An Indian rhino chilling out, by Diganta Talukdar/Flickr
Nepal has become a model country for conservation and anti-poaching efforts, and here's another feather for its cap: 13 rhino poachers have been convicted of poaching an endangered Indian rhinoceros, the last of the one-horned rhinos left. But there's a twist: the crime was convicted way back in March 2009, and six of the 13 have already been in jail for three years.
The group was convicted by a court headed by the chief of the Chitwan National Park, where most of Nepal's rhinos reside and which, being government-run, has a semi-judicial authority. Eight of the convicted were given the maximum sentence of 15 years, while the others were sentenced to 10 years. Those not currently under arrest were sentenced in absentia, pending their evenutal arrest.
It's unclear why the wheels of justice have taken so long to turn. And considering the booming demand for horn in the years since, it's interesting to see such a large group busted for an old crime.
But Nepal is a special case. The number of Indian rhinos in the Chitwan park dropped from 544 in 2000 to 372 in 2005; since then, aggressive conservation and enforcement tactics have allowed the rare creatures to again crest the 500 mark by 2011. Convinctions like this one, however belated, are all part of Nepal's hardline stance on hunting poachers.
With the help of technology, including drones, and a government that's made protecting wildlife a priority, Chitwan's rhinos have held on, even as populations elsewhere have plummeted. To be fair, South Africa has a much larger problem on its hands with regards to protecting its own rhinos, with far more area and individuals to cover, and more militant poachers. Still, Nepal continues to show it's found a solid working formula, one that other countries can hopefully learn from.