Rhinos in Nepal: migration of a protected animal to non-protected lands
The Greater One-horned Rhinoceros, also known as the Indian Rhino, is one of the five remainingspecies of its kind in the world. Along with its Sumatran and Javan cousins, this armour-plated soldier calls Asia its home. The mostly solitary species can be commonly seen grazing in herds, and gathering at or resting in the shade in the middle of sweltering days. Though brought back from the brink of extinction through relentless conservation efforts, the Rhino is still vulnerable to many environmental and anthropogenic threats.
In Nepal, the Rhino is found only in four national parks, among which are Chitwan and Parsa in the southern-central regions of the country. For the past few years, however, the species has also been reported from the forests of Rautahat District in central Nepal, an area that has some forest connectivity with Parsa National Park, but is outside thenetwork. The Rhinos here are said to have migrated east all the way from Chitwan via Parsa in the hope of finding suitable habitats for themselves. The gentle slopes of Rautahat, with its mixed forests, grasslands, and perennial water bodies must have attracted the species with the promise of ample food, cover, and wallows.
The grass wasn’t all green in Rautahat though. The once-species-rich district is now densely populated with diverse ethnic communities. Though a nationally protected animal, the close proximity with humans and the non-protected status of the area pose an additional, ugly challenge to the species: poaching. Of the three to four Rhinos that had made Rautahat their major habitat, one was shot by poachers in September 2016.
A survey conducted in the area among protected area managers, experts, and community representatives revealed that almost all of the respondents were well-informed about the regular visits of Rhinos to the villages and nearby forests. The dispersal of the species to Rautahat was understood to be the result of unsuitable habitats in Parsa due to human encroachment, weeds, and dense forest cover. Despite a few instances of human-rhino negative interactions reported from the area, most people had a positive attitude towards Rhinos and their habitats because of the importance of the species in, for biodiversity conservation, and for future generations. They also suggested that awareness programs, research studies, and regular patrolling can be helpful in ensuring that the remaining Rhino population in the area is not lost forever.
► Threats to Rhinos in Rautahat District need to be identified and suitably attended to.
► Regular monitoring and strict laws should be enforced in Rautahat for the conservation and management of Rhinos.
► Further studies need to be conducted to identify the reasons for Rhino migration to the forests of Rautahat.
► National level policy should be prepared to extend parts of Rautahat District as the habitat of Rhinos.
► Better habitats should be provided immediately for the conservation of Rhinos in Nepal.
Rimal, S., H. Adhikari & S. Tripathi (2018). Habitat suitability and threat analysis of Greater One-horned Rhinoceros Rhinoceros unicornis Linnaeus, 1758 (Mammalia: Perissodactyla: Rhinocerotidae) in Rautahat District, Nepal. Journal of Threatened Taxa 10(8): 11999-12007; https://doi.org/10.11609/jott.39220.127.116.1199-12007