By Prayas Raj Koirala
Last week, on the occasion of World Wildlife Day, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) along with national and international stakeholders and conservation officials celebrated ‘365 days of zero poaching’ of rhinos in Nepal. Speaking on the occasion the Director General of DNPWC also revealed the data on smugglers and poachers caught during the year, which reflected the success to find the crooks and punish them.
According to records, of around 3200 one-horned rhinos in the world, Nepal is the home to 534 (Census 2011). Among these, Chitwan National Park shelters 503, Bardiya National Park has 24 and Shukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve, seven rhinos. The population of rhinos has gone up by 99 since 2009. Analyzing the past, turning ‘zero-poaching’ project into a success, however, was not an easy task.
During the Maoist insurgency, as many as 37 rhinos were killed in a single year. Similarly, 141 rhinos have been killed in the last decade. However, the figure of past few years is encouraging. In 2011, DNPWC celebrated its ‘first year of zero-poaching’. However, a group of poachers caught in 2012 revealed that they had killed a rhino and thus the declaration of DNWPC became rather controversial. As no other reports or claims of killings were reported, total killings in 2011 can be taken as one. 2012 saw only one killing.
The credit behind making ‘zero-poaching’ year a success goes to combined effort of the National Parks officials, security force and national as well as international agencies. While it was quite a difficult task to place security forces at strategic positions during the decade long war, setting up of security posts in different parts of the national park has been much easier in the recent years of relative peace. Chitwan National Park (CNP) now has around 123 observation posts with 1,100 security personnel. Likewise, technology has been a boon for conservation. Installation of solar batteries has enabled the use of electric lights and mobile phones in case of emergency. Similarly, automated drones and helicopters are able to make proper monitoring even in the areas out of human reach.
Moreover, CNP with the financial aid of World Wildlife Fund (WWF), is soon deploying ‘sniffer dogs’. Currently, four puppies are on nine month long training. As part of the upcoming Earth Hour, a day celebrated by turning off the lights for an hour, hosted by WWF, Emma Stone, the lead actress in the The Amazing Spider-Man 2 aims to raise US $10,000 in supporting the ‘Puppy Protector’ project of WWF-Nepal. This project aims at training sniffer dogs to track down animals, poachers and crime scenes.
Along with rhinos, Nepal has also been successful in raising the number of tigers in several national parks and protected areas. The most scientific census in 2013 showed a 63 percent increase in tiger numbers since 2009. The number of this majestic animal is now 198, up from 121 in 2009. Annual growth rate is almost 13 percent, not bad compared to the negative figures in the other countries where Royal Bengal Tigers are found.
Last November itself, DNA sampling of tigers was started. It is said to be helpful for tracking special zones where poachers are active. Once the DNA profiles of all tigers in the country are prepared, testing can be done when poachers are caught with tiger skins, bones and body parts. Once the DNA profile matches, anti-poaching activities can be intensified in the areas where poachers are active. Supports and grants by international donor agencies have also been helpful in tiger conservation. A few years back renowned Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s Foundation, as a goodwill ambassador of WWF, donated US $3 million for the tiger conservation project. The rise in the populations of these animals hints that the investments are paying off.
The success stories aside, it’s not yet the time to relax as yet. Diversity of wildlife in this land of rich natural beauties is immense and so is the risk of their endangerment and extinction. News regarding the killings of endangered animals such as Asian Elephants, Himalayan Snow Leopards, Pangolins, Ghariyal Crocodiles and many varieties of birds often comes into news. Moreover, deforestation is causing rapid loss of forest cover and accelerating climate change, hindering the natural food chain. Taking the success stories of rhinos and tigers as an inspiration, the state and other stakeholders should now focus on these other wild creatures which are on the verge of extinction.