The greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), also known as the Indian rhinoceros, is a grey giant, second only to an elephant in size weighing between 2-2.5 metric tonnes. It is mostly found only in South Asia and South East Asia. Its population was more than 3500 around the world. Today, however, the population of rhinos is diminishing feverishly with no more than 2,000 in the wild. Rhinos inhabit the alluvial flood-plain vegetation of sub-tropical climates where water and green grass is available all year. Oxbow lakes and other open water bodies are also important because the rhino spends about 8 hours in a day in wallows or streams during high humidity periods (August-September). In December and January, they spend at least an average of a day wallowing (Laurie, 1978).
Rhino Conservation in Nepal
In Nepal, the rhino population is estimated to be around 1,000 in the Chitwan Valley until 1950. The Rana rulers had been using the area for their leisure sport hunting. This made the areas inaccessible to the general public. Another factor that shielded the area from invasive human settlements was the rampant malaria in the area at that time. However, after the end of the Rana regime in 1950, there was also the eradication of malaria. This led the doors of Chitwan open to people from around the country leading to clearance of wildlife habitat for human settlements, agriculture and urbanization. This not only destroyed the forest but also affected the wildlife population mainly of the large mammals like tigers, elephants and rhinos. As a result, the rhino population dropped to less than 100 in the late 1960s.
Recognizing the urgency to avert the erratic diminishing of one-horned rhinoceros, Government of Nepal formulated the “Gainda Gasti”, am armed Rhino Patrol Unit in 1961, and declared the remaining prime rhino habitats, about 544 sq. km along Rapti, Narayani and Reu rivers, as the Chitwan National Park (CNP) in 1973. Later the park was extended to total coverage area of 932 sq. km and was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1984 for its richness in biological diversity.
After the successful effort of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), the declining rhino population began to gradually increase. The CNP demonstrated that the population can rebound vigorously when sufficient habitat and protection are provided. It is an example of a population that was almost on the verge of extinction that has recovered while still maintaining a high genetic diversity.
Various organizations dedicated to conservation have been working for more than three decades to make the rhino population rebound through multiple strategies of protection, livelihood options, awareness campaigns and law enforcements. Today, it is a success story of how a species that was almost on the brink of extinction that has recovered while still upholding a high genetic diversity.
Since its establishment, Wildlife Conservation Nepal has been working for the protection and conservation of endangered animals like the one horned rhinoceros by supporting enforcement agencies like National Parks and District Forest authorities through critical information leading to arrests of poachers and traders. WCN also carries campaigns, trainings to concerned enforcement agencies to enhance their skills. Similarly, it has been conducting research and conservation awareness and advocacy programs at every sector and level of the society. With the support of different enforcement agencies, WCN has been able to bring down rhino poaching. Besides, in order to mitigate the rhino-human conflict, it promotes alternative livelihood programs at local level.