Rhinos, Houbara and youth

Kumar Paudel

The latest rhino census released this Saturday shows a glimmer of hope but the government will require lots more efforts to stop poaching.

The rhino count has increased from 435 in 2009 to 534 in 2011 but the rate of poaching has not stopped. Fifteen out of 27 rhinos that were found dead in 2066/67 BS were killed by poachers. This rare wildlife’s future, as always, remains doubtful. The key question as to whether the rhino population will really thrive in the years to come remains unanswered.
The authorities might sound optimistic but it is doubtful whether they will survive. Thus, to conserve this endangered animal poses one of the most serious challenges to the youth. And it is the youth who have to accept this new challenge and show that they are capable of doing this herculean task of saving one-horn rhinos. The first rhino census released in the year 1950 BS shows there were around 1,000 rhinos. This number started decreasing since then and reached 100 in 1968 BS. Since then the authorities started taking interest in rhinos. It’s been four decades and there has not been any great achievement in the conservation front. In between these four decades, Wild Life Act and National Park Act have been passed by the government for the conservation of one-horned rhinos but without any achievement.

The only achievement made was putting the picture of a rhino on a hundred rupee note but such a thing won’t stop rhinos from extinction without first attacking the roots of the problem. Loopholes within the system have to be identified and weeded out if we are really seeking some stellar achievement in rhino counts.

If anyone’s to be blamed for the lack of progress in conservation, it’s the government. An example from our history illustrates that during the Rana regime, foreign envoys to Nepal were allowed to go for hunting. That was how we showed them hospitality. Killing wild lives was taken as an act of bravery and those hunters were handsomely rewarded. Although the scenario has changed now, poaching has simply come to replace hunting.

Poaching is increasing due to the protection poachers are receiving from high ranking officials. The number of rhinos that are killed by poachers is way higher than those who die a natural death. Recent statistics bear evidence for this. The horns of rhinos have a huge market value for which they get killed. The horn is used primarily to boost the sexual power; rhinos can have sex for around two-and-a-half hour. It is generally believed (in Gulf countries) that rhino’s horn when used as a decorative instrument or in a ring boosts sexual power.

This belief has no scientific grounds though.The other side of the problem is the security system and the flawed laws. The security personnel working for the national parks are not given any special training while the adjacent Kanjiroba National Park (in India) employs specially trained forces to guard the national park.

The poor community living in the buffer zone aggravates the problem. People living there know the movements and locations of the rhinos but instead of helping to protect the rhinos, they are helping the poachers to locate the rhinos in return for cash (although very poorly paid).

United Arab Emirates could be an inspiration for us in protecting rhinos. Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Aki Nahyan, late president of UAE and a passionate conservationist founded the Emirates Center for Wildlife Propagation (ECWP) in 1995 in Missour, Morocco. In 2006, his strategy was secured by the Abu Dhabi Government when it created International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IFHC), an organization to conserve and restore Arabic cultural heritage-the houbara bustards.

The achievements are so profound and stellar; over 44,000 houbara bred in captivity from 165 in 1997 to 16,624 in 2009; over 30,000 houbara were subsequently released into the wildlife of Morocco. There is definitely a lot to learn from this success story.The Wild Life Act has a provision for punishment of for poachers amounting to a fine from Rs 100,000 to Rs 1.5 million and/or five to 15 years of imprisonment.

However, the latest decision of the Supreme Court states that a poacher can be imprisoned for a minimum of 12 years. This is a far too lenient sentence for a poacher involved in killing such a rare bio-heritage. In Bangladesh, there is a provision of capital punishment for anyone who kills a tiger and this has yielded very positive results so far.

We have to learn from our mistakes and others’ success stories in order to effectively control the rampant poaching. One horned rhino isn’t just any wild life; it is one of the symbols that represent Nepal in the world. We have already let enough to happen. Now is the time for the youth and students of Nepal to rise to the occasion by taking a tougher stance on poaching like what they have done when it comes to democratic movements.

This is my Oped appeared in print at Republica. Here is the Republica's link

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