The rhino horn is said to be an aphrodisiac and so is in great demand. It was for this reason that the rhino has been periodically killed. In our traditional rites the horn or its hide is used at the time of saraddha of our ancestors. It is believed to be very beneficial if one does a saraddha to ones ancestors whilst sitting inside the eviscerated abdomen of a rhino! In spite of all the hazards of the past the rhino population in the Nepali jungles was gradually rising. Then following the Covid-19 outbreak in humans, the rhino numbers suddenly suffered a setback. In contrast to the entire hullabaloo about tigers, the dismal downturn in the number of rhinos is certainly a disaster.
As per Wikipedia accounts there were over 800 rhinos in the 1950s. At the end of 1960 there were supposed to be only 95 rhinos in Chitwan and so the government took steps for its protection and the numbers rose from 188 in 1997 to 368 in 2016. An additional 112 animals were recorded in Parsa Wild Life Reserve. A total of 49 rhinos died in 2019. Many are killed by poachers for their horns. The year 2022 was a disaster as far as the numbers of rhinos was concerned. Management of the reserves is not being done properly for a rhinoceros fell into a pit dug by a contractor and died! Then a number of rhinos died suddenly at the end of July 2020.
Extinction of the Dodo in Mauritius and the Siberian tiger and Woolly Mammoths in different parts of the world has occurred. We have our own story of the Yeti! Though a figment of imagination, many people have looked for it in the Himalayas. The kasturi mriga or musk deer is perhaps on the edge of extinction. The red panda (Habre) is not far behind, whilst the pangolin is endangered because of rampant smuggling. However, the snow leopard has increased and is killing changras and sheep. Considering these facts it is even thought that smuggling of rare or exotic animals / birds from Nepal as an activity is rife and people have been periodically caught. While the skins of tigers fetch a huge price the bones are in demand as cure for many ailments. In this dismal environment of killing and poaching exotic animals / birds, it is nice to read that people of the Taplejung area are discouraged to go the forest during the habre breeding season so as not to disturb the animals.
As child I had read Jim Corbett’s ‘Man-eaters of Kumoun’ and also ‘Man-eating Leopard of Rudraprayag.’ Later I even managed to visit the Corbett National Park in India without sighting any tigers!
Nepal’s past history for the preservation of animals and birds is nothing to be proud of. PM Chandra Shumsher invited King George V for a shikar in Nepal 111 years ago from 18-28 December 1911. The animals killed on that occasion were were: 39 tigers, 18 rhinoceros, 4 bears plus several porcupines and leopards. A royal hunt by the Prince of Wales in Dec. 1921 killed: 14 tigers, 7 rhinos, 2 leopards and 2 bears. PM Joodha Shumsher, fond of hunting had a big tally too.
Royal hunts took place during King Mahendra’s time too. During the course of Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Nepal, Prince Philip was due to go for a tiger shoot but because of the pre-hunt adverse comments the program was cancelled on the grounds that the prince had an infection in his trigger finger!
Of course tourists came to Nepal to see tigers and this was facilitated by Jim Edwards with his company Tiger Tops. Others such as Temple Tiger, Gaida Lodge and Machaan joined in the effort to attract tourists to Nepal.
In 2010 the tiger population of the country was only 121. Nepal undertook to double this within 10 years. Great news at the end of July 2022 was that the tiger population of Nepal had almost trebled in 2009 to reach a tally of 355. This was announced on 29th July marking Globe Tiger Day. Congratulations poured in from Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio for this feat. In the wake of this however two tigers were found dead in a fortnight in October 2022 at Bara and Parsa. A side of the story however is about the human tiger conflict which has increased over the years. During three years there have been 62 human fatalities. A recent case was of two local people killed was whilst cutting grass in Gerwani forest of Bheriganga Municipality in mid-August. Though man eating tigers are being darted and put in cages the personal tragedy of individual families can never be compensated. Besides tigers, rhinos and elephants are involved in human conflicts. One appreciates that the Lamtang National Park distributed in July Rs.3.6 million to sufferers of human-animal conflict.
When animals are classed as protected species but are in fact dangers to the community then why not breed them in segregated places and send their offspring to desired sites. This form of practice is seen in the case of the panda. Though China has presented or sold panda pairs to various countries, the bottom line is that the offspring of the animal still belongs to China.
Fur farming or breeding of animals for fur e.g. has been going on for long in both Europe and Americas. Mink was a luxury item for women and Denmark has mink farms for the purpose. Furs of animals such as rabbits, cats, foxes were in great demand in countries having cold weather in Europe and fur farms of Denmark, Poland and even China provided the goods. It is perhaps the ‘Animal Rights Awareness Campaign’ which has decreased the demand for furs.
Another classic example is that of bears being kept in captivity and their bile extracted periodically as is done in China. Why not use this method? Is this any different in principle to the practice of rearing cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and reindeer for consumption? The breeding of horses worldwide for racing or the breeding of mink rats in Denmark for their furs has been condoned by society.
The author is a retired medical doctor and writes fiction under the pen name of Mani Dixit also. Website: www.hdixit.org.np. Twitter: @manidixithd