Nepal’s conservationists concerned over rhino’s declining growth rate

Enumerators set out for a rhino count at Chitwan National Park. (Photo: NTNC)

Rhishav Sapkota

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Kathmandu: The number of one-horned rhinoceros has gone up in Nepal despite the fact that their growth rate has come down in recent years.

National Rhino Count-2021 shows that the rhino population has risen to 752 from 645 in the year 2015, marking a milestone in the conservation efforts of the country. But, the worrying sign for the campaigners and the wildlife conservationists is the rhino population growth rate which is just 16 percent since 2015. This is five percent less than the growth rate from the year 2011 to 15.

According to National Trust for Nature Conservation, Chitwan National Park and Parsa National Park (Chitwan and Parsa Complex), Bardia National Park, and Shuklaphanta National Park, including their buffer zones and surrounding areas outside of protected areas, were covered for the latest rhino census.

The count was conducted with the collaboration of community stakeholders, state agencies, and international organizations.

Individual rhino information was gathered and classified based on indicators such as sex, age group, and specific characteristics.

Experts suspect that the slower growth rate means the rhino population is closing in to a saturation point.

Senior conservation biologist and Spokesperson for NTNC Naresh Subedi said that there might be two possible reasons for the decrease in the growth rate.

According to Subedi, one possible reason could be the fact that rhino population has already reached a saturation point in some national parks and wildlife reserves.

Experts suspect that the slower growth rate means the rhino population is closing in to a saturation point.

“Kathar West is one such area of Chitwan National Park that has a high density of rhino population. High density of rhino population is inversely proportional to their growth rate. Competition for food and territory also limits the population growth,” he informed.

Talking about the possible solution to address the issues, Subedi said translocation of rhinos from high-density areas to low-density areas such as Kathar East, Shuklaphant, Bardiya, and KoshiTappu could be instrumental.

“Another reason for the slow growth rate can be attributed to natural calamities such as floods. In 2017, a large number of rhinos from Kathar West were swept to India due to the floods in the Narayani River. Though some of them were rescued from India as part of conservation efforts,” Subedi added.

Information Officer at Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Haribhadra Acharya, however, underscores the need for a further research to identify the reasons for slow growth rate.

Habitat management and translocation

The increase in the number of one-horned rhinos has been hailed as a conservation ‘milestone’, but experts stress the need for translocation, wildlife crime reduction, and habitat protection for better conservation and many-fold increase in the population of the endangered wildlife in long-term.

Photo: NTNC

Subedi says, “Poaching of the one-horned rhinos has been controlled to a larger extent in the recent years which has given us more time to concentrate our efforts on habitat management and translocation of the rhinos to ensure healthy growth of rhino population in the future.”