Large numbers of rhinos once roamed parts of Nepal, but poachers and a civil war decimated the population. Now the country is working to protect existing rhinos while trying to grow the population.
Soldiers and forest rangers in Nepal are scouring a national park area searching for poachers who killed a one-horned rhinoceros and cut off its horn over the weekend, officials said Sunday.
Chitwan National Park's forest officer Nurendra Aryal said a team had been set up to investigate the incident, and security had been tightened at the district borders.
The dead pachyderm was found on Saturday, according to the officials.
The park's chief warden, Ram Chandra, said the poachers had taken advantage of a storm and heavy rain late Friday.
"The poachers fled with his horn and tail and left the animal in a pool of blood," he said.
"It appears that they were planning this for a long time and were waiting for an opportunity to strike," he said, referring to the stormy weather, which prevented soldiers from hearing the gunshot or seeing the poachers.
Aryal added, "We performed a post-mortem and found that it had been hit by a bullet on its head."
The forest is located 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of the capital, Kathmandu, near the Indian border. It is a government-protected area that is guarded by armed soldiers.
Thousands once roamed Nepal
Another rhino died last September, weeks after poachers shot it in the same park. It was the first of the rare animals to be killed in the country in more than two years, Aryal said.
Thousands of one-horned rhinos once roamed the plains of Nepal, but their numbers plunged over the last century as a result of poaching and human encroachment on their habitat.
The population decline was particularly severe during Nepal's civil war, from 1996-2006. Soldiers were pulled off anti-poaching duties and redeployed to fight the Maoist guerrilla insurgency.
Since then Nepal has been working to increase the number of one-horned rhinos in the preserve, and the population now tops 600. The park is currently in the process of relocating five rhinos to another conservation area in far-west Nepal to boost the population there.
Shant Raj Jnawali, a rhino expert at conservation group WWF, said the latest death highlighted the vulnerability of the animals despite anti-poaching efforts from the community, park officials and the army.
"We hope that the investigation will help us devise new strategies to strengthen protection for these animals," Jnawali said.
Rhino poaching in Nepal carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail and a 100,000-rupee ($1,000) fine.
bik/se (AP, AFP, dpa)