For a poacher, the market value of a horn, said to fetch upto US$ 65,000 for a kilo, is worth all the risks involved

In what is yet another success story in Nepal's wildlife conservation, the country has added more than a hundred one-horned rhinos to their population in six years. The latest national rhino census, carried out over three weeks from late March, counted 752 of the pachyderms across four national parks in the southern plains of the country, an addition of 107 since they were last counted in 2015. Of the total number of rhinos, 520 are adult rhinos while 136 are baby rhinos, with the remaining 96 being half-adults.

The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation called the increase in the number of the endangered species 'exciting news' while the World Wildlife Fund, which provided financial and technical assistance for the census, dubbed it a 'milestone' for Nepal. Indeed the government and the concerned authorities deserve a pat on the back for the increase in the rhino population, as this would not have been feasible without the government's strict anti-poaching and conservation initiatives.

Just like the Royal Bengal tiger, at least a thousand rhinos were said to be inhabiting the Tarai jungles when the country opened up to the outside world in 1951. However, with the eradication of malaria in the mid-1950s, settlers from the hills soon arrived, in particular to Chitwan, to clear land for agriculture, settlements and development activities. With the human encroachment of the wildlife habitat and the rampant poaching of the rhino for its horn, it took no time to reduce their numbers to just 100 in 1960. This led the government to establish the Rhino Patrol Unit in 1961, and subsequently set up the Chitwan Nation Park, encompassing an area today of 932 square kilometres and a World Heritage Site, to protect the vulnerable species. Their numbers have kept growing over the decades, despite the many challenges faced especially by Chitwan National Park, which now hosts 694 rhinos, from poachers.

Rhino horns are prized for their medicinal properties in China and Southeast Asian countries. For a poacher, their market value, said to fetch upto US$ 65,000 for a kilo, is worth all the risks involved. There are, thus, reasons to celebrate the vigorous rebound in the rhino population, but this will continue to happen only if the authorities can provide sufficient habitat and protection. The recent past has shown that rhinos are not safe even in the central zoo, where poachers managed to kill one and saw off the horn.

The poachers have to be successful only once, and years of conservation efforts will have gone to waste.

Maintaining growth in the rhino population also calls for expanding its habitat areas. Due to rise in the human population around the national parks, wildlife-human conflicts have become frequent in recent years. Unlike the tiger, however, rhinos are known to cause less human casualties, but the pachyderms are frequent visitors to the farmers' fields, destroying crops ready for harvesting. The conflicts can be mitigated by involving all the stakeholders concerned to thrash out a solution and showing the people living near the buffer zones that financial benefits will accrue from the growth in the rhino population, largely through tourism.

Vision paper

The Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FNCCI) has come up with a vision paper – National Economic Transformation-2030 – to boost the country's economy. It aims to boost the country's economy by at least US$100 billion over the next decade, generating employment opportunities for at least 2.2 million in the next 10 years. If well implemented, the private sector alone could make heavy investments in the productive sectors. The vision paper itself is a good initiative even as the economic activities have come to a standstill due to COVID-19.

The vision paper, among others, has stressed on commercialising the agriculture sector and prioritising the small and medium enterprises. The vision paper, which was unveiled by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, has also asked the government to amend some policies that have hindered the smooth growth of the national economy. The most important thing for economic growth is to make all the laws related to domestic and FDI investments hassle-free so that even start-up companies can enter the productive sector. At the same time, the business community should also follow the rules and regulations that provide all a level-playing field.

A version of this article appears in the print on April 13, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.