China defers rhino gifting process citing holidays, CITES meet

Kathmandu, September 15

While a six-member Nepali team was preparing to leave for China tomorrow for habitat observation to expedite the process of gifting rhinos to China, the State Forestry Administration of China postponed the process at the eleventh hour today.

An email sent by the SFA said the habitat observation process had been postponed due to Chinese holidays and CITES conference. With this, the observation visit and the entire rhino gifting process has become uncertain, according to the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation.

“The Chinese side postponed the observation visit at the last moment citing public holidays and CITES conference,” Romraj Lamichhane, under secretary at the Biodiversity and Environment Division of the ministry told The Himalayan Times.

“The process of gifting rhinos to China is likely to take more time as there would be public holidays in Nepal during Dashain and Tihar festivals.”

According to the division, the six-member team comprises Deputy Director General at the Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation Gopal Prakash Bhattarai, Joint Spokesperson at the ministry Yajna Nath Dahal, under-secretary Rom Raj Lamichhane, Chief Conservation Officer of Chitwan National Park Ramchandra Kandel, senior vet at CNP Kamal Gaire and customs officer Man Bahadur Paudel.

Though the Chinese side has cited their festivals and CITES conference for the postponement of the process, a source at the ministry said the process was not getting due priority as the proposed visit of Chinese president to Nepal remains uncertain.

“Both the sides want the rhinos to be gifted during Chinese President Xi Jinping visit to Nepal,” an official said requesting anonymity, adding, “But the visit remains uncertain.”

Although the State Forestry Administration of China had invited a Nepali team to observe rhino habitats in Shanghai, Hangzhou and nearby areas from August 15 to 21, the ministry had made preparations for the visit only recently.

The government had begun the process of gifting two pairs of endangered one-horned rhinoceros two weeks ago, nearly a month after the Cabinet took a decision to this effect.

The Cabinet had decided to gift two pairs of one-horned rhinoceros to China on July 10.

As per the 2015 census, there are 645 rhinos in Nepal, 605 are in Chitwan National Park alone. During the China visit of former forest minister Agni Sapkota in January, then prime minister KP Sharma Oli had issued instructions to forward the process of gifting one-horned rhinoceros to China.

Chinese Forest Minister Zhang Jianlong and other Chinese officials had requested the Nepali side to gift the rhinos.

According to conservationists, gifting of the rhinos to China would open the process for future collaboration in wildlife conservation between the two countries.

This is the first time since 2007 that the government of Nepal has decided to gift wild animals to other countries.