Every year, March 3 is celebrated as World Wildlife Day; this year’s theme is “sustaining all life on Earth.” It’s a good time to look back at how Nepal has set an example in conservation through creating a favorable environment for wildlife.
According to the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) designed for the period 2014-2020, a total of 118 ecosystems have been identified in Nepal. “The issue of protected areas is one of the few sub-sectors that have made impressive progress in biodiversity conservation in the last few decades. The country’s protected area grew by more than 30 times in between 1973 and 2010. Currently, 23.23 percent of the country’s total land area is under protection, which is one of the highest in Asia,” according to the NBSAP.
According to government data, the populations of some flagship species, including tigers and rhinos, have increased in recent years, even as wildlife crimes decrease. The zero poaching of rhinos since 2011 and impressive increase of the tiger population is a case in point. By achieving zero poaching, Nepal has shown an example to other countries that it can be done.
In an amazing show of progress for wildlife, Nepal is on track to become the first country in the world to double its wild tiger population since 2010, according to WWF, a global conservation body. According to results from the country’s most recent tiger survey, there are now an estimated 235 wild tigers, nearly twice the number of tigers counted in 2009, WWF said.
This success has been achieved due to the coordinated and concerted efforts made by various organizations, including governmental mechanisms. There are various coordination teams tirelessly working from the top level to the grassroots. Currently, Community Based Anti-Poaching Units (CBAPUs) have been formed in various regions of the country to control killings and trade of wildlife.
A close study of five years of data provided by the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal clearly shows that wildlife crime is on a downward trend, which shows that conservation efforts are yielding positive results. In fiscal year 2013-14, 109 cases of wildlife crimes were recorded; that dropped to 69 in FY 2018-19. In the last 10 years, 693 criminals were arrested for wildlife crimes by the Nepal Police, 661 males and 32 females.
Though Nepal is observing zero poaching of rhino and wildlife are protected, the illegal trade in wild animals’ body parts is still rampant in the country. According to government officials, racketeers are using Kathmandu as a transit route for smuggling wildlife parts to other countries, mainly India and China. Similarly, though there has been progress in the protection of tigers and rhinos, killings of other animals continue.
From FY 1998-99 to FY 2017-18, 371 cases were filed against 761 Nepalis, 22 Chinese, two Saudis, two Americans, and 44 Indians for wildlife crimes. Police confiscated birds, leopard skins, red panda skins, rhino horns, pangolin scales, bear gall bladders, tiger skins, musk pods, and elephant tusks, among others. According to the CIB, they generally seize poachers along with different wildlife parts in groups. In other words, wildlife crime is known an organized crime in Nepal and wildlife parts are often smuggled alongside illegal drugs.
Rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis), tigers (Panthera tigris tigris), musk deer (Moschus chrysogaster), and pangolins (Manis crassicaudata) are some of the species that are especially at risk from poaching, according to government officials. Nepal has strict legal provisions for wildlife crimes but many people are still unaware of that. They can become involved in wildlife criminal acts both knowingly and unknowingly.
According to National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act (1973), penalties range from 500,000 to 1 million Nepali rupees ($4,300 to $8,600) for those found guilty of trading wildlife parts such rhino horns, deer musk, snow leopard skins, or keeping the carcasses of other protected wild animals. Those who violate the law can also receive jail sentences ranging from five to 15 years — or both jailtime and a fine — for violating the law.
Bel Bahadur Pandely, an information officer at the CIB, said achieving zero poaching of rhino and the increase in the tiger population both clearly show that Nepal is achieving progress in wildlife conservation. But he acknowledges that controlling the smugglers who are using Nepal as a transit route has been a major challenge for government agencies.
Madhav Khadka, senior manager at WWF’s Wildlife Trade Monitoring Department, said that wildlife crime has been decreasing in Nepal. He said, “We are working for wildlife protection [by] combating crime in transportation [and] empowering community people and women journalists and the education sector as well.”
Khadka shares that although poaching is decreasing, the transit and trade of wildlife parts remains a major challenge for Nepal. He further added that Nepal is used by many international criminals, with the involvement of national criminals, as a transaction point for wildlife.
Bishnu Shrestha, a spokesperson at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, said the ratio of wildlife crime is decreasing in Nepal due to the coordination mechanism under the National Tiger Conservation Committee, which links Community Based Anti-Poaching Units all the way up to the prime minister’s office. According to Shrestha, security forces – mainly the Nepal Police and Nepal Army — are playing a vital role in the conservation of wildlife in Nepal.
With the purpose of protecting wildlife, the National Wildlife Crime Control Committee was formed in 2010. The committee coordinates among different agencies such as Customs, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the Nepal Police, and the Nepal Army to prevent and control wildlife poaching and trade. The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau was established at the center and 28 district levels.
Strong collaboration between international NGOs and local NGOs, government agencies, and local communities has been the key factor that has broadly curbed poaching and illegal activities, making Nepal an admirable example of wildlife conservation.
Nepal’s success in wildlife conservation is appreciated at the international level as well. Nepal’s achievements were recognized by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) through a Secretary-General’s Certificate of Commendation in 2014. This acknowledged Nepal’s innovative measures introduced to combat wildlife crime, including strong interagency collaboration and the deployment of combined patrols of rangers and the Nepal Army in protected areas supported by Community-Based Anti-Poaching Units outside of parks. Showing its zero tolerance for the illegal wildfire trade, Nepal’s government in 2017 burnt more than 4,000 confiscated wildlife parts.
Despite the progress in wildlife conversation, there are still challenges. To control the illegal transboundary transit and trade of wildlife parts, there is a need for regional cooperation. Mainly, Nepal, India, and China should work closely to control poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. Similarly, there is a need for collaboration among the three tiers of government, with sound policy in place. More than that, there is a need for massive public awareness about wildlife protection. Nepal has an international obligation to protect wildlife because it is a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity so it has to work with international stakeholders as well.
Kamal Dev Bhattarai is a Kathmandu-based journalist and writer.
Sujata Karki is Kathmandu-based environment journalist affiliated with Nature Khabar.