Nepalese wildlife experts painted a bleak picture for the endangered one-horned Asian rhinoceros in the country's protected reserves, media reports said Monday.
According to conservation activists, the animal would be extinct in the country within the next 20 years if the current rate of poaching continues, the Himalayan Times reported.
"The total number of rhinos that died due to poaching and natural causes in 2006 was around 47," said Mangal Man Shakya, chairman of the Wildlife Watch Group.
"One cannot even imagine that such an endangered species is being poached so rampantly. If rhino poaching continues at this rate, no rhinos will be left in Nepal in the next 10-20 years."
According to unofficial statistics, Nepal had 372 rhinos in 2005, down from more than 600 in 2000. Rhinos are mostly poached for their horns, which fetch as much as $49,000 per kg, wildlife experts said.
Conservationist Prasanna Yonzon of Wildlife Conservation Nepal called 2006 "a disaster year for rhino conservation".
He also blamed the government for the upward trend in poaching, saying it had released convicted poachers in recent years.
However, the government had earlier said the increase in poaching was because of the conflict with Maoist rebels, which resulted in the removal of security forces from national parks and reserves.
But this claim was rejected by the experts who said poaching had risen dramatically since April 2005 when the government and the Maoists agreed to end the conflict. However, they gave no clear data on how many rhinos were poached during that period.
Nepal recorded considerable success in rhino conservation when it set up national parks in the early 1970s, but the country also saw rapid deforestation and loss of rhino habitat during that period.
Nepal had over 800 one-horned rhinos in 1950. That number went down to fewer than 60 in 1960.
The government promised to re-establish security posts in the national parks that were removed because of the Maoist insurgency, but most of the security posts continue to remain vacant.