AboutZoos, Since 2008


Nepal rhino cen­sus shows pop­u­la­tion increase

pub­lished 25 April 2011 | mod­i­fied 23 Decem­ber 2011

The recent three-​week National Rhino Cen­sus in Nepal reveals that the pop­u­la­tion of the greater one horned rhi­noc­eros (Rhi­noc­eros Uni­cor­nis) has increased by 99, from 435 in 2008 to 534 in 2011. The num­ber has risen above 500 for the first time since the civil war, which had a dev­as­tat­ing effect on the pop­u­la­tion of these endan­gered ani­mals due to poach­ing. The focus of the increase was recorded in Chit­wan National Park, where 503 rhi­nos were counted, 95 more than in 2008. Bar­dia National Park and Shuk­laphanta Wildlife Reserve recorded 24 (increase of 2) and 7 (increase of 2) rhi­nos respec­tively. These num­bers reflect the suc­cess of con­ser­va­tion efforts for this species and are a result of improved rhino pro­tec­tion mea­sures and man­age­ment of habitat.

Num­ber of rhi­nos in the Chit­wan val­ley, and from 1973 in Royal Chit­wan National Park








Willan (1965), in Lau­rie (1978)




Stracey (1957)




Gee (1959)




Spillett (1966)




Spillett & Tamang (1966)



Heli­copter census

Caugh­ley (1969)



Heli­copter census

Pelinck & Upreti (1972)




Lau­rie (1978)



Cen­sus by photos

Din­er­stein & Price (1991)



Ground cen­sus

Yon­zon (1994)

Source: Mar­tin & Vigne, 1996

In 1950 Chitwan’s rhino pop­u­la­tion was esti­mated at about 800 ani­mals (see Table). In the decade that fol­lowed many of the rhi­nos were shot ille­gally by Nepalese and Indi­ans with the horns sold in India. Rhino num­bers fur­ther declined because of loss of habi­tat as human pop­u­la­tion increased due to a malaria erad­i­ca­tion scheme. So over half the area became agri­cul­tural land. Recog­nis­ing that the num­bers of rhi­nos had declined to about 300 in the late 1950s and that there had been a 70% reduc­tion in for­est and grass­land areas, His Majesty’s Gov­ern­ment of Nepal cre­ated a deer park in part of the Chit­wan val­ley. Nev­er­the­less, poach­ing and habi­tat loss con­tin­ued due to lack of law and law enforce­ment. By 1968, around 100 rhi­nos remained. For Nepali tra­di­tions to be respected in the future the Gov­ern­ment had to pro­tect the rhino pop­u­la­tion, as the Blood Tarpan sacred cer­e­mony required rhino blood from a newly killed ani­mal to be offered to the Hindu gods (which is ques­tion­able in itself of course). There­fore, in 1973 Chit­wan was gazetted as a National Park (and appointed UNESCO Nat­ural World Her­itage Site in 1984), and a spe­cial “Rhino Patrol” was estab­lished in the same year to pro­tect rhi­nos that wan­dered out­side the Park of 932 km2. Three years later units of the Nepali Royal Army were sta­tioned inside the Park, enabling the National Park’s staff to con­cen­trate their efforts on Park man­age­ment. From 1986 to 1991 38 rhi­nos were translo­cated from the Chit­wan area to Royal Bar­dia National Park to form another pop­u­la­tion. Bar­dia had been gazetted as a wildlife reserve in 1976 together with the for­mer hunt­ing reserve of Shuk­laphanta (305 km2). The Bar­dia Reserve was expanded to cover 968 km2 in 1984, and appointed a national park in 1988 due to its large num­bers of ungu­lates and tigers.

In 1996 the rhino con­ser­va­tion efforts in Nepal were applauded and called one of the great­est con­ser­va­tion suc­cess sto­ries in the world for the rhi­noc­eros, despite the poach­ing of rhi­nos. Unfor­tu­nately, the 19962006 civil war led to a dra­matic decline of the rhino pop­u­la­tion, because the sol­diers sta­tioned in the Parks to pre­vent poach­ing were engaged in sup­press­ing the insurgency.

The cen­sus of 2011 was a com­bined effort of the Depart­ment of National Parks and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion of the Gov­ern­ment of Nepal, WWF Nepal and the National Trust for Nature Con­ser­va­tion. The pos­i­tive result of the National Rhino cen­sus 2011 is an indi­ca­tion of the suc­cess­ful con­ser­va­tion efforts of the Gov­ern­ment of Nepal in part­ner­ship with con­ser­va­tion part­ners. Although the cur­rent cen­sus shows the rise in rhino num­ber WWF says com­pla­cency is not rec­om­mended and con­tin­u­ous efforts from all sec­tors is essen­tial to pro­tect endan­gered species like rhino and their habitat.

Today, rhi­nos mainly are threat­ened by habi­tat loss and poach­ing, and world­wide only a few of them sur­vive out­side of national parks and reserves. The great­est threat to rhi­nos is still the high demand for rhino horn, used in tra­di­tional Asian med­i­cine which allegedly cure a vari­ety of ail­ments. A sin­gle horn can sell for tens of thou­sands of U.S. dol­lars on the inter­na­tional black mar­ket, and Nepal’s poor eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion, its porous bor­ders, weak law enforce­ment and prox­im­ity to China have made the coun­try a hub for the ille­gal trade. In addi­tion, habi­tat loss is of ongo­ing con­cern, as human pop­u­la­tions rise and forests are degraded or destroyed.

(Sources: WWF, 23.04.2011; web­site Wild Sin­ga­pore, 24.04.2011; Nepal’s rhi­nos — one of the great­est con­ser­va­tion suc­cess sto­ries by E.B. Mar­tin and L. Vigne in Pachy­derm no. 21, 1996)

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