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SOS Rhino : In the News : Poaching Flourishes in Nepal Despite Strict Curbs

Poaching Flourishes in Nepal Despite Strict Curbs

  Keshab Poudel
OneWorld South Asia
14 April 2004

KATHMANDU, Apr 14 (OneWorld) - Despite the arrests of 100 poachers in Nepal in the past year, the menace remains rampant across the Himalayan kingdom, hindering efforts at wildlife conservation and threatening endangered species.

At least 28 rhinos died last year, 14 of whom were killed by poachers, who export the horns. In 2002, a whopping 37 rhinos were killed. The horned giants are the most sought after by poachers, followed by tigers, musk deer and leopards. At least five tigers were reportedly killed by poachers in the past two years.

The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) compiled the number of deaths. It determines whether a rhino has been poached or died of natural circumstances by checking if the carcasses have the horns intact.

In an indication that poaching is increasing, in the last three months alone, seven rhinos were found dead and three did not have horns. Last month, an anti-poaching unit discovered two male tiger carcasses in a wildlife reserve.

Nepal's wildlife reserves, including the Royal Chitwan National Park (RCNP) and Royal Bardia National Park are home to around 350 Royal Bengal tigers and over 600 rhinos.

Experts caution that the high mortality rate will drastically affect the animal population in the long run. Warns the chief of the nongovernmental organization Resources Himalaya, Prahlad Yonjon, "Since the gestation period of tigers and rhinos is long, the high mortality will hamper conservation efforts."

Rhinos' horns and tigers' skin, bones and organs are illegally marketed to places like China, Taiwan and Hong Kong where they are used as traditional medicines. Nepalese custom officials in the northern border points frequently confiscate the bones of wild animal and horns headed for Tibet.

Recently, customs officials recovered a large haul of tiger bones and rhino horns from Humla, 400 miles northwest of the capital Kathmandu. Last month, the government anti-poaching unit arrested a Tibetan woman on charges of selling rhino horns.

Since Nepal is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of World Flora and Fauna, the government has a special unit to work towards deterring poaching and trade in animals' body parts.

Informs Dr. Tirtha Man Maskey, director general of the DNPWC, "After alarmingly high rates of poaching in 2002, the department launched a strong anti-poaching campaign by mobilizing local communities (living near sanctuaries)."

She adds that the aim of the department is to eradicate poaching by 2008.

The DNPWC has set up anti-poaching units in Nepal's most vulnerable national parks, with the help of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature Conservation's Nepal Program, King Mahendra Trust of Nature Conservation and International Trust for Nature Conservation.

The Royal Chitwan National Park, 150 miles southwest of Kathmandu, has the largest number of tigers and rhinos, and, consequently, is witness to the most instances of poaching.

The government's attempts at curbing the menace resulted in the arrests last year of 100 poachers, who are now serving long-term prison sentences. According to Maskey, "Apart from equipping surveillance teams with vehicles, boats and domesticated elephants, we also provide financial incentives to informants whose tip offs lead us to tracking down poachers."

One of the poachers arrested is the notorious Bam Bahadur Praja, who confessed to killing 17 rhinos in the last two years. According to assistant conservation officer Kamal Kunwar of RCNP, Praja was arrested along with other eight poachers.

Praja claimed he earned about US $13,000 by selling rhino horns to international groups. Other poachers told the police they were paid $2,000 per rhino.

In another raid, the police nabbed wanted poacher Kedar Bahadur Burja Magar, who confessed to killing 13 rhinos. But officials say most of the others arrested are middlemen, leaving the big fish out of the authorities' net.

In an indication that the animal products have a market in neighboring India or at least transit through the country, an anti-poaching unit arrested two people in possession of tiger bones last month from the Parsa Wildlife Reserve, 150 miles south of the capital and bordering the Indian state of Bihar.

According to Nepal's anti-poaching act, a person found guilty can be fined up to $1,500 and face prison sentences ranging between five and 15 years.

Maskey rues that, "despite a stiff penalty for wildlife crimes, middlemen and illegal traders often manage to lure locals with easy money. Though, on a positive note, With a change in strategy and the anti-poaching operations, a number of gangs of poachers have been busted in the last few months."

To protect Nepal's wildlife, WWF is helping enhance the capability of patrolling units and generating awareness against poaching.

Observes Dr Chandra Bahadur Gurung, country representative of WWF Nepal, "We must control poaching to protect our wildlife. WWF provides technical and financial support to patrolling units, including vehicles, boats and rewards for informants."