Govt to conduct rhino census from March 23

Kathmandu, March 17

The government is set to conduct the long-awaited rhino census from March 23, amidst the global coronavirus threat.

Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, the authorised body for conducting rhino census across the country, has confirmed that the census will be held on the fixed date, unless the ministry asks it to halt the programme.

Gopal Prasad Bhattarai, director general of DoNPWC, said, “We have completed our preparation for the census, the enumerators have been appointed and necessary technical support has been managed for the project.”

If the government does not issue further notice to postpone or halt the pre-scheduled programme, 160 enumerators, comprising zoologists and technical assistants, will join the census programme within the next week at Chitwan National Park.

The great one-horned rhinos in Nepal are found in Chitwan, Parsa, Bardiya and Shuklaphanta national parks. The government is required to hold the census every four years.

Last time, the census was conducted in 2015, which had shown there were 645 rhinos across the country. A total of 45 rhinos had died mainly at CNP last year. The death rate of rhinos is high this year as well, as many as 20 rhinos have already died in the past six months.

Authorities, after recording a large number of rhino deaths, had declared that the rhino census would be conducted. During the census, the team will study fodder availability for rhinos and ecological condition of the national parks.

Nobody is sure about the rising number of rhino deaths.

One assumption to account for the death of rhinos is that there is lack of ample space for the rhinos due to increase in the rhino population.

“The study will also find out the carrying capacity of CNP, along with the habitat’s ecology and the kinds of new plants that the rhinos are consuming these days,” said Bishnu Prasad Shrestha, spokesperson for DoNPWC.

Rhino census will be conducted by manually counting the rhinos during daytime on the basis of sighting by the enumerators. For this, 160 staffers, along with Nepali Army personnel, will be mobilised. As many as 40 elephants will be used for the purpose.

The first census will be held at the Bara-Chitwan cluster, which is divided into 19 blocks.

The enumerators, who spot any rhino near them, will record whether the rhino is male, female or a calf.

They will also record whether their habitat is grassland, wetlands or the bush. They will further record details about the fodder available in the area and locate the area on their GPS system. After verifying their exact location on the GPS system and cross-checking with other enumerators, that particular rhino will be counted for the census.

The average lifespan of the rhino is 25 to 30 years in the wild.