A notorious rhino-killing gang is now in custody.
Nepalese authorities have arrested five people suspected of killing at least six – and possibly seven – rhinos over the past year in Chitwan National Park. The gang members were identified as Kajiman Praja, his two wives Sanu Maya Praja and Dil Maya Praja, his sister Kalpana Praja, and another relative, Dei Praja.
Police apprehended the suspects in the Syangja district, at the National Hotel and Lodge.
The “Praja poachers” are from the indigenous Chepang community. Chepang, along with Tharu and Tamang people, are frequently recruited by wildlife trafficking syndicates to carry out the murders of Nepal’s precious rhinos. The women and young people are then used to smuggle rhino horn into the cities of Kathmandu and Pokhara (Pers. comm., Suman Bhattarai, PARC/Nepal).
Nepal has already lost one rhino to the illegal rhino horn trade in 2011. The tragedy occurred during the first week of January in Chitwan National Park.
It is unlikely that this gang will be back to “work” anytime soon.
World-renowned expert in rhino horn and ivory trade, Dr. Esmond Martin, was recently interviewed by Wildlife Direct’s Paula Kahumbu. He explained that in Nepal, punishments for killing rhinos are determined by the forest department, not the courts.
In May 2010, Chitwan National Park officials handed out prison sentences to 16 rhino poachers. Three received ten years in jail, one received 14 years, and the remaining twelve will spend 15 years in prison.
Earlier this month, a rhino killer was shot dead by a joint patrol team of Bardia National Park and the Nepal Army after the poachers opened fire on the patrol unit.
Greater one-horned rhinos in Nepal
Approximately 435 greater one-horned rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis) reside in Nepal, within the protected areas of Chitwan National Park, Bardia National Park, and Shukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve.
Chitwan National Park also enjoyed a rhino baby boom in 2010, with the birth of eight calves.
Greater one-horned rhinos were once widespread throughout the northern floodplains and nearby foothills of the Indian sub-continent between Indo-Myanmar border in the east, and Sindh River basin, Pakistan in the west. Today, the remaining 2,850 greater one-horned rhinos are found only in a few protected areas in northeastern India and lowland Nepal.
Traditional medicine myths continue to threaten rhinos
Although the greater one-horned rhino population is steadily increasing, these rhinos remain under threat of being killed for their horn.
Despite the fact that extensive scientific analysis has confirmed that rhino horn has no medicinal properties, myths and superstitions about rhino horn persist throughout China and Vietnam, where rhino horn is considered a key ingredient of traditional Chinese medicine.
Sources: Personal communication (December 2010), Suman Bhattarai, PARC/Nepal; “4 poachers who killed 7 rhinos in a year arrested.” The Himalayan Times. 27 February 2011; “Five rhino poachers arrested in Nepal.” MSN India. 27 February 2011.