Rhino dies after botched poaching attempt

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A young bull rhino submerges himself in the river at Chitwan National park seeking relief from a failed poaching attempt in Chandrapur in Rautahat District. (Shuvani Thapa/ICIMOD)

A 12-15 year old rhino who survived more than two weeks after poachers riddled the bull with bullets succumbed to his injuries 6 September. The bull was brought to Chitwan National Park (CNP) on 21 August from a community forest in Rautahat after poachers failed to get away with his horn. Rhinos are classified as a rare and endangered species.

The day the bull was brought to CNP, seven of us — Veterinarian Aamir Saraula, wildlife technicians, and Nepal Army officials — went to see the injured rhino in Hattisar. The bull was submerged in the river, left to heal on his own after having been given 10-12 bottles of saline water and antibiotics. All we could do was wait.

A government elephant patrolling the area is used to guide a wounded rhino toward the river bank for medical treatment. (Shuvani Thapa/ICIMOD)

The next day, we returned to find the rhino still in the river making it difficult for us to help him.  Fearful of alligators, we decided it best to order a boat, but that took precious time. As we waited anxiously for the boat, park and Nepal Army officials gathered. More than hour had passed, so we opted not to wait for the boat. Dr Saraula and other officials went into the river to treat the bull. 

Dr Saraula injected the bullet wounds with antibiotics. The rhino jolted in pain. He was badly bruised the day before from his truck ride to Chitwan. There was no way to determine his condition. ‘We don’t know if bullets are still inside, we don’t have an X-ray machine to check’, Dr Saraula said.

Chitwan National Park, the Nepal Army, and the buffer zone community forest had three consecutive years with no rhino poaching. This year was a setback. Unfortunately the success of conservation in CNP led the adolescent bull to search for territory beyond his protected area. The community forest in Chandrapur in Rautahat District was not able to provide him with safe refuge — an example of the lack of interest in conservation outside the protected areas and buffer zone forest. For the rhino’s safety, he had to be transported to the CNP area.

A veterinarian technician sprays anitbiotics into the bullet wounds of an adolescent bull rhino brought to Chitwan National Park for treatment after a failed poaching attempt. The bull died two weeks later. (Shuvani Thapa/ICIMOD)

 Rhinos are poached for their horns which are made up of keratins, the same material that forms human hairs and finger nail. The rhino horn is erroneously thought to possess medicinal qualities and is being used in some traditional remedies in Asian cultures. Recently the market for rhino horn has exploded in Vietnam as it is believed to cure cancer. In the region, it is also believed to be a cure for hangovers, an aphrodisiac, and seen as some to be a status symbol. 

Chinese medicine professed the rhino horn possessed magical powers that of the mythical unicorn. Unfortunately these beliefs remain ingrained in many societies although modern medicine has proven it possesses no medical benefits. 

Burn Horns, Save Rhinos is a campaign to burn all existing rhino horns to bring the plight of the rhino to the world’s attention. By limiting the demand for rhino horn, rhinos can be better protected.

Conservation efforts will continue to be a challenge as more megafauna species such as tigers and rhinos continue to increase in population in protected areas. 

(Shuvani Thapa is a research intern for the REDD+ Initiative which focuses on landscape conservation and habitat restoration.)