Nepali Times
Pollution, poaching threaten Chitwan’s success


When Crown Prince Paras released a nursery-bred gharial into the Narayani River at the Royal Chitwan National Park on Monday, he may not have known that toxic effluents were pouring into the river from factories upstream.

Earlier in the day, his send off for the first of 10 Chitwan rhinos being translocated to the Royal Bardia National Park came as conservationists sounded alarm bells over a worrying rise in wildlife poaching. Crown Prince Paras is chairman of the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation, and officials hope royal patronage will galvanise government resolve to control the twin threats of pollution and poaching in Nepal's parks.

The gharial release is one of Nepal's most-successful efforts to save endangered species. Since 1978, more than 400 of these endangered fish-eating crocodiles have been bred and released into the wild. In that time, urbanisation and industrialisation have degraded the Narayani River so seriously that it threatens the program.
Another conservation success story is the comeback of the rhino. Hunting and habitat destruction had nearly wiped them out from Chitwan by the 1970s, but since then the rhino population has multiplied five-fold to nearly 400 today. Tigers have also made a dramatic rebound.

Part of the reason for this success is that Nepal's reserves have been under military protection since 1976. But after the army was deployed for counter-insurgency two years ago, only seven of the 32 guard posts in Chitwan are manned. Poachers have moved in, picking off rhinos with the biggest horns. Last year, 37 of the 54 rhinos that died in Chitwan were killed for their horns. So far this year, four of eight rhinos that have died were killed by poachers.

"This is a serious threat, it could undermine three decades of successful conservation in Chitwan," says Chandra Gurung of WWF Nepal. The park authorities say they are aware of the problem, and with the ceasefire the army says it plans to re-occupy abandoned posts. The outspoken ex-MP from Chitwan, Jagrit Bhetwal has no doubt who the culprits are. "Rhino poachers are in cahoots with local politicians," he told us. "Rhino killing increased after the 1996 elections, and it became really bad after the army pulled back."

Overcrowding in Chitwan means rhinos often raid crops on the park perimeter where villagers poison or electrocute them. Translocations reduce the pressure on villages in Chitwan, and also to develop an alternative viable population for rhinos in west Nepal. Of the rhinos in Bardia, 83 have been moved from Chitwan. But Bardia is in the heart of the insurgency, and translocation expert Shanta Jnawali admits things are difficult and there is little monitoring. "The army has moved out of seven of the 11 range posts in Bardia and our guess is that there is poaching going on," he told us.

The illicit trade in rhino and tiger parts follows laws of supply and demand: as long as affluence creates a demand in China and Japan, there will be poor farmers and criminal middlemen in the subcontinent willing to ensure supply. "We have to look into the demand side in China," says Claude Martin, director general of WWF International, who was in Chitwan this week to oversee the rhino translocations. "And we also need to increase vigilance in Nepal and India."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)