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THE GREATER ONE-HORNED RHINOCEROS – A SPECIES PROTECTED IS A HERITAGE MAINTAINED


Nabin Gopal Baidya, Rohan Shrestha | September 11, 2020

Rhinoceros are massive hoofed mammal of Africa, India, and Southeast Asia, characterized by a snout with one or two horns. The skin of the rhinoceros is extremely thick, nearly hairless in most species, and deeply folded in some. The horns, arising from the skin, are made of keratin, a fibrous substance. The legs are stout and short and end in broad feet, each with three toes. Rhinoceroses are herbivorous, browsers or grazers according to the species. Most live near water and like to wallow in mud; all swim well. They have poor vision but good hearing and a good sense of smell. Mostly solitary animals, they feed by night and in the early morning and evening; they rest in shade during the heat of the day.

Rhinos once roamed many places throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa and were known to early Europeans who depicted them in cave paintings. At the beginning of the 20th century, 500,000 rhinos roamed Africa and Asia. By 1970, rhino numbers dropped to 70,000, and today, as few as 29,000 rhinos remain in the wild. The five living species, which once ranged widely across Africa and Asia, now consist of remnant populations in protected or remote areas. Very few rhinos survive outside national parks and reserves due to persistent poaching and habitat loss over many decades.

Three species of rhino—black, Javan, and Sumatran—are critically endangered. Today, a small population of Javan rhinos is found in only one national park on the northern tip of the Indonesian island of Java. A mainland subspecies of the Javan rhino was declared extinct in Vietnam in 2011. Successful conservation efforts have led to an increase in the number of greater one-horned rhinos, from around 200 at the turn of the 20th century to more than 3,700 today. However, the species remains under threat from poaching for its horn and from habitat loss and degradation.

In Africa, southern white rhinos once thought to be extinct, now thrive in protected sanctuaries and are classified as near threatened. But the western black rhino and northern white rhinos have recently become extinct in the wild. The only two remaining northern white rhinos are kept under 24-hour guard in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Black rhinos have doubled in number over the past two decades from their low point of fewer than 2,500 individuals, but total numbers are still a fraction of the estimated 100,000 that existed in the early part of the 20th century.
 
 




THE GREATER ONE-HORNED RHINOCEROS – A SPECIES PROTECTED IS A HERITAGE MAINTAINED

The greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), commonly also known as the Indian rhinoceros, is a giant-sized mammal weighing between 2-2.5 metric tonnes and has a lifespan of 35 years – 45 years (in wild). 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 the greater one-horned rhinos is diminishing feverishly in the wild. It is categorized as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List as it is restricted to few protected areas and is fragmented across South and South East Asia.  Rhinos are a semi-aquatic animal that inhabits the grassland, savanna, and shrub-land of sub-tropical climates where water and green grass is available all year.
 

Source: thethirdpole.net
 


Until 1950, the population of the greater one-horned rhino was estimated to be around 1000 in the Chitwan Valley only. During the Rana regime, its population was in increasing trend because this particular area was not made accessible to the general public and the other factor that contributed to its conservation at that time, was widespread malaria in the area. However, after the eradication of malaria and the end of the Rana regime, its population plummeted as poaching and illegal trade of its skin and horn became a major threat to this species. Also, the rapid human settlement, agriculture, and urbanization played a huge role in the clearance of wildlife habitat which resulted in the drop in one-horned rhino’s population to less than 100 by the late 1960s.


As an immediate action to prevent the unpredictable declination in the population of one-horned rhinoceros, in 1961, the Government of Nepal introduced the “Gainda Gasti”, an armed Rhino Patrol Unit. Later in 1973, Chitwan National Park (CNP) was established as a major habitat for rhinos covering the total area of 932 sq. km.


The CNP showcased a perfect example that the diminishing population of any wild species can be recovered significantly when they are provided with sufficient habitat and protection. As a result, the greater one-horned rhino conservation was also introduced into Bardia National Park (BNP), Shuklaphanta National Park (ShNP) and Parsa National Park (PNP). The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), to conserve the endangered rhino in the country, has been producing five-year-long action plans since 2006. With its successful effort, the rhino population gradually increased.

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 enforcement. 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, training to concerned enforcement agencies to enhance their skills. Similarly, it has been conducting research and conservation awareness and advocacy programs in every sector and level of society. With the support of different enforcement agencies, WCN has been able to bring down rhino poaching. Besides, to mitigate the rhino-human conflict, it promotes alternative livelihood programs at a local level.


Distribution of Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros in Nepal
Source:https://www.researchgate.net/
 
References:
https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/rhino
Biodiversity Conservation and Wildlife Crime Control Resource book 2020, DNPWC
https://www.infoplease.com/encyclopedia/ecology/animals/vertebrates/rhinoceros
https://www.wwfnepal.org/what_we_do/wildlife/rhinoceros/
http://dnpwc.gov.np/media/publication/Rhino_Conservation_Action_Plan_Nepal_2017-2021.pdf
https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Map-showing-the-Current-Distribution-of-Rhinoceros-unicornis-in-Nepal_fig2_341157991

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