Nepal marks zero poaching year in rhino conservation

Nepal has achieved a new milestone in its conservation history by bringing down the number of rhino poaching incidents to zero in the last one year.

Not a single incident of rhino poaching has been reported in any of the protected areas since February 16, 2013, which has given conservation officials a big reason to rejoice. On Monday, conservation officials celebrated yet another year of zero-poaching in conservation of rhinos.

“The fact that no rhino was killed over the last 365 days in Nepal is a result of collective and continuous efforts by all national and international stakeholders involved in conservation,” said Megh Bahadur Pandey, Director General of Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC).

Conservation officials say strengthening of anti-poaching mechanisms, effective coordination among all agencies concerned and strict enforcement of law are some of the key factors behind the achievement of the second zero-poaching year in rhino conservation.

This is the second time that conservation officials are celebrating a zero-poaching year in rhino conservation. Earlier, they marked 2011 as the first zero-poaching year, claiming that not a single rhino was killed throughout that year. However, their claim raised controversy when eight alleged poachers, who were arrested in 2012, revealed that they had killed a rhino in Chitwan National Park (CNP) in February, 2011.

“We still believe that no rhino was killed in 2011,” said Tikaram Poudel, Spokesperson for the CNP administration. “Although some poachers claimed that they killed one rhino in our protected area in 2011, we are yet not sure whether they remembered the poaching date correctly.”

Brushing aside allegations that conservation officials kept one rhino poaching incident as a secret in 2011 in a bid to impress donors, Poudel said, “I do not see any logic in these allegations. We could still impress donors even if one rhino was killed in 2011. After all, the annual number of rhino poaching incidents is now very negligible compared to the past years, especially during the war.”

When the war was on, as many as 37 rhinos were killed in Nepal in just one year. In the last 10 years of the war, as many as 141 rhinos were killed in Nepal, according to the DNPWC. Barring two years after the signing of Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), when as many as 23 rhinos were killed, the number of poaching incidents has been relatively low in the last few years.

In April, 2012, one more rhino was killed, disappointing conservation officials, who would have otherwise celebrated that year as the second consecutive zero-poaching year. Even in February, 2013, one more rhino was killed. “But, that is the last incident so far,” said Kamal Jung Kunwar, warden of the CNP, where the highest number of one-horned rhinos are found. According to the 2011 rhino count, 554 one-horned rhinos are found in Nepal, with 503 of them residing only in the CNP. Similarly, 24 rhinos in Bardiya National Park (BNP) and 7 rhinos in Shukla Phant Wildlife Reserve are found.

“The end of war turned out to be the biggest boon for rhinos,” said Kunwar, who has also authored a book titled ‘Four Years for Rhinos’, said. “In the war time, security in our protected areas was too bad that the poachers freely roamed in jungles and killed rhinos. After restoration of peace, more security posts have been set up. We have also increased frequency of patrolling. In near future, we will have our own sniffer dogs to chase poachers.”

According to Kunwar, as many as 37 people allegedly involved in rhino poaching have been jailed in the last one year alone. “Recently, notorious rhino poachers like Raj Kumar Praja and Prem Mahato have been slapped with 15-year jail terms,” said Kunwar. “I think jailing of such notorious poachers has helped deter other poachers from killing rhinos.”

However, conservation officials say they are yet not complacent about their achievement. “Even now, around 350 people charged with killing wild animals including rhinos are still at large,” said Pandey. “It is a big challenge for us to bring all of them to justice.”

source: republica, 04 Mar 2014

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