The green shroud
The rhinoceros population in Nepal has dwindled by half in the last 50 years, from the high of 800 in 1950’s to the current level of just over 400. Poaching has been the main culprit behind the downward spiral in their numbers. But, in recent times, another menace has been threatening their survival: Encroachment of their habitats by proliferating exotic plant species. The main habitats of rhinos, the Chitwan National Park and the Bardia National Park, have been virtually overrun by the exotic plant species of Machilus macrantha and Lantana camera respectively, also displacing the plants the pachyderms feed on. According to latest figures, there are 372 rhinos in Chitwan while just 30 are left in Bardia.
Sadly, there is currently no viable method to control the rapid spread of these plants. The National Nature Conservation Trust has been seeking suggestions and inputs from concerned scientists and naturalists in this connection and extensive researches are being conducted in various facilities across India for the same purpose. In the meantime, if the lives of rhinos are on the line, there is no alternative to either manually clearing their residential areas or transporting them to alternative locales that have not seen the invasion of the two plants yet. Neither will be easy. But these rare and beautiful animals are worth preserving at almost any cost.