Earth & Conservation

Using Dozens Of Elephants To Save Rhinos

With the help of the WWF and a parade of elephants, Nepal's Greater One-Horned Rhinos are being translocated.

Rhino populations have been threatened in many parts of Asia and Africa for years. Because they're often poached for their horns, some rhino species have even become critically endangered.

Luckily, there are several conservation efforts taking place to help restore rhino populations where it's needed most. World Wildlife Fund has set-up a translocation program in Nepal to help restore greater one-horned rhino populations.

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Due to their rapid decline in population, rhinos often live in very isolated areas. Translocation helps them move between different areas in order to find new mates to breed with, as well as access to more food and water if their current location has scarce resources.

The process of translocating an animal as large as a rhino is a bit challenging to say the least. Nilanga Jayasinghe is a program officer for World Wildlife Fund, U.S. She explained to Seeker the resources required to move a 3 ton rhinoceros.

"Translocation at this magnitude is a tremendous effort. We have a total of about 35 elephants here and about 250 people," she said.

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This process wouldn't be possible without these elephants. They help get the rhino to a secluded area where it can be hit with a dart to sedate it. "When a rhino is discovered, they will communicate," Jayasinghe said. "The elephants will move in a circular formation around the rhino to keep it from running way."

"Once it's darted, everything moves very quickly," she added. "It's so rapid because you want to make sure there's minimal impact to the rhino. Ideally it should be done within half an hour. From the time the rhino is darted and it's taken to the truck and woken back up with the antidote."

Just over ten years ago, Nepal's greater one-horned rhino population was in serious trouble at only 375 total in the country. Today, conservation efforts like the translocation through WWF have increased that population to 645.

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In order to prevent illegal activity involving animals, like poaching, several years ago the Nepal government created the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau. However, Nepal's rhino population has been largely saved by local communities as well. In 2008, the government began encouraging citizens to set-up their own anti-poaching units and even handed over control of one third of the country's forest to them.

Today, there are over 400 of these anti-poaching units around the country. Anil Manandhar, the Country Representative of WWF Nepal says their conservation success is largely due to community efforts, and in turn the quality of their life is improved. "In Nepal, you know, conservation is paying back to the people. Improving the quality of life of the people through ecotourism, wildlife tourism," he told Seeker.

Since 2011, Nepal has had four straight years without a single instance of poaching and the translocation process has helped significantly replenish rhino populations in a fairly short time.

Manandhar added, "Nepal has become an example where you can prove that conservation can be done."

-- Molly Fosco