13 Rhino Poachers Convicted in Nepal

Thirteen poachers of the greater one-horned rhino have been convicted in Nepal, according to government officials. 

“All thirteen were convicted of poaching a rhino in a community forest in Nawalparasi district in March 2009. Some went into the forest in a group. Others aided with weapons,” said Tikaram Paudel, an officer at the Chitwan National Park, to Agence France-Presse.

The World Wildlife Foundation considers the rhino breed rare, with only 3,000 living in Nepal.

Six of the poachers were arrested three years ago and the other seven received convictions in absentia. In Nepal, killing a rhino has a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail. According to Paudel, eight of the poachers received 15-year prison sentences and a 100,000 rupee ($1,050) fine while the others were sentenced to 10-years in jail and fined 50,000 rupees. The difference in sentencing reflects their roles as the former were responsible for the actual slaughter of the rhino while the others kept watch.

Paudel said that the court asked police to arrest those still on the run.

The Chitwan National Park, which is under the government-run Department of Wildlife Conservation and National Parks, is vested with semi-judicial authority to act as a court by Nepal's National Parks Act

In 1975 there were only 600 one-horned rhinos surviving in the wild and the species was nearing extinction. The rhino population has recovered somewhat due to conservation efforts. Its status, according to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), is now “vulnerable,” one step below endangered. Major threats to the rhino population are human encroachment on their habitat and poaching.

Poaching is the largest threat to rhinos and is driven by the demand for their horns. A single horn can sell for tens of thousands of dollars on the black-market as they are believed to have healing properties. There is no scientific evidence that the horns have medicinal value as they are made of keratin, which is the same type of protein that makes up fingernails. Black-market prices for rhino horns have reached record highs. The going rate for a kilo of crushed rhino horn has been recorded as $60,000, more than the same amount of gold.

Nepal, an impoverished country with porous borders and weak law enforcement, has become the ideal hub for the illegal trade. And Chitwan National Park, where the poachers killed the rhino, is home to most of Nepal’s rhinos.

Earlier this month the WWF tested a new strategy: using drones to combat poaching.

"It's a cat-and-mouse game when it comes to getting ahead of poachers," said Matt Lewis, a WWF wildlife biologist, to National Public Radio. As poachers start to use more advanced strategies, like night vision technology and tranquilizer drugs “it's incumbent upon us to find a better solution to address that."