April 25, 2011

Nepal’s Wild Rhino Population Improving After Civil War

Not many people know that Nepal, the small nation filled with some of the world's tallest mountain peaks, has a population of wild rhinos which is now slowly increasing, AFP reports.

For the first time since a civil war lead to a breakdown in the Nepali government's protection of the species, the number of known wild rhinos has increased to over 500, according to Nepali wildlife officials.

Wildlife experts have spent the past month conducting a survey in which they counted 534 rhinos in Nepal's southern jungles, 99 more than were counted in 2008 when the last such study was carried out.

Maheshwor Dhakal, ecologist with the government's national parks department, told AFP the rhino population's recovery was due to improvements in law enforcement and in local conservation awareness.

"The government is encouraged by this positive result, although challenges remain in curbing poaching and protecting rhino habitat," Dhakal added.

The one-horned rhino once roamed the southern plain of Nepal by the thousands, but their numbers plunged over the past century due to poaching and habitat loss. Their horns are prized for their reputed medicinal qualities in China and southeast Asia, which results in them being severely hunted.

A rhino horn can sell for tens of thousands of dollars on the black market. Impoverished Nepal's porous borders, weak law enforcement and proximity to China make the country a hub for the illegal trade of rhino horns, as well as other rare species.

Image Courtesy Krish Dulal/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)