NATURE WALK: Illegal trade killing our wildlife


Geographically speaking Nepal is small, but she is rich in biodiversity. The country retains many threatened and endangered species, many globally significant, including a variety of large mammal species like rhinos, elephants, tigers, bears, leopards et cetera.

The dictionary describes wildlife as covering wild fauna as well as flora. Threats are growing by the day to all wildlife on the earth due to illegal trade and habitat loss.

Illegal trade in wildlife is big business due to the high demand. Wildlife or its trophies/derivatives are traded for various reasons — luxury, decoration, traditional medicine, souvenirs, pets, food, scientific use or experimentation.

Nepal has become a transit point for such a lucrative business between India and China. From time to time, illegal trade in leopard and tiger skins and bones, rhino horns, musk pods,deer skins and other wildlife and derivatives are found in the country. Plants are also illegally traded.

Increasing wildlife trade threatens individual wildlife species and communities. More significant perhaps are the threats to forest ecosystems through the disruption of essential ecological processes. None of the animal group is exempt from the demands of the trade. Traders offer a high price for taxa as diverse as large cats, deer, rhinos, pangolins, civets, birds, lizards, turtles, butterflies, beetles and other insects. The vulnerable groups are rhinos, tigers, leopards, bears, musk deer among others.

Other impacts include habitat loss due to hunting-associated burning and cutting of trees. Unfortunately forest eco-systems in Nepal are so poorly studied that while various impacts may be occurring, these have not been detected as yet. Given the paucity of studies and lack of resources being directed to these, any detection of impact may occur too late to allow any remedial action.

A serious loss of rhinos was recently detected in Nepal. Rhino count in 2000 at the Royal Chitwan National Park was 544, while the recent count of 2005 shows the population has decreased to 372 here.

Insurgency is another major cause which has contributed to illegal trade and poaching activities. Due to risk to their own security, security posts at protected areas have been reduced. Prior to the insurgency, there were 39 security posts at RCNP, but of late there are only nine posts. This has largely contributed to the dramatic rise in illegal trade in wildlife.

The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation data also reveal that illegal trade in wildlife is affecting the conservation agenda. Poverty and unemployment has forced people of a certain strata to join such a lucrative instant money making venture. Different groups are involved in in this illegal trade — from the lo-wer level to middle men to national-level coordinator, corrupt politicians, some bureaucrats and international mafia.

Much of the nature and ecology of the country’s animals remain poorly understood and even less priority is given by responsible agencies. It is not possible to produce even a definitive distribution map of most species. And for some species, this may mean their population will be significantly depleted, if not disappear completely, before their place in the ecology of Nepali forests is completely understood.

Although the illicit movement of live animals and derivatives to India and China receives considerable attention, there is a substantial amount of wildlife being utilised within the country, not only for subsistence purposes but are being sold in restaurants, souvenirs shops, traditional medicine outlets and for decorative houses.

If this threat to wildlife is not managed or controlled while there is still time, it may lead to the extinction of various species. The government should focus on research activities to find out root cause of the problem before it is too late to allow for remedial action.

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