Nepal's rhinoceros population has risen significantly over the past three years owing to better security against poachers and community conservation programs, an official said Tuesday.
A survey this month showed that the country's rhino population was 534 compared to 435 in 2008, when the last count was done, said Maheswor Dhakal, an ecologist with Nepal's Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.
Dhakal said the number of rhinos had decreased during the decade of fighting between government troops and Maoists rebels that ended in 2006 with a peace agreement.
During the conflict, soldiers were pulled out of conservation duty to fight the insurgents, leaving the forests unguarded and allowing poachers to hunt the animals with little resistance.
Since the end of the fighting, soldiers have been redeployed to keep poachers out, and the government has introduced programs with villagers living near the forests.
"Working closely with the community to set up buffer zones has helped in our conservation," Dhakal said, adding that the result has been an increase in rhino births and a decrease in killings.
Conservationists riding elephants spent three weeks this month counting the one-horned rhinos in the forests of Chitwan in southern Nepal and Bardia in the southwest.
The one-horned rhinos, also called Indian rhinos, are an endangered species. They are found in the southern plain forests of Nepal and in India.
Maoist rebels seeking to end Nepal's monarchy fought government troops from 1996 to 2006, when they gave up their armed revolt to join a peace process. More than 13,000 people were killed in the conflict.