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Leading the charge: wildlife experts plan for future of Nepal’s rhinos | Conservation
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Leading the charge: wildlife experts plan for future of Nepal’s rhinos | Conservation

Tourists watch a pair of greater one-horned rhinos by a river


GAnesh Pant worries for the future. He enjoys the remarkable conservation achievement that has seen the number of greater one-horned Rhinos in Nepal increase from 100 in 1965, 752 in 2021He wants to know that success will continue.

Before the 1950s, Nepal had more than 1,000 rhinos in its grasslands and forests. The species was threatened with extinction due to rampant hunting, poaching, and changes in land use. In 1973, the National Park was established. Thanks to concerted conservation efforts the park has survived. The rhino population began to rebound.

Today, Chitwan national park has the second-largest concentration of one-horned rhinos after India’s Kaziranga national park, with the two parks accounting for 70% of the species’ global population. Besides playing a key role in the ecosystem, Chitwan’s rhinos help attract huge numbers of tourists each year, contributing considerably to the country’s economy. In 2019, there was 185,000 foreign visitorsTo the park

Tourists watch a pair of greater one-horned rhinos by a river
Greater one-horned rhinos in Chitwan national Park. Between 2016 and 2020, more than 100 of these species died from natural or undetermined causes. Photograph: Hemis/Alamy

However, the greater one-horned Rhinoceros is still considered to be a species. International Union for Conservation of Nature makes it vulnerable(IUCN), and a new danger has emerged. There were only five confirmed poaching deaths between 2016 and 2020. However, more than 100 rhinos were killed by natural or unknown causes. “Poaching used to be the reason for rhino mortality. But in recent years, the government has done an excellent job in protecting rhinoceroses from poaching,” says Pant, a conservation officer working for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation in Nepal.

“At this point, we cannot say that [these deaths are] only due to the impacts of climate change,” says Pant, who is studying for a PhD with the University of Southern Queensland, Australia. Pant believes that climate change could be one of the causes. Pant and a group of researchers created 21 indicators to assess Nepal’s vulnerability to climate change. They concluded that they were “moderately vulnerable”global warming will have an impact on rhino habitats, primarily because of the potential for invasive species, extreme flooding, habitat fragmentation, droughts, and forest fires.

“I’ve tried to look at the likely shift in the habitat of the rhinoceros in Nepal in the next 50 years in different climate change scenarios,” he says. “And to find out what would be the adaptation measures – to enhance the resilience of the rhinoceros in the context of likely impacts of climate change.”

A one-horned rhinoceros grazing at Chitwan
One-horned rhinoceros, Chitwan. They need enough flooding to keep their grassland habitat intact. Photograph: imageBroker/Alamy

Rhinos are an adaptive species that is considered moderately vulnerable. “That means it’s not at risk of immediate extinction due to climate change, but we have to consider it at the moment if we are to sustain the population for the long run,” says Pant.

Wendy Foden, a conservation biologist, agrees: “We are currently experiencing the fastest rate of climatic change in 65m years. If conservation planning efforts are to remain relevant and strategic, they must include the best available science on anticipated future impacts.”

Recent studies have shown that several species of animals already feel the effects and are responding to it. Their habitats should be changedAnd even more Appendages that are growinglarger beaks, legs, and ears to help them regulate their body temperature in certain cases. The lack of long-term observational evidence makes it difficult to predict how the climate crisis will affect biodiversity.


How are climate and biodiversity crises connected?


Our biosphere – the thin film of life on the surface of our planet – is being destabilised by temperature change. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent. FloodingSea level rises and droughts can all impact biodiversity and its ability and support. The ocean is under stress from heatwaves, acidification and habitat fragmentation.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (IPCC), is a landmark. Report showed that extreme heatwaves that would usually happen every 50 years are already happening every decade. These heatwaves will occur approximately every five years if the temperature is kept below 1.5C.

The effect of the climate crisis on the Earth’s biodiversity is already being seen. The distributions of 47% of land-based flightless mammals and almost a quarter of threatened birds may already have been negatively affected by the climate crisis, the IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) Warns. Five percent of all species are at risk from extinction due to 2C warming. This number could rise to 16% with a rising temperature of 4.3C.

Scientists are increasingly arguing that the Climate and biodiversity crises can be linked. The destruction of the planet’s carbon-rich habitats, such as peatlands, forests, wetlands and grasslands, is damaging biodiversity and releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases.

If 15% of the world’s most degraded land was restored, and the remaining habitats which are still in good condition protected, it could store a third of all greenhouse gas emissions created by humans since the Industrial Revolution, according to Researchers.

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“It would be very unwise to plan species conservation actions before thoroughly assessing what can go wrong for that species, the mechanisms of potential impacts, how sensitive it is to these, and whether it is likely to be able to adapt of its own accord,” says Foden, who chairs the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s climate change specialist group, and led the development of IUCN guidelinesAssessment of species vulnerability to climate change.

“These provide the foundations from which to build solid conservation plans. So in most cases, climate change vulnerability analysis is imperative for species conservation planning.”

A rhino in a river drinking water
Janakauli community forests, a buffer area bordering Chitwan, is home to a larger one-horned Rhinoceros. Working more closely with the local community, as well as increased security, has helped rescue Nepal’s rhinos from poachers. Photograph: Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP

Pant’s research looked at the one-horned rhino’s climate crisis vulnerability according to sensitivity, exposure and adaptive capacity. Sensitivity refers to how likely a species will be affected by climate change. Exposure is the extent to the environment that they will be exposed to change. Adaptive capacity is their ability overcome the negative effects of climate change.

The one-horned rhinos did well in the climate change vulnerability analysis. However, the changing climate is already threatening Chitwan’s rhino population. To maintain its habitat, the species depends on an annual flood level.

Extreme flooding has affected the park a number of times in the past few years. sweeping rhinos downstream into IndiaAnd bringing Debris and rubbish upstream. Drought is also more common, which means that rhinos have less access to the ponds they need to regulate their temperature. Invasive species like the bitter vine (Mikania micrantha), Chromolaena odorata, Siam weed, also known as Siam weed is a flowering shrub that is spreading at an alarming rate. The grasslands are being encroached upon that are the rhinos’ prime habitat. Global warming is expected to increase extreme flooding and droughts, as also the rapid growth of invasive species.

Rhinos wallowing in a muddy pond
As climate change increases, more droughts will be common and last longer. This will be a problem for rhinos who need to cool off in ponds. Photograph: Galyna Andrushko/Alamy

According to Naresh Subedi, conservation programme manager at Nepal’s National Trust for Nature ConservationIn the fight against climate change, habitat management and better population growth are key. “Currently, our rhino population increment rate is 5%, for example. If we maintain 8% rhino population increment annually, then even if we lose 3% of the rhino population by the annual flood or climate-induced incident, they still will be in a good position.”

Pant agrees. He says that floods are not seasonal and that it is crucial to maintain a healthy population by maintaining a suitable habitat throughout the year. Another recent: StudyHis team discovered that more then a third of the rhinoceros habitat in Nepal could be unsuitable in 50 years. This was primarily due to climactic changes but also changes to land use.

Pant has proposed seven adaptation measures to secure the one-horned rhino’s future that include: maintaining the ponds rhinos need for wallowing; managing the impacts of floods; creating “refugia”; and actively managing habitats to provide a mosaic of grasslands and wetlands.

“We are talking about adaptation because mitigation might take a long time and also depends on several factors,” says Pant. “It’s not under our control, so the only thing we can do is safeguard the rhinoceros under these extreme conditions. That’s our priority at the moment.”

Find out more Here is the coverage on age of extinctionFollow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston Patrick GreenfieldFollow Twitter for the latest news and features


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