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Endangered Rhinoceros Faces New Threat

written by: Rose Kivi•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 6/30/2009

Growth of non-native species of weeds and plants are killing grasslands that the Rhinoceroses Unicornis depend on as a food source. Conservationists are concerned that destruction of grasslands will force the endangered rhinos to leave their protected environment in search of food.

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    The Rhinoceros Unicornis whose common name is the Great One-Horned Rhinoceros or the Indian Rhinoceros is on the World Conservation Union's red list for endangered animals. The International Rhino Foundation estimates that only 2,619 remain in the wild. 408 of the existing rhinos live in the Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal. It is in the Royal Chitwan National Park that the Rhinoceros Unicornis is facing a new threat of habitat loss from growth of non-native species of weeds and plants that are destroying the grasslands that the rhinos rely on for food.

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    The 932 square kilometer Royal Chitwan National Park, located in South Central Asia is a protected park that conserves hundreds of species of plants, birds, insects, reptiles, and mammals including the Rhinoceros Unicornis. Conservationists at the national park have no explanation for the appearance of non-native species of weeds and plants that are destroying grasslands. The non-native species are quickly spreading and killing off native grasslands. Research is being commenced to find answers to their appearance and a solution to control the growth of the destructive plants. Time is a critical factor in finding a solution. If destruction of grasslands in the park continues, the rhinos may leave in search of food. Outside of the park, the rhinos face a real threat from poachers. With the few numbers of these rare rhinoceroses left, the death of even one can be detrimental to the survival of the species.

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    In the past, the Rhinoceros Unicornis inhabited the Northern Indian sub-continent. Loss of habitat and poaching has shrunk their habitat to Northeast India, Bhutan and Nepal. Habitat areas have been converted into farmland. Farmers frustrated with damage to their crops from the rhinos, shoot and kill them to prevent further crop damage. Poaching is a serious threat to the rhinos whose horns and other body parts are valued in Chinese medicine for their supposed aphrodisiac qualities. Rhinoceros horns and body parts sell for thousands of dollars on the black market.

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    Conservation efforts have brought the Rhinoceros Unicornis from a population of below 200 in the early twentieth century to the current estimated population of 2,619. The new threat at the Royal Chitwan National Park could put a hindrance on conservation efforts. Officials guard the rhinos inside the Royal Chitwan National Park. Outside of the park, it is difficult to protect the rhinos against poachers and frustrated farmers. A solution to the new threat in the national park is essential to the survival of this species.