Nepal has counted 752 one-horned rhinos in four national parks, the most in more than 20 years, and the pandemic could be one of the reasons for the increase. No survey has found more than 650 since 2000, CNN reports; the population was 645 in 2015. Listed as a vulnerable species, the rhinoceros already is extinct in Bangladesh and Bhutan. India and Nepal are thought to have a total of 2,200 between them. Thousands of one-horned rhinos once lived in Nepal, but their number fell to about 100 in the 1960s, because of habitat disappearing and poachers arriving, per CBS. The census takes place every five years and involves teams, sometimes riding domesticated elephants, sighting and counting the rhinos one by one. Several factors have turned that decline around lately, Nepal's Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation said.
"Because the tourists were almost zero, the habits were not disturbed" after pandemic travel restrictions were enacted, a spokesman for the agency said. That allowed the habitats to bounce back. In addition, the agency invested in habitat management and was able to curb poaching; rhinos' horns are in demand for use in traditional Asian medicine, though no benefit has ever been documented. Also, some rhinos were moved to other parks, helping to start new populations. While the rising number of rhinos was greeted as "exciting news" by the agency, officials realize it could put a strain on existing habitat. The plan is to expand it. "It is a challenge," the spokesman said, "but we are managing the habitat intensively to support the higher density." (Read more rhinoceros stories.)