Nepal's rhino numbers on rise

By Andrew Buncombe

Nepal's population of endangered rhinos appears to be growing after years of decline caused by a debilitating civil war and widespread poaching, new figures show.

In a rare piece of good news for threatened species in South Asia, Nepal's department of national parks said this month's survey found the rhino population stood at 534 animals, compared with only 435 in 2008.

Ecologist Maheshwar Dhakal said the rise was due to a more effective anti-poaching strategy and improved relationships with communities close to where the animals live.

"Working closely with the community to set up buffer zones has helped."

Years of civil war and turmoil in Nepal have taken a devastating toll on its wildlife.

While politicians were distracted trying to agree to a post-conflict settlement with former Maoist rebels, poachers were operating largely unhindered in several of the national parks.

Rhino horn is popular in East Asian medicine as a supposed sexual stimulant.

Dhakal said that during the civil war, which ended in 2006, soldiers were pulled away from conservation duties. But since the end of hostilities, which left at least 13,000 people dead, those troops have been redeployed to try to keep poachers out.

The Government has also introduced programmes to help villagers living near the parks and forests, a move successfully tried in India to help preserve the country's tigers.

Another important development was the arrest this year of an alleged poacher accused of killing more than 15 one-horned rhinos. All of the animals allegedly taken by Kajiman Praja were killed in the Chitwan national park, in the Terai district of southern Nepal. Wildlife groups welcomed the new figures.

The results suggest the vast majority of the rhinos are living in the Chitwan park, where the survey teams identified 503 animals.

- Independent

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