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)
Spillett & Tamang (1966)
81 – 108
120 – 147
Pelinck & Upreti (1972)
270 – 310
358 – 376
Census by photos
Dinerstein & Price (1991)
440 – 460
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 1996 – 2006 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.