Space & Innovation

What Does It Take to Move Five Rhinos?

In a world where park rangers are generally not supported in their critical conservation roles, Nepal is an exception.

<p>A rhino is released in Nepal's Babai Valley in Bardia National Park on Tuesday // Image via WWF</p>

This week, a team in Nepal moved a greater one-horned rhino from Chitwan National Park to Bardia National Park. It was the first such translocation since 2003, and a momentous occasion for Nepal's government, park and other enforcement agencies, NGOs, communities and other partners.

Moving a rhino is no small feat. It takes a team of roughly 75 people and more than 30 elephants to round up, sedate and transport these critically important animals hundreds of miles by road across Nepal's lowlands, part of Asia's magnificent Terai Arc landscape.

By week's end, a total of five rhinos will be moved. By 2018, 20 more rhinos will have been translocated to Bardia and five others to Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve.

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It's all part of a larger effort to bring these rhinos back to historic numbers in this magical corner of our planet. The efforts are under way as the world marks World Wildlife Day – a time to honor our planet's amazing creatures and unite in condemning the illegal killing and trade that threatens them. The day's theme is "The future of wildlife is in our hands."

The project is partially funded by Discovery. The translocation was also funded by WWF, USAID and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It was led by Nepal's Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, with the support of WWF-Nepal, the National Trust for Nature Conservation, the Nepal Army and local communities.

Conservation missions like the rhino translocation require cooperation across all levels, starting with the national government and trickling down to law enforcement, communities and conservation NGOs like WWF. Nepal's many conservation successes demonstrate that it takes an entire country. And, in recent years, Nepal has proven to be a global model for wildlife conservation.

This isn't the case everywhere. A new survey of rangers across 11 countries in Asia shows that most rangers don't get the support they need.

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Seventy-four percent of rangers surveyed said they do not have the proper equipment to ensure their safety while working. Nearly half of respondents said they do not feel adequately trained to do their job. From basic items like sturdy hiking boots and outerwear to advanced anti-poaching technology and conservation management software, rangers need these essential tools – and the proper training to use them effectively.

When governments don't support rangers, local communities often close in. Forty-three percent of rangers surveyed say they have been threatened by community members. Human-wildlife conflict and dangers posed by tigers and elephants, and sometimes rhinos, often result in negative attitudes toward wild animals, and in turn, toward the rangers charged with protecting them.

Nepal's rangers experience the opposite: locals in Nepal help rangers succeed. The country's 400 community-based anti-poaching units patrol and monitor illegal activity, giving citizens an opportunity to contribute to conservation efforts. As a result, at a time when the illegal killing of large animals is at record levels elsewhere around the world, Nepal has experienced three years of zero rhino poaching since 2011 and is heading for a fourth.

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The greater one-horned rhino, found in Nepal, India and a small pocket of Bhutan, numbered only 100 individuals at the turn of the 20th century. Today, due to collaborative and concerted efforts, it numbers 3,500 across these three countries. It's the only large mammal in Asia to be down-listed from endangered to vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Translocations like the one currently being undertaken in Nepal help increase rhino numbers by establishing new populations in their historic range and by reducing the pressure on resources in places like Chitwan National Park, where rhino numbers have returned to capacity.

Nilanga Jayasinghe leads efforts to conserve Asian species for World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in the United States.

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