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Crisis to biological management: Rhinoceros, grassland and public engagement in Nepal

Completed initiative


Greater One-Horned Asian Rhino.

Greater One-Horned Asian Rhino. (Photo "DSC_0013" by bobosh_t is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

In 2007 Zoological Society of London initiated a project to help conserve the greater one-horned Asian rhino and Terai grassland habitat in Nepal. Included in the main objectives was strengthening and increasing the capacity of communities in monitoring and surveillance of both the rhino and anti-poaching. The project also aimed to implement more effective human-wildlife conflict resolution measures as well as improve public engagement with and integrate local communities in conservation efforts. Project achievements include better awareness and engagement of communities, reduced human-wildlife conflict and improved livelihoods.


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The project took place across three national parks, each of which is home to varying numbers of greater one-horned rhino. These were Chitwan National Park (CNP), Bardia National Park (BNP) and Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve (SWR).

The poaching and wildlife trade problem

Species affected Greater One-horned Rhino Rhinoceros unicornis

Products in trade

Rhino horn for international markets. 

Overview of the problem

Greater one-horned rhino live in protected areas across Nepal and are threatened by habitat loss, a growing human population and poaching for their horn.

In 2006, ZSL carried out an initial scoping exercise and poaching was found to be the main cause of decline of the rhino population. This had been heightened due to political trouble at the time in Nepal which had led to a lack of law enforcement and weakened anti-poaching activities. The project also found that poverty was not a major cause of poaching in the region, which was largely carried out by external agents. They did however identify some community support for poaching in the poorest villages. 

The anti-IWT initiative

The overarching aim of the project was to develop a sustainable and long-term conservation plan for rhinos in Nepal. In order to achieve this, the project was intended to improve governance, integration and opportunities for local communities.

Specific community-based activities included:

  • Supporting multi-stakeholder monitoring and anti-poaching systems
  • Developing practical solutions to reduce crop and physical damage by wild animals
  • Developing a long-term buffer zone community development strategy
  • Building capacity for sustainable livelihood skills
  • Promoting public engagement at all levels
  • Initiating community theatre to education and raise awareness amongst the local communities

At the start of the project, certain marginalised communities were not receiving adequate benefits from the park and were thus more likely to engage in poaching activities due to a lack of alternative livelihood opportunities. The project intended to provide these communities with training in income-generating (non-wildlife based) programs, such as mushroom farming and hand-loom weaving.

To help reduce dependence on the parks, the project intended to initiate more community participatory activities, including sustainable management of community forests for NTFPs and job creation. It was hoped that the effective conservation of rhinos would lead to increased ecotourism opportunities too.

The strategy

Strengthening disincentives for illegal behaviour

Paid in-kind community scouts
Monetary incentives for community intelligence
Raising community awareness about wildlife crime penalties and sanctions
Strengthening and supporting traditional norms and sanctions against IWT
Further detail

Park and community patrol staff trained in monitoring, anti-poaching and surveying techniques.

Increasing incentives for wildlife stewardship


Decreasing the costs of living with wildlife

Preventive measures to deter wildlife
Financial mitigation measures
Further detail

An electric fence study was piloted and farmers trained in the processing of non-palatable crops to enhance economic resilience.

Increasing livelihoods that are not related to wildlife

(Non-wildlife-based) enterprise development/support

Improving education and awareness

Further detail

A mobile public engagement unit was implemented to provide community education and awareness events around the protected areas and for key events associated with the conservation of rhinos.

Has the initiative made a difference?

Although the impact of the project was still being assessed when the final report was written there were some clear results highlighted:

  • The project was successful in incentivising communities through sustainable livelihood opportunities and improved public awareness
  • Particular progress was made in in community engagement in meaningful rhino conservation
  • Instrumental to information gathering on poaching was the integration of community youth anti-poaching groups into the forest corridor connecting Nepalese and Indian national parks. Over 100 local youths were involved and the groups provided with uniforms and bicycles


A census of the rhino population was used to monitor the population of rhino in Nepal. In BNP there was no rhino poaching from 2008, primarily through community engagement and their subsequent role in anti-poaching. In BNP there were also significant benefits from human-wildlife conflict resolution measures. Community surveys and discussions were used to indicate the trend in HWC incidents. Fencing led to fewer reports of crop raiding and the use of alternative non-palatable cash crops led to higher commercial benefits, providing economic resilience. Farmers were motivated to learn new crop management and processing techniques as a result.

In BNP the main poaching group was identified and exposed by the community, which led to a number of local men joining a community-based anti-poaching unit. Consistent messaging through education and community liaison officers reinforced this message and helped to influence the generally positive attitude in dealing with poaching and poachers.

What works and why

The successes in BNP were primarily down to remarkable community support, which was helped by extensive education and awareness raising programmes.

Factors for success

Devolved decision-making power so local communities have a voice in creating or co-creating solutions (as part of the initiative)

Clear and tangible benefits to local communities from wildlife (These may be financial and/or non-financial)

What doesn’t work and why

Nepal was still highly politically charged whilst the project was being carried out and poor governance meant certain situations couldn’t not be resolved.

Tense politics within partner organisations and frequent changing of key staff made engagement difficult in some areas.

Factors that limited or hindered success

Lack of supportive national policy/legislation for devolved governance of natural resources

Lack of coordinated and coherent sectoral policies/legislation (For example, land use planning, agricultural etc...)

Lack of supportive, multi-stakeholder partnerships with a shared vision

Organisers, donors and partners

The project was funded by the Darwin Initiative.

Partners included: National Trust for Nature Conservation; Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation; International Union for the Conservation of Nature; WWF Nepal; CABI International

For further information contact (