Invasive mikania in Chitwan National Park, Nepal: the threat to the greater one-horned rhinoceros Rhinoceros unicornis and factors driving the invasion
Published: July, 2013
As part of a census of the Indian rhinoceros Rhinoceros unicornis a survey was conducted to measure the extent of invasion by the neotropical plant mikania Mikania micrantha across major habitats of Chitwan National Park important for the conservation of the rhinoceros. Previous work has demonstrated that this fire-adapted plant can smother and kill native flora such as grasses and sapling trees, several of which are important fodder plants of the rhinoceros. Here, additional studies were conducted on the risks of anthropogenic factors (natural resource collection and grassland burning) contributing to the spread and growth of the plant. Mikania is currently found across 44% of habitats sampled and almost 15% of these have a high infestation (> 50% coverage). Highest densities were recorded from riverine forest, tall grass and wetland habitats and this is where the highest numbers of rhinoceroses were recorded in the habitats surveyed during the census. Local community dependence on natural resources in the core area of the Park is high. The range and volume of resources (e.g. fodder) collected and the distances travelled all pose a high risk of the spread of mikania. Of greater significance is the annual burning of the grasslands in the Park by local communities, estimated at 25–50% of the total area. It is imperative, therefore, that core elements of a management plan for mikania incorporate actions to control burning, reduce spread and raise awareness about best practice for local resource management by local communities.