Nov 2, 2006
The Asiatic rhino's horn is reputed to have aphrodisiac qualities
Conservation officials in Nepal have vowed to step up anti-poaching measures after a spate of killings this week of an endangered rhinoceros species.
By Wednesday, poachers had killed four single-horned Asiatic rhinos in and around Chitwan National Park. Many more have been killed this year.
The horn of the animal is sought after for its alleged aphrodisiac qualities.
Chitwan now has fewer than 400 rhinos, besides other endangered wildlife species like the Royal Bengal tiger.
Park officials and the local community have become increasingly worried with each fresh rhino killing this week.
Anil Manandher, from the international conservation group WWF, said a team had been sent to the Chitwan area to find ways to curb the epidemic of poaching.
"After our officials in the field report back," he told the BBC, "we will actively pursue some anti-poaching measures based on a recent multi-stakeholder declaration."
In recent years, villagers living in and around the 1,000-sq km park have teamed up with the authorities to try to conserve the endangered wildlife in Chitwan.
Gopal Upadhyay, the park's warden, told the BBC that since January 2005, a total of 35 rhinos have been found dead in and around the park.
Only ten have died from natural causes.
A 2005 census counted 372 rhinos in Chitwan, down from 544 in 2000.
"We can't do anything alone," Mr Upadhyay said. "We need support from everybody to protect these animals."
Krishna Bhurtel, the chairman of a local village committee, blames the authorities.
"Past governments have released the jailed poachers," he told the BBC.
"That's why poachers are on the prowl and killing wildlife fearlessly. All the political parties need to be more active, too."
Alarmed by the rise in rhino poaching, local stakeholders, international conservation groups and the park authorities met in August.
They said they would work together to improve anti-poaching operations.
After Chitwan National Park was created in 1976, the rhino population began to increase from fewer than 100.
The park was listed as a World Heritage site by the United Nations in 1984.
The rise in rhino numbers prompted conservationists to move some of the animals to two other parks in western Nepal.
But in recent years, officials say, the Maoist insurgency has taken its toll in Bardia and Shukla Phanta nature preserves in western Nepal, affecting the rhino populations there as well.