Wildlife Trade Racket Busted in Nepal

By Deepak Gajurel

KATHMANDU, Nepal, April 29, 2004 (ENS) - While Nepal is endeavoring to conserve protected species of wild animals, illegal traders are threatening their survival. A traders' racket has just been discovered in Nepal, and police have arrested four people in Kathmandu with a huge pile of spotted leopard and otter skins. Two among the arrested are Tibetans, while the other two are Nepali citizens.

A well equipped workshop was found in the Bauddha area, five kilometers (three miles) northeast of downtown Kathmandu. Jackets, bags, belts and other goods were produced in the workshop from the skins of endangered wild animals.

Police last Thursday seized hundreds of pieces of leopard and otter skins from the shop. The skins were cut and ready for making jackets and bags, but no produced goods were found, according to police.

"The pile of skins suggests that the traders have gathered at least two dozen spotted leopards' and one dozen otters' skins," said Dr. Rabi Sharma Aryal, the government officer investigating the case.


Skins of poached leopard and otters (Photo by Knut-Erik Helle)
The police earlier had arrested one person in Nepalganj, western Nepal, with six leopard skins, and this person tipped them off about the Bauddha workshop, Dr. Aryal said.

Goods produced from the leopard and otter skins are meant for the Tibetan market, police quoted the illegal traders as saying. Since the people in Tibet with money for luxury garments are Chinese, not Tibetan, the goods are really intended for the Chinese market.

It is not clear whether all the seized skins were collected from leopards killed in Nepal or brought from other countries. Spotted leopard is commonly found across Nepal, but otter is not common in this Himalayan country. "Maybe some of the skins were brought from India," Dr. Aryal says. The police investigation is expected to clarify this point.

While the spotted leopard is not listed as a protected animal in Nepal, this wild species is listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which prohibits trade in the species or its parts.

"Since Nepal is a signatory to CITES, we are obliged to enforce this international instrument as Nepal law," says Supreme Court advocate Madhab Koirala.

Killing of protected animals such as tigers and rhinos draws 10 years imprisonment and 50 thousand rupees (US$700) penalties, according to Nepal law. But the penalty for poaching of endangered wild animals not listed as protected in Nepal is much less. A leopard poacher may be imprisoned for only two years and fined as little as two thousand rupees (US$28).

It is not only poachers who kill wild animals, sometimes the government itself kills these endangered species. Successful conservation of forests and wild animals in Nepal has resulted in frequent human-wild animal conflicts. Human life is always preferred.

A team of security personnel shot a spotted leopard dead in Kathmandu just last Wednesday. The adult male leopard attacked and injured four people before entering a house at Balaju, a densely populated residential area of Kathmandu.

"It took nearly four hours to round up and kill the wild beast, which was sitting on the bed," reports the "Rajdhani" newspaper. One child and a woman were hiding under the bed while leopard sat on the bed for hours. The wild animal could not smell these people hiding just a couple of feet below, and they were rescued unharmed.

The leopard is believed to have come from Shivpuri National Park, which is some 10 kilometers north of downtown Kathmandu.


Leopard in Nepal's Bardiya National Park (Photo courtesy Pahari Tours)
Another spotted leopard was shot dead in March by the army at the village of Kirtipur, 15 kilometers (nine miles) southwest of Kathmandu. The wild animal entered the village and killed one man, injuring at least a dozen others.

Since there is no inventory of the number of leopards in Nepal, there is no precise data on the number of spotted leopards roaming the country. This species is found throughout Nepal from the southern plains to the upper hills.

Nor are tigers spared in Nepal when they come into conflict with humans. Expert marksmen from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation in Royal Chitwan National Park shot two adult Royal Bengal tigers dead in early April. The tigers had become man-eaters. Twenty people were killed in a span of two weeks by these two tigers while dozens of others were injured.

Three Bengal tigers were killed by poachers in Nepal protected areas during 2003, two in Royal Chitwan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one in Bardiya National Park.

Endangered animals may be deliberately poisoned by the local people living around national parks and wildlife reserves. Wild animals frequently come out of the national parks and destroy agricultural products and attack people. For their own protection, local people sometimes use poisons, and poachers too use the same method.

Tigers are included on the Nepal government's protected list. The population of Bengal tigers in Nepal's protected areas is estimated at around 150, but the total tiger population in the country has yet to be counted.

For the past two years, Nepal has been implementing the Tiger Conservation Action Plan, a government plan to facilitate effective conservation of this vanishing species.

The Royal Bengal tiger is listed on the Appendix I of the CITES treaty, which imposes a complete ban on its trade and killing. According to a WWF estimate, there are only 3,000 to 4,735 Bengal tigers roaming in the jungles of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal.

WWF says, "In the last 100 years, tiger populations have declined by 95 percent - from about 100,000 tigers to between 5,000 and 7,500 left in the wild today in 14 range states. Of the eight sub-species of tiger, three have gone extinct in the past 50 years - the Caspian, Bali and Javan.