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Nepal's rhinos on road to recovery with cross-country move
Chitwan, Nepal (AFP) April 10, 2017

Rare one-horned rhino killed by poachers in Nepal
Kathmandu (AFP) April 9, 2017 - Poachers have shot dead a one-horned rhinoceros at a national wildlife park in Nepal, officials said Sunday, spotlighting the threat faced by the rare animals.

Officials on Saturday found the male rhino with its horn gouged out in Chitwan National Park, the country's biggest rhino conservation area.

"We performed a post-mortem and found that it had been hit by a bullet on its head," the park's spokesman Nurendra Aryal told AFP.

Aryal said a team had been set up to investigate the incident and security had been tightened at the district borders.

In September last year a rhino died weeks after poachers shot it in the same park, the first of the rare animals to be killed in the country in over two years.

Thousands of one-horned rhinos once roamed the plains of Nepal, but their numbers have plunged over the past century due to poaching and human encroachment on their habitat.

The population decline was particularly dramatic during Nepal's 1996-2006 civil war, when soldiers on anti-poaching duties were redeployed to fight the Maoist guerrilla insurgency.

But the country has since made rapid progress in combating the poachers who kill the animals for their prized horns, drawing praise from conservation groups and activists.

The horns fetch huge prices in some Asian countries where they are used for medicines and jewellery.

Nepal is home to about 645 rhinos, out of which about 600 live in Chitwan National Park.

The park is in the process of relocating five rhinos to another conservation area in far-west Nepal to boost their population.

Shant Raj Jnawali, a rhino expert at WWF, said the latest death highlighted the vulnerability of the animals despite anti-poaching efforts from the community, park wardens and army.

"We hope that the investigation will help us devise new strategies to strengthen protection for these animals," Jnawali said.

Rhino poaching carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail and a 100,000-rupee ($1,000) fine.

All hell broke loose as the one-horned rhino stepped out of the crate, the powerful male charging elephant-mounted mahouts relocating him to a new home in Nepal's far west in the hope of shoring up the vulnerable species.

The cantankerous male -- whose single horn keeps him in the crosshairs of wildlife poachers -- is the first to be relocated to Shuklaphanta National Park but will be joined by four females of breeding age.

Finding suitable rhinos for the ambitious relocation program is a marathon effort for the 100-strong team.

Atop elephants they set off at dawn in Chitwan National Park, communicating in brief shouts and hand signals as they fan out across the plain and into the dense jungle.

Thousands of one-horned rhinos once roamed the southern plains of Nepal but rampant poaching and pressures of human encroachment reduced their numbers to around 100 in the later part of last century.

A successful anti-poaching and conservation initiative has seen the population steadily climb over the past decade to around 645.

But new blood was needed in Shuklaphanta National Park, currently home to about eight rhinos, to protect the country's population against threats, said Dr Kanchan Thapa, a biologist from conservation group WWF.

A young female is the first rhino spotted -- a prime candidate -- but as she emerges from the dense bush, a young calf of about nine months follows her out.

Her calf -- which will stay with its mother until it is around two years old -- counts her out of the move. The search continues.

- Painstaking process -

More than three hours later, an excited whisper goes around as another rhino is spotted: a huge male.

The elephants encircle it, slowly encouraging him towards a marksman waiting perched in a tree with a tranquilizer dart gun.

It is a painstaking process: one wrong move could startle the 2-tonne male into charging the elephants or slipping back into the forest.

He moves slowly towards the open plain where the marksman waits, almost veering out of range before coming to a stop within striking distance.

The dart hits the rhino in its flank. It breaks into a run but his lumbering strides gradually slow until he falls to his knees about 100 metres away.

The vets attach a satellite collar around his neck and take blood samples before a dozen men roll him onto a sledge. A tractor is needed to shift him into a crate before the convoy begins a 15-hour overnight journey to his new home.

It is midmorning by the time the truck reaches Shuklaphanta National Park in the far southwestern corner of Nepal.

Anticipation builds as the crate is opened, revealing the vast backside of a sleeping rhino. Despite the long journey, he initially appears reluctant to budge.

But lumbering out of the crate, he suddenly springs to life and charges the truck, butting it a few times with his horn before turning his attention to three elephants standing nearby.

Ploughing headlong into the trio, the rhino leaves a deep gash on the backside of one elephant, panicking the beasts as the mahouts on top try to regain calm.

The rhino stormed into the forest and out of sight, leaving a cloud of dust in its wake.

- 'Like my father' -

The arduous -- and often unpredictable -- task of relocating these rare animals will be replicated at least 30 times over the next few years, as the government repopulates Shuklaphanta and another reserve in Bardia with new rhinos.

The growing population of greater one-horned rhinos -- found only in Nepal and India -- prompted the International Union for Conservation of Nature to remove the species from its endangered list in 2008.

But the illegal trade of rhino horns, which are prized in China and Southeast Asia for their supposed medicinal properties, remains a real threat.

Only three rhinos have been killed by poachers in Nepal in the last four years -- the most recent on Saturday.

But poachers would quickly return if vigilance dropped, said 72-year-old Gam Bahdhur Tamang, a retired member of Nepal's first rhino protection patrol set up by the then-king in 1959.

He spent 31 years patrolling the plains of Chitwan and says he caught around 25 poachers himself. Still today, he prays everyday for the safety of his flock.

"When a rhino dies I feel it like it was my father."

Bees can see much better than thought: scientists
Sydney (AFP) April 7, 2017
Bees have much better eyesight than previously thought, scientists said Friday, allowing them to buzz away from approaching predators and navigate safely. Researchers already knew bees could see colours, but now they have discovered their vision is 30 percent clearer than earlier studies showed. Steven Wiederman, from the University of Adelaide's Medical School, said all previous researc ... read more

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