officer at Chitwan National Park, Magar was involved in all four incidents.
The national park administration and security personnel deployed in the park area had identified the involvement of 47 people in the poaching of the four rhinos.
“Most of the masterminds involved in rhino poaching and smuggling its body parts have been arrested. Lately, even some convicts on the run have started surrendering to the police,” said Ananath Baral, the chief conservation officer of the country’s oldest national park.
As per the data available at the park office, as many as 27 people were arrested on charges of poaching rhinos and smuggling their body parts in the current fiscal year of 2020/21. Some of them are convicted poachers who were at large for a long time.
On May 21, the national park detained Sagar Praja Chepang who was allegedly involved in several incidents of rhino poaching in the past two decades. A case had been filed against him in 2010 and the Chitwan District Court had sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment in 2015. According to the park administration, four convicted poachers like Chepang were arrested in the current fiscal year.
The increasing number of arrests made in relation to rhino poaching in the last year has frazzled the poachers, with many coming forward to surrender.
“Only 23 suspects had been arrested in the last five fiscal years but this year the number of poachers getting caught is high,” said Baral. “Those who were on the run are surrendering now.”
The Chitwan National Park has claimed zero rhino poaching since 2016. However, at least four rhinos were killed by poachers in the current fiscal year.
The park officials and security personnel deployed in the area had heard gunfire on the western side of the national park on September 1, 2020. A pachyderm was found after five days with gunshot injuries.
On November 4, a female rhino of around 25 years and its three-year-old baby was found dead in the same area. The horns of both the rhinos were found missing and they had sustained bullet injuries in the head. Likewise, the skeleton of a rhino without its horn was recovered in the Ghusaharghat area on November 6. The rhino might have been poached around six months earlier for its horn, conservationists suspect.
The population of one-horned rhinos stands at 752 as per the latest census report made public in April this year. Chitwan is home to 694 rhinos, an increase of 89 since the last census in 2015.
One-horned rhino is an endangered species that is at risk of extinction.
Of late, deaths of rhinos from natural causes and by accident are on the rise in Chitwan National Park, the park administration says. As many as 43 rhinos died in the park in the current fiscal year due to natural causes, accidents or infighting.
“There are several challenges in rhino conservation. Along with managing its habitat, security patrols should be increased in the park area. Poaching is still the main challenge in rhino conservation efforts,” said Kamal Jung Kunwar, the former chief conservation officer of the park.
He underscored the need for the authorities to take strong legal action against poachers and raise awareness in the local community to conserve rhinos and other wild animals.
According to Baral, around 100 suspected poachers involved in several old cases are still on the run. “They could be involved in poaching rhinos again unless they are detained. We are working actively to arrest them,” he said.As per the existing legal provisions, one will be jailed for 5 to 15 years and fined up to Rs 1 million if s/he is convicted of poaching a rhino and smuggling its body parts.