Forest ministry orders action against Chitwan National Park officials over rhino death

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KATHMANDU: FEB. 16 – The Ministry of Forest and Environment has directed the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation to take action against the officials of the Chitwan National Park over the death of an 11-year-old male rhino.

On January 25, the male rhino was found dead in a freshly-dug roadside ditch along the Bharatpur-Gondrang road section in Chitwan where a road expansion drive has been taking place for the past year.

Conservationists and animal lovers had expressed grave concerns over the death and the social media was abuzz with sympathy for the rhino and criticism of the negligence by the authorities.

A probe committee formed by the Minister for Forest and Environment Ramsahay Prasad Yadav had held the park officials responsible for the death and wrote to the department on Monday recommending action against the officials.

Last week, the committee had recommended departmental action against the national park officials as per the Civil Service Act 1993 for their failure to fulfill their official responsibilities.

Minister Yadav had formed the committee with Dr Rajendra KC, deputy director-general of the Department of Forest and Land Conservation, as head, to investigate the death.

The committee also consisted of the ministry’s joint secretary for law Ramji Danai; Planning chief of Department of National Park Dil Bahadur Purja Pun; chief of Forest Division Office, Chitwan Padam Nepal; and chief conservation officer of the Chitwan National Park Haribhadra Acharya.

Ramchandra Kandel, director-general of the department said his office will immediately seek clarification from the officials responsible for the death and initiate necessary action.

“The department will take action against the park officials,” said Kandel. “But we also demand action against all others responsible for the death,” he added.

Anyone found guilty of killing or poaching a rhino can face a jail term of up to 15 years and a fine of up to Rs 1 million.

The ministry has also written to the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport to take action against the agencies involved in digging the ditch and leaving it uncovered.

The committee report had recommended departmental action also against the officials of the Bharatpur Road Division for working carelessly, not covering or fencing the ditch, and for not coordinating with the authorities concerned.

An official at the department said departmental action may include a halt in promotion and grade reduction among others.

Also, the committee has recommended the national park, Nepal Army, and the Division Forest Office, Chitwan to conduct daily patrol to avoid such incidents in future.

Earlier in late January, the Chitwan National Park had issued an arrest warrant against a representative of the construction company Indo-Sagun JV, which is widening the road and had dug the ditch that killed the rhino.

Conservationists have long been raising questions about the road expansion drive in the park’s buffer zone and the insensitivity of the authorities while carrying out the construction work in such a sensitive zone.

The one-horned rhino, which is native to Nepal and India, is an endangered animal. Nepal is home to a total of 752 one-horned rhinos and Chitwan National Park alone has 694, according to the national rhino census conducted last year.

According to the park, as many as 21 rhinos have died in Chitwan in the past six months.

In 2019, a female rhino, aged 25, had died after falling into a septic tank at Tiger Land Hotel in Jagatpur of Bharatpur-23.