Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Tharus and the rhinos

Chitwan National Park, Nepal’s first national park, is home to the second largest herd of one-horned rhinos in the world. The park boasts of having above 500 rhinos, thanks to the local community who have been joining hands with the government authorities to save the endangered species.

The Tharus take pride in living together with wild animals and conserving them and their habitat before and after the influx of migrants from northern part of the country and bordering India.

Many unsung heroes have gone unnoticed with the media blowing horns for only the vocal ones who apparently are non Tharus. The journalists only talk about the Tharus who have been a sensation – like a Tharu man jumping on a rhino to win a bet of just five rupees, the first woman mahout in Nepal who is a Tharu, and a Tharu mahout who handled the elephant whenever the king used to visit the park.   

However, the researchers who spent years in Chitwan, Bardia, Dang and other Tharuhat areas have spoken and written a lot about the Tharus – both the unsung heroes and the legends.   

Professor Ulrike Mueller-Boeker, in her book The Chitwan Tharus in Southern Nepal: An Ethnoecological Approach, details the Tharu beliefs about rhinos. 

Tharus regard rhino as a symbol of strength and potency. They, rather than believing on the aphrodisiac effect of the rhino horn, take it as an extreme case of good luck if they get hold of the flesh, blood, skin, urine or even dung of a rhino.

Tharus believe that placing the rhino horn under the pillow of a delivering mother makes the delivery quick and smooth. In her book, Ulrike mentions: And they share one other notion about the magical powers of the horn with many other Nepalese: radio transmitters and receivers work because there is rhino horn in them. “How else,” added one Tharu, “could words and songs fly from one place to another?” Events that cannot be explained or else chalked up to divine intervention become comprehensible by means of the rhinoceros.

The meat of a rhino, whether it is rotten or decayed extracted from dead or poached rhinos buried by the authorities, is considered as delicacy among the Tharus. They believe consuming rhino meat helps one evade cycle of rebirths. Besides, the meat offers health, courage and strength.      

Arm bracelets and pots are made from the skin of a dead rhino. Tharus believe that wearing a rhino bracelet protects from the attacks of spirits.

Tharus gather the dried clumps of rhino blood which drips drown when a rhino gets injured in a battle with another rhino. They then dissolve it in water and take of apply the liquid as medicine.

Likewise, the rhino dung and urine are also thought to have healing powers. If a puddle of urine or urine-soaked sand is discovered, they retrieve the liquid. If they find wet sand (with the rhino urine), they flush it with water and use the liquid, again as medicine.

Ulrike writes: The Tharus know to use the powers of a rhinoceros, of whose effectiveness they are convinced, without having to kill the animal; they merely “process” the excretions of a living creature of the cadaver of a dead one. This is also true of other animal species which are seldom slain in order to enjoy the healing and beneficial properties. 

Tharus have been living with the rhinos and saving them for generations – using only the urine and dung, clotted blood, and the skin and meat of a dead rhino. They, along with the newly arrived neighbours, know the importance of a rhino – how it is bringing tourists to the area and helping the local economy grow.

It is high time the media highlights the conservation efforts of local community and unsung heroes, because they are the ones who love the animals and play crucial role in saving the species. 


  1. Hope the Tharus stay on the conservation path and not get sucked into the temptation and lure for easy money thru poaching.
    Would love to visit the sanctuaries like Chitwan in Nepal, in times to come. Hope you can guide me in this effort, in future-Sanjib.

    1. Thank you Srini. Please let me know when you plan for a visit. I will be there to assist you in planning and might be we can go there together.