Nepal’s Chitwan National Park (CNP) recorded a zero rhino poaching year for the fifth time since 2011. The government and conservation groups are using community-led initiatives and technological tools to protect wildlife.
The country has more than 645 greater one-horned rhinos of which 605 reside in CNP alone. In a major setback last year, poachers killed an adult male rhino in the buffer zone of the park pausing three consecutive zero poaching years. Authorities had beefed up the surveillance program after the incident.
“The completion of a zero poaching year for rhinos is indeed a commendable feat. To keep up this success requires the continued support of everyone to keep our wildlife protected,” Bed Kumar Dhakal, Chief Conservation Officer of CNP said.
A prolonged political turmoil along with the massive demand for wildlife products from China, Middle East, and the West, makes landlocked Nepal an easily accessible destination for poachers. The country has ten national parks, three wildlife reserves, and six conservation areas spreading over 13,000 square miles—around 23 percent of its total area.
The recent ivory and rhino horn trade ban in China and Yemen crisis have marginally weakened demand for rhino horn. The latter uses rhino horns as dagger handles on a large-scale. “There might be some impact of China’s ban leading to a reduction in poaching, but there is no direct evidence,” Shiv Raj Bhatta, director, field programs WWF, Nepal told CGTN.
Bringing community and technology together to control poaching
A forest ranger using Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tools (SMART) to track poachers in Chitwan National Park
In the recent years, Nepalese government in a bid to protect the wildlife adopted the zero poaching framework. It also formed National Tiger Conservation Committee, Wildlife Crime Control Coordination Committee, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau to protect rhinos, tigers, and elephants.
Nepal has given 25 percent of the forest ownership to local communities to help encourage them to save wildlife, and also reduce poverty. Community-based anti-poaching units are part of the monitoring of tigers and rhinos to protect them from poachers. More than 500 community teams monitor the movement of poachers throughout the year.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Google enhanced local surveillance through an anti-poaching project. Under the scheme, a closed circuit camera system was installed on main infiltration routes. In 2014, drones and Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tools (SMART) and a trained team of sniffer dogs were deployed with the park staff and Nepal Army in anti-poaching patrols.
Apart from poaching, exponential population growth in early 1900’s, encroached the natural habitat of greater one-horned rhinos. A vast area of the forest was cleared for agriculture; however, the prevalence of malaria protected a core habitat of rhinos. Fear of contracting the disease forced humans to stay away from the Rhino’s habitat zone.
From 1950 to 1954, the Nepalese government sprayed DDT in a bid to eradicate malaria. As malaria eased, locals again cleared a vast stretch of rhino habitat. The one-horned rhino population reduced from 1,000 to barely 100 in the 1980s. The recent conservation efforts are trying to stabilize the rhino’s population.
Ghana Gurung, Country Representative of WWF Nepal, pointed out Nepal is probably one of the leading countries when it comes to showcasing anti-poaching results. “The learnings from this success, while replicated across Nepal’s conservation landscapes, can be a good resource for countries that are in the fight together against poaching.”