Chitwan : The remains of a rhino calf (Keto) was found at Tikauli stream near Bish Hajari Taal on September 4. It has been assumed that the Keto was either attacked by an adult rhino or was pulled by a crocodile into the water. The gender of Keto, which was recovered late, could not be identified. Technicians said that the Keto should be around one to two-year-old. Similarly, female Keto, which was less than two-year-old was found dead at Ward-15 in Madhyabindu Municipality on October 31.
Female Keto, who was critically injured in a rhino attack, succumbed to injuries after some days. Likewise, a one-year-old female rhino calf was found attacked by a rhino at Bandel Khola in Chaparchuli on November 5. The rhino calf had sustained injuries on her chest and legs. Following this incident, a one-year-old male rhino calf was found dead near Golaghat of Meghauli on January 20. Technicians could not establish the cause behind the death as it was found in a decomposed state.
A three-year-old female rhino was also found at a forest in Ward-3 of Bharatpur Metropolitan City on January 28. Similarly, a two-year-old female rhino calf was found dead after being attacked by an adult rhino in Chitwan National Park. Likewise, a two-month-old male rhino calf was found injured in a crocodile attack at Kumroj area on the same day. The calf died during the course of treatment.
A six-month-old Keto, whose gender could not be identified, was found dead at Jameli Sitamaighat in Kasara Sector. The cause behind the death has not been established yet. Information Officer and Assistant Conservation Officer at the Chitwan National Park Gopal Bahadur Ghimire said that eight male rhino calves were found dead in a span of one year. He said that 43 rhinos had died due to natural causes in a span of one year. Ghimire said that 41 rhinos were found dead in Chitwan National Park and around the buffer zone. He said that 34 rhinos were found dead in the core area of Chitwan National Park and seven were found dead in the buffer zone. Two more rhinos were found dead in the national forest area.
Poaching decreases, death due to natural causes increases
Of the 43 rhinos, which were found dead in the span of one year, nine were male and 14 were female. The gender of 14 rhinos could not be identified. The concerned authority has taken the deaths of 43 rhinos as a serious issue. This is the highest number of deaths so far. It has been learnt that 26 rhinos had died due to natural causes in the fiscal year 2017/ 2018. Of which, four were male.
According to the statistics, Chitwan National Park is home to the largest number of rhinos in the country.
An eight-month-old female rhino calf had died in a rhino attack and two-year-old female rhino calf in a tiger attack. Similarly, another two-year-old female rhino calf had also died in a tiger attack.
Likewise, a male Keto, who was rescued in a critical condition, had died during the course of treatment. Among the 26 rhinos, which were found dead in various places, 12 were male and 10 were female. The gender of four rhino calves has not been identified.
The rhino poaching in Chitwan National Park is also the main issue. The poachers had killed 37 rhinos in the fiscal year 2001/2002 and 11 rhinos had died due to natural causes. The rhinos were not poached in and around the Chitwan Nationla Park since January 3, 2011. The Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation celebrated ‘zero poaching, for the first time in January 7, 2012. Not even a single rhino was poached in the fiscal year 2014/2015 and 2015/2016. But one rhino was poached in the fiscal year 2016/2017. The rhinos have not been poached since then.
Though the poaching was taken fully under control, the number of rhinos dying of natural causes has increased drastically. It has been learnt that 23 rhinos and 28 rhinos had died due to natural causes in the fiscal year 1998/1999 and 1999/2000 in Chitwan National Park. The number of rhinos dying of natural causes has decreased since then. According to the statistics of National Park, the number of rhinos dying of natural causes has been increasing in recent years. Chitwan National Park said that 15 rhinos had died of natural causes in the fiscal year 2015/2016. Similarly, the number of reached to 4, 26 and 42 in a span of three years.
According to the data, 498 rhinos had died in and around the Chitwan National Park in a span of 22 years. Among them, 333 had died of natural causes and 165 rhinos were killed by the poachers.
Rhino deaths in Chitwan National park raise the alarm
All the rhinos, who had died due to natural causes, had not died of old age. Among 43 rhinos, who had died in the last fiscal year, nine had died in a fight with other wild animals, six had died of old age, two had died of diseases and two had died in accidents.
Of the 26 rhinos died of natural causes in the fiscal year 2017/2018, 10 rhinos had died while fighting with wild animals, six had died of old age, one had died in an accident and six had succumbed to diseases. The cause behind the death of two rhinos has not been established yet. Among 24 rhinos died of natural causes in the fiscal year 2016/2017, the number of rhinos died of old age is less. Five rhinos had died of old age in the same fiscal year and 11 rhinos had died fighting with other rhinos. The cause behind the death of three rhinos is still unknown. Two rhinos had died after coming in contact with a naked wire and one had died of diseases. One rhino was killed by the poacher.
Dr Naresh Subedi said that one-horned rhino used to be found from Pakistan to Myanmar around 400 years ago. Now, they are limited to some countries like Nepal and India, he said.
Tarai area from East to West used to be the habitat of rhinos in Nepal. The jungle of Tarai has been destroyed and the number of rhinos has shrunken due to poaching.
Remains are found very late
Among 43 rhinos found dead in a span of one year, the gender of 20 rhinos could not be identified and the cause behind the death of 23 rhinos is still unknown. The gender could not be identified as the remains were found very late. Of the 43 rhinos, the remains of 26 rhinos were found in a decayed state.
The remains of a rhino, which was found in Devi Taal area on March 5, was more than one-year-old. Likewise, there are many rhinos which died before six months. Animal Dr Kamal Gaire said that the cause behind the death could not be identified if the remains are found after a long time.
The cause behind the death can be identified after carrying out investigation if the bodies are found on time.
Dr Gaire said that very few rhinos had died due to diseases in Chitwan National Park.
Meanwhile, 55 permanent check posts of Nepal Army have been set up for the security of Chitwan National Park and the authority has set up 50 more temporary check post for the night time.
There are 61 elephants including five brought from Koshi Tappu in the Chitwan National Park. Chief Conservation Officer at the National Park Bed Kumar Dhakal said that the investment from the state for the protection of wild animals is high. He admitted that it was lack of oversight on the part of National Park to find the dead rhinos after a long time. “Directive has been issued to carry out patrolling in a smarter way. Patrolling should be carried out in all the places,” he said, adding, “We are trying to scour the park area to find out the dead animals on time.”
Food for rhino
Rhinos like to stay in those places which have more than 40 percent grasslands. There was 20 percent grassland in the National Park during its establishment. Now, the grassland has decreased to 10 percent. Dr Subedi said that only 450 square kilometers out of 932 square kilometres of the Chitwan National Park is suitable habitat for rhinos.
According to a study carried out from 2009 to 2015, most of the rhino habitats were destroyed by Mikania, the most common invasive plant species of Chitwan National Park, he said. Many rhinos used to live in the eastern side of Kasara. Around 66 percent of rhinos of National Park used to live there. Now, the habitats of eastern side have almost been destroyed and only a few rhinos live there. The rhinos have been moved to the western side.
Rhinos need enough grass to survive. There will be a scarcity of grass during the dry season. Dr Subedi said that the rhinos spend around 40 percent of their time in eating and 30 percent in sleeping.
Ghole is equally important for rhinos like grass. With the increase in the death of rhinos due to natural causes and other reasons, Chitwan National Park has started paying attention to manage the ponds, घोल and grasslands. The park had improved 71 ponds in the last fiscal year. The ponds were improved with a total budget of Rs 13.65 million. Information Officer at the Chitwan National Park Ghimire said that five wetlands have also been managed in Tempal, Kasara, Devi Taal and Icharni of National Park in this fiscal year. The wetlands were managed with a total budget of Rs 2.5 million.
National Park said that 200 hectares of grassland in Tempal, Sukhibhar, Kachuwani, Dumariya and Bhimre area within the National Park was managed with a budget of Rs 8.4 million.
Chairman at the Buffer Zone Management Committee of Chitwan National Park Madhukar Malla said that the rhinos have been dying due to the concerned authority’s failure to manage proper habitats for rhinos.
Chitwan National Park has brought some improvement in managing the habitats for rhinos, ponds and grasslands.
Though it is not sufficient, Malla expressed his hope that the number of rhinos dying of natural causes will decrease with the management of habitats, ponds and grasslands. He said that the authority should give priority to such efforts. Chief Conservation Officer Dhakal said that the floods in 2017 had destroyed the habitats of one-horned rhinos inside the Chitwan National Park (CNP).
Broader study and investigation necessary
A 2015 census had put the rhino population in the country at 645 rhinos. Among them, 178 were male, 237 were female and the gender of 230 were not identified. The study found out that there were 123 male. Out of 605 rhinos found in and around the Chitwan National Park, 170 were male, 225 were female and the gender of 210 could not be identified. Around 116 Keto were found in the National Park area.
The census conducted in 2011 had put the total rhino population in the country at 534, with 503 in Chitwan National Park.
The rhino count conducted in 2008 had put the rhino total population at 435 with 408 in Chitwan National Park alone. Among them, 138 were female and 106 were male. Of the 88 male found across the country, 80 are found in Chitwan National Park.
Similarly, the census conducted in 2005 had put the total rhino population at 409 with 372 in Chitwan National Park. According to the rhino census conducted in 2000 AD, there were 612 rhinos in Nepal with 544 in Chiwan National Park alone. Chitwan National Park and its surrounding areas are the main habitats of rhinos. Apart from this, there are some rhinos in Parsa, Bardiya and Shuklphanta National Parks.
The number of rhinos dying in their main habitat has raised new questions among the authorities. Moreover, the deaths of young-aged male and female rhinos will affect the rate of rhino growth in Nepal, Subedi said.
He said the growing number of deaths of both male and female rhinos will have long term effect. Chief Conservation Officer Dhakal said that a team of experts of the Department of National Park has started carrying out a study to find out the causes behind the deaths. He is a member of the team.