Little do people know, that Nepal and the Indus Valley in Pakistan used to home to hundreds of rhinos for centuries. They have the unique one-horn rhino, native to that region. But these rhinos have also seen struggles, with a once ripe population dropping to less than 100 in the 1900’s. But now they have a bustling 600 rhinos – how did they get there?
A drop in the one-horn rhino population
Before extensive human settlement, in the 15th century, the greater one-horned rhino ranged from north-west Myanmar across the Indo-Gangetic plain to northern Pakistan’s Indus River Valley. But the boom in the South Asian population in the 1900’s have placed increased pressure on the rhinos and their habitats.
All the rhinos were squeezed into one area, Terai. This region was infested with malaria, making it an unattractive for human settlement, and a haven for rhinos. In time, the Nepalese eradicated malaria from the region, and the one-horn rhinos were under threat again.
“[Human settlement] led to massive deforestation and poaching, and that led to the devastation of many species — not just rhinos, but all megafauna,” Lohani said. Unlike tigers, rhinos breed slowly and are easy to find, making them especially vulnerable, he explained. “People could easily spot the rhino and kill it in a retaliatory way if it damaged crops.” – Mongabay.
Rhino horn daggers were also in demand in Yemen, which led to additional poaching. With all this pressure placed on rhinos, their population dropped to below 100.
How Nepal brought back the Rhinos
Thanks to good governance and quick action, the dwindling rhino population was swept out of the gutter. Under the careful rule of King Mahendra, who had sentiment for the rhinos, the species was eventually restored.
In 1973, the first rhino park was created for the conservation of the species, called Chitwan National Park. Rhino patrols (also known as gaida gosti) monitored the area for poaching activity. But their weapons were outdated, so in 1975 they were replaced by 1 500 armed national army troops. The park kept expanding and local residents resettled further away to allow more room for the wildlife. This expansion and increased protection had seen the rhino population grow from 100 in 1973 to 600 by the year 2000.
But the political backdrop of Nepal seemed to be unstable, with rural Maoist insurgency against Nepal’s monarchy that set conservation back. Rhinos on the country-bordering parks suffered the most, with some populations dropping from over 60 rhinos to 22, like in Bardia. In 2006, the national rhino count dwindled at 400.
Now, increased emphasis on security measures and addressing social inequities have plateaued the rhino population at 600 again. The question is: how can they keep it there?