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Nepal embarks on "rhino diplomacy" with rare gift to China

© AFP/File | Thousands of one-horned rhinos once roamed the southern plains of Nepal but rampant poaching and pressures of human encroachment reduced their numbers to around 100 in the later part of last century

KATHMANDU (AFP) - 

Nepal on Thursday gifted China a pair of endangered one-horned rhinos in a diplomatic gesture to its powerful neighbour and major investor.

The young male and a female rhinos, Rudra and Rupsi, boarded a charted flight bound for Guangzhou along with a team of Nepali experts.

"The rhinos were loaded in the plane in their crates and are on their way now. They were healthy and doing well," Man Bahadur Khadka, chief of Nepal's department of parks and wildlife conservation, told AFP.

The rhinos are expected to be released into a safari park in Guangzhou.

K.P. Sharma Oli had promised China the rhinos in 2016 during his previous tenure as Nepal's prime minister.

This gift comes shortly after Oli's visit to China last month when, as Nepali prime minister once more, he signed deals with Beijing including a railway linking Tibet and Kathmandu.

"I hope that this exchange will help strengthen the friendship between our nations in the coming days," Oli said at a ceremony Thursday for the rhinos attended by China's ambassador to Nepal, Yu Hong.

A second pair of rhinos is being prepared to be sent as well.

Nepal is seeking closer ties and much-needed energy and infrastructure investment from China, which has flexed greater economic and diplomatic muscle in its Himalayan neighbour in recent years.

They are not the first recipients of Nepal's "rhino diplomacy".

The landlocked Himalayan nation has gifted at least 22 rhinos to other countries, including six to the US and four to India.

Thousands of one-horned rhinos once roamed the southern plains of Nepal but rampant poaching and human encroachment on their habitat reduced their numbers to around 100 in the latter part of last century.

A successful anti-poaching and conservation initiative has seen the population steadily climb over the past decade to around 645.

© 2018 AFP