The rhinoceros belongs to the family Rhinocerotidae and includes four genera, five species and eleven subspecies. Only five species of rhinoceros are surviving in the word of which three species namely – the greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) and Sumatran rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sumatrensis) are confined in Asia and two species namely – the black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) and white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) in African continent.
Greater one-horned rhino, also known as the Indian rhino lives in floodplain grassland and adjacent riverine forests of north Indian and southern Nepal. Belonging to the Rhinocerotidae family, rhinos are among the largest remaining megafauna. Characterized as odd-toed ungulate with single horn and armored skin, one-horned rhino lives on herbivorous diet. Rhinos have alarmingly become victims to poaching and their illegal trade, killed for their horns which are simply made of keratins (same type of protein that makes up hair and fingernails). Rhino horns are prime target of wildlife criminal networks making them severely vulnerable.
One-horned rhinos once inhabited many areas ranging from Pakistan to Myanmar. However, because of human pressure, they are now confined to only few protected areas of India and Nepal. The vast flood plains and lush grasslands of the Chitwan valley harbored a large rhino population (ca. 1,000) which dramatically declined in the 1950s. Rhinos are modifiers of grassland and riverine ecosystem, thus sustaining their healthy populations is necessary to maintain healthy ecosystems. Habitat destruction (conversion of prime habitats to agriculture lands) as a result of surging human population, hunting and poaching are the main causes behind their dramatic decline. Inundation of floodplains, spread of invasive species (Mikania micrantha, Chromolena orodata, Lantana spp.) and succession of grassland ecosystem are other persistent threats to rhino habitats.
Rhino conservation in Nepal has taken a long journey. Once widespread throughout the lowlands, they were reduced to only few pockets by 1950s and only around 100 individuals. Conservation efforts boosted the population by the 1990s but took a toll during the political turmoil between 1996 to 2006. Their numbers are now rising again and reaches over 600 individuals. Strengthened park management combined with effective army patrols along with community engagement have allowed Chitwan's rhinos to rebound from extinction. Chitwan National Park remains the stronghold of rhino population in Nepal and in order to reduce the vulnerability of a single population to stochastic events—disease and natural disasters—NTNC in collaboration with the Government of Nepal and conservation partners have translocated rhinos to Bardia and Suklaphanta National Parks to create additional viable populations. Since 2009, NTNC in collaboration with the park authorities has initiated ID-based rhino monitoring which has been valuable in evidence-based planning for rhino conservation. NTNC works closely with the parks to implement SMART Patrolling and support with the livelihood improvement of buffer zone communities to discourage poaching. A result of joint effort between Government of Nepal, NTNC, conservation partners and community, Nepal has won widespread praise from international conservationists. In 2013, 2015 and 2016, Nepal celebrated zero poaching of rhinos. Going forward, NTNC will continue to engage in research and monitoring of rhinos, providing rescue operations and veterinarian care, engaging local communities and promote transboundary cooperation for rhino conservation. Readily available to the sighting eye, NTNC continues to promote rhino attraction to wildlife tourists.