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What Does It Take to Move 5 Rhinos?

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

by Nilanga Jayasinghe, World Wildlife Fund 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.

A rhino is released in Nepal's Babai Valley in Bardia National Park on Tuesday.

The co-host of a hunting show on the Outdoor Channel recently spent $350,000 for the chance to hunt an endangered black rhinoceros in southern Africa. Corey Knowlton won the Dallas Safari Club's auction for a permit to hunt the rhino in Namibia. Knowlton says he and his family have received death threats after his name was made public through social media. "As much as I would love them all to live forever, they are going to die," Knowlton

told CNN

. "The older males are killing each other, and something has to be done about it."

Nearly any animal can be legally killed in many parts of Africa, so long as the hunter pays the right amount of money. For rare and endangered species, the cost can escalate to many thousands of U.S. dollars.

"National parks are obviously trying to make money," Johnny Rodrigues, Chairman for Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told Discovery News. "The hunters have to pay the parks if they want to shoot the animals."

It can be a Catch-22, since the parks often struggle to pay their staff, which include those who work to care for and protect the animals. The high price tag of a permit may serve as a deterrent, but it also reflects how much poachers can earn without even benefiting the parks.[/br

The payment needed to legally shoot an elephant drops to $50,000 in Zimbabwe, with a further loss of $10,000 if the elephant has no tusks. "The reason rhinos are more valuable than elephants is because the horn is so valuable and in such high demand by the Chinese," Rodrigues said.

$20,000 can allow hunters with appropriate permits to kill several rare animals in many parts of Africa. Leopards are on that list, even though The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists them as "threatened."

The price tag on lions is also $20,000. In terms of what happens to the dead animals, "As far as I know," Rodrigues said, "once the animals are hunted, they are exported to the hunter's home country." Upon arrival, the hunter may preserve the animal's dead body and put it on display.

The cost to legally hunt a cheetah in Zimbabwe is $20,000. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists them as "vulnerable," but further mentions that "the known cheetah population is approximately 7,500-10,000 adult animals." In 1975, the number of cheetahs in Africa was estimated at 15,000, revealing that this species has significantly declined in only three generations.

Majestic Roan antelopes also can be hunted for $20,000 in parts of Africa. While its population is more numerous than wild cats, this species has been eliminated from large parts of its former range, primarily due to poaching and habitat loss.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reports that sable antelopes possess "high value as a trophy animal."

Sometimes the cost to hunt an animal differs if the target is male or female. That is the case for African buffalos, since males have larger horns than females do. The horn size difference costs a hunter an extra two grand to shoot a male African buffalo.

A hunter must pay $5,000 to legally shoot a giraffe in Zimbabwe. The IUCN Red List reports that "a recent preliminary population estimate suggests a decline in the total population has taken place." While giraffes are currently listed as being animals of "least concern," that classification might soon change if the estimate is substantiated.

On the less expensive side of the scale are flamingos, which cost only $100 to legally hunt in Zimbabwe. The value of this and the other animals to conservationists and other animal lovers comes without a price tag, however. To them, the animals are priceless. Nevertheless, by putting a price on the heads of animals, some national parks in Africa earn money that helps to fuel their operations. The biggest problem is poachers, who receive relatively light sentences for their crimes.

Rodrigues explained, "The only thing a poacher would get if they trapped these animals is a jail sentence if they are caught."