1 Horned Rhino Image (1)

Chitwan-Parsa Complex, Nepal

Sustaining suitable habitats for the greater one-horned rhino 

Partners: Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Airbus Foundation

Key Species: Greater one-horned rhino, Bengal tiger, Asian elephant

2024 Award Winner 

Within the sprawling wilderness of Nepal's Chitwan-Parsa Complex, the vibrant Terai grasslands stretch as far as the eye can see, its dense vegetation often standing taller than a human. These grasslands are home to almost all of Nepal’s rhinos (697 out of 752) alongside the largest remaining populations of tigers (169) and Asian elephants (25) in the country.

Approximately 350,000 people reside in the buffer zone, and their livelihoods are intricately linked to the local biodiversity. Tourism revenues and community forestry programs help support their communities. Yet threats loom large – encroaching agriculture, poaching and invasive plant species threaten to disrupt this delicate ecosystem.

Data-driven conservation 

In the face of these challenges, the successful conservation of the Chitwan-Parsa Complex demands a strategic allocation of limited resources. Each conservation dollar must be leveraged with precision, ensuring its utmost efficacy in safeguarding this invaluable ecosystem.

The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is embarking on a groundbreaking project. Using newly tasked and archived 30cm Pleiadés Neo data, donated by the Airbus Foundation, with funding and capacity support from Connected Conservation Foundation, the team aims to identify and optimise the most cost-effective grassland management strategies.

To do so, it will conduct comprehensive field surveys and use sophisticated machine learning algorithms to analyse satellite data, aiming to accurately map vegetation and evaluate the effectiveness of various habitat interventions that maintain and benefit the intricate balance of this ecosystem. 

Advocating for change 

The project will consolidate analysis and insights into a comprehensive document titled the Rhino Habitat Policy Brief (RHPB). This brief will offer strategic recommendations for efficient and cost-effective rhino and grassland management.

ZSL will collaborate closely with Nepal's Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, where they will present the RHPB and engage in advocacy efforts at the highest levels of decision-making. The success of the project will be gauged by the integration of their recommendations into pivotal documents such as Nepal’s National Rhino Conservation Plan, as well as the Chitwan and Parsa National Park Management Plans.

Long term, their discoveries could help reshape the way we approach conservation, not only in Nepal, but across similar grassland landscapes worldwide.

Dinesh Neupane And Bhagawan
Agriculture In Nepal
Bental Tigers

ZSL has been supporting the management of Nepal's Terai grasslands and rhino population for decades. We are excited by the opportunity this satellite data presents to scientifically evaluate the effects of this management and potential feedback between rhinos and the grasslands. 

Dinesh Neupane, ZSL's Nepal Team Coordinator

Species factfile

Greater one-horned rhino

The greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) stands as a majestic emblem of Asia's biodiversity, renowned for its singular horn and robust stature. As one of the largest land mammals on the continent, this iconic species holds a vital place in the ecosystem.

Historically, their range extended across the Indian subcontinent, from Pakistan to Bangladesh and Nepal. However, the greater one-horned rhinoceros faces a precarious future, with its population dwindling due to relentless pressures from habitat loss, poaching and human-wildlife conflict.

Through concerted conservation strategies such as habitat preservation, anti-poaching measures and community engagement initiatives, there is hope for the continued survival of the greater one-horned rhinoceros. 

Asian elephants

Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) are the largest land animals in Asia and one of three species of elephants in the world. They are highly-intelligent and social animals, living in matriarchal groups led by a dominant female. 

From the lush tropical and subtropical forests to the vast grasslands, to the mountainous regions of Asia, the Asian elephant has made its mark on the landscape. With a historical range that spanned from Syria to China, and from the Russian Far East to the Indonesian islands, these elephants were once an integral part of a diverse ecosystem.

Sadly, the Asian elephant is now listed as an endangered species, with only about 40,000 to 50,000 individuals remaining in the wild, due to the impact of habitat loss, poaching and human-elephant conflict. Establishing Protected Areas, reducing human-elephant conflict and promoting sustainable forestry practices are just a few of the conservation measures underway to ensure the survival of these gentle giants. 

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