You might think it difficult to lose something the size of a rhino, but how difficult can it be to lose 49 of them?

49 rare rhinos of  72 Great One-horned rhinos on a nature reserve in southwest Nepal have disappeared.  The rhinos had been transferred from Chitwan National Park as part of a conservation scheme with the World Wildlife Federation in 1984.

23 of the 72 rhinos have already been killed by poachers.  Now six months of searching has failed to find even the skeletons of the remaining 49, but for some reason the Nepalese government is reluctant to blame poachers.  Could aliens be kidnapping rhinos?

Widespread poaching – and habitat losses – have reduced the Asian and African rhino population to only 16,000, down from 160,000 just 35 years ago, despite all five rhino species (and their products) being listed in CITES Appendix I, and all international commercial trade in rhinos and their products being prohibited since 1977.  Genetic tests and tests for rhino DNA in various products have also done little to reduce the illegal trade in rhino horn used for traditional medicines and to make dagger handles in South Korea, Yemen, Taiwan, and China.

Poachers risk their lives for the enormous profits even where rhinos are protected by armed soldiers and rangers with orders to shoot suspected poachers on sight. Several countries with rhino populations now impose harsh penalties on poachers; Zimbabwe imposes a five year jail sentence, Swaziland a mandatory minimum jail sentence of five years and a fine equal to the value of the poached rhinos, Zambia a mandatory jail sentence, South Africa a 10-year sentence, and Namibia a 20-year sentence.

Strict protection, especially in India, has brought the population of One-horned rhinos from only 100 a century ago to about 2,500.  Intensive anti-poaching efforts have also helped  African rhinos survive.  In 1920, for example, there were only 60 southern white rhinos, but protection in South Africa has boosted their numbers to more than 7,000.

The only surviving population of northern white rhino hasn’t enjoyed a similar level of protection.  Five or six of the 30 or so animals remaining in Garamba National Park in The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are killed each year by poachers. Created in 1938, Garamba National Park became a World Heritage Site in 1980 and is now classified as a World Heritage In Danger.

Black rhino populations have also been depleted by poaching.  According to the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, poaching helped reduce their numbers by more than 90 percent over the past 60 years.  They reached a low of  2410 in 1995, and have since recovered, but only by a few hundred animals each year.

Poachers will continue to be attracted by the high profits to be made from the illegal rhino horn trade, even killing dehorned animals for their horn fragments.

Nepal shouldn’t be given a second chance to protect one of the last great species on Earth.  They’re too precious to be entrusted to such incompetent guardians.

[Edited by Simon – Format changes]

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