The population of rhinos across four national parks in Nepal increased to 752 in the latest count, up by more than 100 from 645 animals in 2015, according to Haribhadra Acharya, information officer at Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC).
Since 2000, no previous survey of rhino populations by the Nepali government has found more than 650 of the animals.
Acharya said the tally was calculated by teams who divided the huge rhino habitat into squares and then counted the animals inside manually, sometimes riding domesticated elephants to cover the distances between areas.
Acharya said the rise in population was the result of a number of changes, including investment in habitat management, controlling poaching and translocation of rhinos between habitats.
“Chitwan (National Park) is a major habitat for rhinos in Nepal but we have translocated them to (other parks) to make an alternate population and (as a result) the population has increased in those parks, and in Chitwan as well,” Acharya said.
But Acharya said the pandemic, which stopped both domestic and international travelers to the national parks, was likely also a factor. “Because the tourists were almost zero, the habits were not disturbed,” he said.
Fewer than 2,200 one-horned rhinos
The rhino has come under threat from poachers due to its horn, used in traditional Asian medicine, according to Nepal’s DNPWC.
A 2016 paper in the International Journal of Applied and Natural Sciences said local people had been given rewards for information on rhino-related illicit activities.
“Poaching or trade in wildlife products continue to pose a serious threat to the whole country,” the report said.
Acharya said he is happy to see more one-horned rhinos, but noted the rising population posed new problems for conservationists.
He said the forest area home to the rhinos could not be increased and authorities needed to ensure the animals had proper access to food and water.
“It is a challenge but we are managing the habitat intensively to support the higher density,” he said.
CNN’s Swati Gupta contributed to this article.