NATURE WALK : Rhinos under attack

Anti-poaching mechanism is handicapped without proper logistical support

Kathmandu :

The rhino is one of the most powerful flag species in the world, but has been constantly hunted by poachers in Nepal. The one-horned rhino found here is mostly wanted for its horn, which could make them rich overnight as it is in high demand in the illegal wildlife trade market for use in the Chinese traditional medicine.

For the last six years, rhino has been under continuous attack by poachers and the number has heavily declined. The conservation policy/work plan and mechanism for rhino protection has failed though the authority denies it, but the result speaks for itself.

In Nepal, the rhino is protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1973 (NPWCA) and has stringent punishment under Section 26(1). For killing or injuring a rhino, or indulging in illegal trade of rhino derivatives, a person may get from 5-15 years of jail term or be fined Rs 50,000-1,00000, or both. Among South Asian countries, the NPWCA provision is the most stringent punishment, but it is unfortunate there are many other factors which are contributing to the decline of our rhino population.

What are the causes of rhino declination?

A stringent legal provision alone is not enough if its proper implementation is not carried out by the authorities responsible. It is worth mentioning here that the rhino count in 2000 was 544 in Chitwan National Park, but the count in 2005 had declined to 372.

The authorities concerned mostly blame the Maoist conflict for this, but this is not the only reason. There are other reasons like lack of security, the non-functioning anti-poaching unit, mismanagement of resources, faulty strategy on wildlife management, lack of commitment and improper monitoring and misguided evaluation by authorities and partners.

The anti-poaching mechanism is handicapped without proper logistical support as the investment in the name of conservation mostly benefits or is misused by kitchen cabinet members of the conservation agent.

The ceasefire has been in place for the last four months, but why is rhino poaching increasing by the day? Seven rhinos, including a pregnant one, were killed in Chitwan in a month. This proves there are various reasons behind the drop in rhino number. After the ceasefire, the park management teams could have managed things in a better manner, more personnel might have been effectively mobilised with enough security provisions, and involvement of more people in the rhino protection unit. It is time enough now to find the root cause of this problem — what has been happening and what can be done.

There is need for an immediate investigation with a special independent investigation team of parliamentarians and non-funded experts sans the kitchen cabinet members to dig up the chronic cause behind the case.

Matters related to wildlife crime should be dealt by skilled legal personnel to ensure proper investigation as it appears that our investigation lacks techniques and is mostly based on outdated third degree methods of finding evidence by torturing the culprit. Such methods are against the principles of human rights. Moreover, these days there are other ways of tracking such activities or evidences.

If a culprit is killed in custody, it could be taken as murder and be an embarrassment to the authority as it can be blamed for being inefficient. Every citizen has the right to life under the Constitution as guided by the system of rule of law. Thus, a new law with a provision to refer all wildlife cases to the District Court in the present justice system is needed after loktantra.

Secondly, the law sho-uld accommodate many international commitments to different conventions including CITES ma-de by the country. In the present context, more democratic and workable as well as participatory conservation programmes are needed to cope with the present crisis of conservation of wildlife species.

Last but not the least, reinstatement of more security posts, revisiting conservation strategy, creation of a local all political parties committee including the Maoists, accommodating all conservation stakeholders, local employment generation, bringing in new park laws with essence of good governance, could be some useful steps to stop the present declining rhino population.