Chitwan rhinos are straying out of jungle more frequentlyLack of grass inside the Chitwan National Park is the reason, say park officials.
Ramesh Kumar Paudel
Surbir Pokharel’s house in Mangalpur is one and a half kilometres from the Narayani river, which is flanked by community forests on either side. Spotting a one-horned rhino has become almost a daily occurrence for Pokharel.
“A rhino came around my house a week ago. We have stacks of straw in the compound, but the pachyderm did not eat the straw. It grazed on the soft grass growing in the fields and on the corn and pumpkin patches,” said Pokharel. “It looked like the rhino came here for fresh green grass.”
Mangalpur in ward 16 of Bharatpur Metropolitan City is among the many settlements frequented by rhinos from the Chitwan National Park (CNP). According to locals, more rhinos have been coming out of the jungle looking for fresh green grass.
Park officials also surmise that the rhinos emerge from their habitats in search of grass and tender foliage. Ganesh Prasad Tiwari, information officer at the CNP, says that rhinos enter farmlands for gazing since there is no good grass inside the national park. He stressed the need for managing grasslands in the national park to stop rhinos from straying outside the forests.
“There are four sectors in the national park—eastern sector Sauraha, central sector Kasara, Bankatta Bagahi sector and Amaltari sector. The rhinos enter the settlements and farmlands through 127 entry points,” said Tiwari. According to him, most of the rhinos come out of their habitats in the Amaltari sector.
Approximately 10 percent of the total area of the Chitwan National Park, the country’s first national park, is covered with grasslands. “Budget allocations for managing grasslands and meadows inside the national park have been decreasing over the years,” said Tiwari. “That’s why grasslands have dried up in some areas inside the park.”
The government released around Rs32.5 million in the fiscal year 2019-20 to manage and expand grasslands in the Chitwan National Park. But allocations under the header have been gradually decreasing since then. In the last fiscal year, only Rs2.5 million was allocated to expand grasslands and Rs3.8 million to manage the existing ones.
In the current fiscal year, Rs5.8 million has been released for overall grassland management.
Ganesh Pant, information officer at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, admits that rhinos leave the park area to graze in the fields due to the lack of food inside the park. “Working guidelines are being prepared to manage the grasslands in the protected areas effectively. And funds will be allocated accordingly,” said Pant. “The rhino population is high in the western sector of the Chitwan National Park. Efforts are on to shift them to the eastern side of the park. We will soon make a field visit and make a decision,” said Pant.
Incidents of human-rhino interactions and conflicts are frequently reported as many of the animals enter farmlands and settlements. According to the park, two persons died in separate rhino attacks in the current fiscal year while crops on many hectares were damaged by the animals.
The straying of wildlife into human settlements not only harms people and causes damage to properties, but also creates more challenges in conservation efforts. When rhinos come into villages and fields, it becomes easier for poachers to ambush and kill the animals. The rhinos also die by electrocution when they try to enter fields protected by electric fences.
On January 20, a female rhino and its calf were found dead on the bank of the Narayani River at ward 2 of Madhyabindu Municipality. The horn of the mother rhino had been severed. A postmortem confirmed that the rhinos died by electrocution.
The one-horned rhino, which is native to Nepal and India, is an endangered animal species. According to the national rhino census conducted in 2021, Nepal is home to 752 one-horned rhinos, and Chitwan National Park alone hosts 694.