Home Away from Home

© Simrika Sharma / WWF Nepal

As dawn breaks over the pristine Babai valley, a 25km river floodplain saddled in the north-eastern section of Bardia National Park, a ten-member joint monitoring team from the Nepal Army and Bardia National Park set out on a foot patrol to monitor the five one-horned rhinos translocated in March 2016 from Chitwan National Park.

The reintroduction of the rhinos in Babai valley after thirteen years holds a very significant meaning for conservationists in Nepal. Babai, considered as one of the preferred habitats for rhinos, had once hosted 70 rhinos translocated between 1986-2003 from Chitwan National Park. Within a span of seventeen years, not a single rhino survived.

“We cannot claim poaching to be the stand-alone reason for the death of the rhinos in Babai valley”, says Ramesh Thapa, Chief Warden of Bardia National Park. “While poaching was a primary reason, some rhinos also died a natural death or out of poor health,” Thapa added.

With the resumption of the rhino translocations, Nepali conservationists aim to build a second viable population of rhinos in the western complex of the Terai Arc Landscape, presently home to 37 of Nepal’s 645 rhinos. And Bardia National Park, once scarred by an escalating poaching crisis during the Maoist insurgency, may just be the next safe haven for a growing rhino population. This is on account of positive changes in the conservation landscape that are geared towards improved protection measures for Nepal’s iconic species.

Protected Areas, for example, have stepped up their anti-poaching response. In Bardia alone, there are 33 guard posts to provide protection to the park’s wildlife species. The introduction of new methods and techniques in anti-poaching patrols, such as Real-Time SMART Patrolling, is ensuring that the Nepal Army and park authorities have constant vigil over the forests of Bardia and its wildlife.

A key conservation ally of the government and its partners such as WWF Nepal is the local communities that live in the fringes of the national park. Of the many successes that the communities have been able to bring in conservation, one that stands out is from the buffer zone community in Taranga situated in the northern belt of Bardia National Park.

“Until few years ago, the local people used to keep home-made guns primarily for killing animals for their livelihoods,” says Chandrakala Buda, a resident of Taranga VDC. “After our village was declared as a buffer zone, the local people have gained more understanding of the importance of conserving wildlife and various alternate livelihoods options have replaced the need to kill wildlife,” adds Buda. In Bardia, the local people handed over 242 home-made guns to the park authorities in a show of support for the country’s broader conservation efforts.

This wave of change bodes well for the five rhinos that have made Bardia their new home. The rhinos with their unique IDs are under 24-hour surveillance. Based on the initial information received, the rhinos are acclimatizing well in Babai valley trying to create their own territory.

In May 2016, a male calf was born to one of the five translocated rhinos – an encouraging sign that the mother is thriving in her new environment. With 25 rhinos yet to be translocated from Chitwan National Park to Bardia National Park and Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve by 2018, the newborn rhino is a signal of hope for a country geared up to rebuild its rhino population.