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Nepal's rhinos bounce back

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

From a distance, two napping rhinos look like boulders in the riverbed’s shallow pool. On a hot day in western Nepal’s Bardia National Park, they barely move.

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Despite its formidable size and dinosaurlike armor, the animal is vulnerable: Nepal’s rhino population was devastated by poachers during the country’s decade-long civil war, which ended in 2006. In 2000, there were 612 rhinos in Nepal. Five years later that number had dropped to 372, as demand from China for their horns grew.

But there’s some good news for the one-horned rhino, which lives predominantly in India and Nepal. Its numbers grew more than 20 percent between 2008 and 2011, according to Nepal’s National Rhino Census. That’s a big increase for a mammal that breeds only every four years. “If the trend continues, we could be back at the same level of rhinos recorded just prior to the insurgency within two years,” says Eric Dinerstein, chief scientist at World Wildlife Fund.

The main reasons for the rise are heightened security around Nepal’s national parks and locals who tip off authorities about suspicious activities. Yet rhinos are still a rare sight here. The pair in Bardia finally roused themselves from their afternoon nap to lumber across the riverbed and disappear into the tall elephant grass.