From: Reuters
Published March 24, 2008 08:04 AM

End of Maoist strife spurs Nepal rhino numbers

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - The numbers of endangered one-horned rhinoceros in Nepal are growing, thanks to effective anti-poaching measures in forests once occupied Maoist rebels, a senior park official said on Monday.

With peace, forests guards are going back to the jungles and authorities are restoring security and watching posts that had been removed during the decade-long Maoist insurgency that ended in 2006.

Rhino-experts, armed with binoculars and cameras, combed the Chitwan National Park on elephant backs for more than two weeks and counted 408 great one-horned rhinoceroses, chief warden of the park, Megh Bahadur Pandey said.

"We have also intensified anti-poaching drives and all political parties are interested in saving the rhinoceroses now," he said, adding that an all-party committee had been formed to discourage poachers.

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The park, located about 80 km (50 miles) southwest of Kathmandu, had only 372 animals in 2005, when the last census was taken, down from 544 in 2000.

"I think this increase in a small period of three years is good," Pandey said from Chitwan.

The rhino population had dwindled in Nepal in the past after poachers killed the animal for horns and other parts which fetch thousands of dollars in China due to their touted aphrodisiac qualities.

After Chitwan the only other area where the big rhinos are found is in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, which has more than 1,800.

Rhino poaching can carry a jail term of up to 15 years and around $1,540 in fines. But experts say implementation of the law is weak.

(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee)

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