From: Reuters
Published June 1, 2008 09:59 AM

Rare rhino numbers in Nepal fall due to poachers

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Poaching in the Himalayas is taking a heavy toll on the population of the endangered one-horned rhinoceros in Nepal, a wildlife official said on Sunday.

There were 31 rhinoceros in the jungles of Bardiya National Park located in Nepal's southwestern plains last year of which nine have gone missing, park official Phanindra Kharel said.

"This shows that the rhinoceros are under threat from poachers," he said. "This is very serious and if this continues we may not have any rhinoceros left soon."

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Global conservation group WWF estimates there are less than 3,000 rhinoceros left in the world. They are found mostly in northeastern India and about 425 in neighboring Nepal.

Last month, authorities arrested a soldier and his three accomplices on charges of killing two rhinoceros in Nepal's Bardiya park.

The other area where the one-horned rhinoceros is found is the northeastern Indian state of Assam which has 1,855 beasts.

But poaching is also a big threat there and at least 10 animals have been killed in India's northeast since January this year by hunters, forcing authorities to tighten security.

Rhino horns are considered to have aphrodisiac qualities and fetch a high price in China and Southeast Asian countries, wildlife experts say.

Anyone found guilty of killing a rhino can be sentenced to up to 15 years in jail in Nepal. But experts say the implementation of the law is weak.

Officials in the Chitwan National Park in central Nepal, which has 408 rhinos, have also tightened security to save them from poachers

(Editing by Bappa Majumdar)

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