The Situation of Wildlife in Nepal: Have we reached the tipping point?
March 9, 2016
Forewarning: this post contains some images that may be considered graphic in nature.
Nepal has long been known and respected internationally at various policy levels for their exceptional community forest concept that has been effectively implemented in a variety of regions across the country. This in many ways forged the path and demonstrated that community based conservation can and does work. In the many meetings about community forests and environmental matters I have had with local and federal government, I have always felt considered and my opinions felt welcomed. I keep this at the forefront of my mind while learning about the potential amendments to what is one of the most important Acts in terms of conservation and wildlife management.
The reason I start this post with these statements is that it is important to realise that Nepal has made so much progress and done so much good, and that should never be depreciated. The Act I mention is the National Park and Wildlife Act (1973), and specifically the 'Working Policy on Wild Animal Faming, Breeding and Research' (2003), which has allowed the capture and breeding of certain species of wildlife by the general public in Nepal. Until now the list was restricted to the following protected species: Gharial Crocodile, Black Buck, Danphe (Impeyan phesant), Monal (Satyr tragopan), Cheer phesant; and the following non-protected species: Barking Deer, Spotted Deer, Samber Deer, Rhesus Macaque, Hog Deer, Wild Boar, Snakes and 'All kinds of
Gharial Crocodile (Gavialis gangeticus) is listed as Critically Endangered and has been given the OK to be used for-profit breeding
The Gharial is actually quite an interesting case, and although I can't say I am an expert on research and conservation on Nepal's Terai, I have been exposed to those who can. There is a breeding centre in Chitwan National Park dedicated to the breeding of Gharials and from what I have seen and been told it is quite successful. I admit I am not 100% sure whether this facility was opened under the Working Policy on Wild Animal Faming, Breeding and Research Act but if it was it is certainly a success story.
I have lived and worked in Nepal for well over 5 years, and I owe a lot to this country. I very much think of it as my home, rather than Australia (where I was born). It was where I found my feet in academia and it has continuously allowed me to follow my passion. Nepal is a poor country, and after the earthquakes (400 aftershocks to date) and recent civil unrest it has been under immense pressure. Perhaps this is the push it needs to build itself back up?
All this pieces together an interesting decision on behalf of the government. I don't want to bring emotion or start calling out anyone in this blog, as that is just not who I am or what I want to portray myself as. I also want to keep this as brief as possible. So below I present some issues that could potentially arise from this act passing. I will also link a petition that we will pass on to the relevant government bodies to see what we, as a cohesive group, can do.
Obviously the reason I chose to post this on the Red Panda Trust's blog is that this amendment may well include Red Pandas. They are a prized species for their pelts, scent glands and as pets in many surrounding countries. Obviously we as an organisation have an invested interest in this if it were to include Red Pandas - although even if it doesn’t it is still impacting others. This amendment would effectively allow anyone (well this is unclear in the law, there is every chance it is only Nepali citizens) to remove wildlife from their habitat for breeding, trade and profit purposes. Trade. That in itself is quite a daunting concept. This amendment claims to allow trade of the animal and their parts domestically and internationally. How this will conflict with the CITES convention remains to be seen. Basically this is an open invitation for wildlife crime to descend further into Nepal.
This Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens fulgens) was found in far western Nepal. Most likely a victum of a domestic dog. So while not strictly wildlife crime, this was by far the least graphic image I have on hand of a deceased Red Panda. Hopefully this pushes home the message of the situation the Red Panda is in.
The Red Panda is not a species that will cope with any decrease in population. Illegal hunting is already something of huge concern to the conservation community. Red Pandas are already one of the most trafficked species out of Nepal, certainly they have a lot to lose if this law is amended to include them. The picture above is of a Red Panda that was killed by a domestic dog. There are huge human-wildlife conflict issues surrounding this species in areas of high human densities, and while the Red Panda poses very little threat to humans, humans are making a significant dent in the population of Red Pandas. This is where I want to refer back to the introduction to this post, before we start to get out the pitch forks and placing blame solely on Nepal, as that would be unfair. Nepal is a poor country and the people who live alongside Red Pandas are some of the poorest (financially, not in warmth or kindness mind, in that they may well be the richest!). So perhaps blame isn't to be placed there, perhaps it should be on us the conservationists and researchers. Are we doing enough for the species we invest so much in? At this stage there is little use in placing blame. Now it is time to take a stand, and say that we care about securing a future for Nepal's wildlife and wild places.
Perhaps this is the tipping point, but maybe a positive one, can we as an international community unite for this cause?
For now, I will leave it at that. I am confident that we can make our voices heard. In fact these species rely on us to speak now.