Thursday, February 10, 2011

Local Community Groups in Nepal Help Take on Rhino Poachers

Victim of poaching: An Indian one-horned rhino

The Chitwan National Park is one of the most prime attractions in Nepal. It is home to a rich variety of wildlife found nowhere else in the world, except in the Indian subcontinent. Among the flagship species present are tigers and rhinos. However, like any other wild place in the subcontinent, Chitwan National Park is prone to illegal poaching. Tigers, rhinos, and other rare and unique creatures have always been on top of the poachers' hit list, but the animals were once victims of a decade-long civil war which was fought between the government of Nepal and a Maoist insurgency. During that time, poaching of rhinos went unchecked as the army abandoned their posts, opening a window of opportunity for poachers. When the conflict ceased in 2006, the soldiers returned to their posts and the rhino population began to slowly and slowly recover. Conservations stated that the main cause for recovery were local community groups set up to protect the park's wildlife. Thanks to encouragement from the WWF and park authorities, the groups were formed in the park's "buffer zone", which was a 750-square kilometer area where elephants, tigers, and rhinos would often stray into. Many consist of local people hired by traders in Kathmandu, who campaign door-to-door, in schools, and perform educational dramas and songs about the impact of poaching. In addition to that, they are also helping out the park's staff and soldiers who patrol the grounds for poachers. That is, they provide them with information about the poachers' whereabouts.

I'm very happy and proud to see what the local communities in Nepal have been doing, in order to protect their wildlife. Thanks to their efforts, the numbers of the one-horned rhino has increased from 372 in 2005 to 408 in 2008. But what really impresses me is that these people are collaborating with Chitwan National Park's authorities, in order to help them capture the poachers. The reason is, according to park's warden Narendra Man Pradhan, the national park covers 932 square kilometers of grassland which makes it impossible for authorities to prevent poaching. I also feel that the community groups can further help out is by raising awareness about the impact of the invasive Mimosa plant. Although this plant does not affect the rhinos, it does take over the native plant populations, which forces the animals to wander outside the park in search for food. This brings them into conflict with other people. This is why I feel that Nepal's community groups should also consider helping in weeding out these invasive plants, so that rhinos and other animals do not end up in any would-be confrontation with the locals.

The same story is in Orang National Park in the state of Assam in India. Rhinos have been straying outside the park's boundaries, due to the impact of the Mimosa. I feel that if locals follow their Nepalese neighbors' example, they will help both the rhinos and other wild animals. Furthermore, just as Nepal was once a place of civil conflict, India's northeastern region has for long been a hot-bed of political instability. And it is because of this instability that poachers see an opportunity to do decimate the wildlife. I personally feel that the people up there should somehow form a truce, and focus their attention on protecting and preserving the national parks just like the people in Nepal have been doing since the civil war's end.

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