Illegal wildlife trade rampant in Nepal

Posted: 18 November 2002

With Nepal's security forces continuously running after Maoist insurgents, wildlife poachers and traders have increased their activity like never before, says Nepalese journalist, Mangal Man Shakya.

Looking for smooth and warm shawls made up of Chiru or Shahtoosh wool? Or would you like some 'decent' souvenirs such as coats made from leopard, tiger or snow leopard skins? Python-skin handbags and shoes? Or ivory carved bangles?

If so, then Kathmandu could be the market you are looking for.

Still sceptical? Look or pose like a western trader and take a stroll around the souvenir shops in the capital's touristy locales like Patan, Kathmandu and Bhaktapur Durbar squares, Thamel, Lazimpat and even the shopping arcades of a few Star Hotels, and ask for the souvenirs in question, you will be surprised, says Shakya, author of the report Wildlife Trade in Nepal.

Rampant trade

"Never before was the trade so rampant and open in Kathmandu as it is now," Shakya told The Kathmandu Post. "Wildlife products are not just sold here, or transited to other destinations such as India, Tibet, Myanmar, East Asia and Europe, there are workshops that manufacture stuff like Shatoosh shawls right here in Kathmandu."

A shawl spun from genuine Chiru wool fetches between US $ 1,000 to 2,000 in the underworld market of Kathmandu, and fetches three or four times the amount in the markets of Europe and America. It takes three to four Chirus (the critically endangered Tibetan antelope) to make one shawl.

And experts say between 3,000 to 4,000 Chirus are being killed annually to meet the demand for such shawls. "This could imply that the actual number of Tibetan antelopes being killed could be much higher," the report says. "The major weaving of shahtoosh is done in Kashmir, while one of the major transit markets for the ready made shahtoosh shawls in Kathmandu."

Posing as wildlife traders, researchers in Shakya's team found that the entire process from spinning to weaving to dying in being completed in a certain workshop in the valley's Patan area, and that nearly a dozen entrepreneurs are nvolved in this business.

Tibetan highlands

Where does the wool come from and how? While there have been sporadic incidents of trans-Himalayan traders hiding packets of raw shahtoosh wool within legal goods bound for Kathmandu via Kodari border, lately porters have been found arrying Chiru wool security into Nepal from the Tibetan highlands, according to the report.

"The volume of trade and the rise in the trend isquite alarming," Shakya said. "And all this ishappening in broad-daylight, right under the nose of so-called concerned authorities, yet nothing has happened. There is a total lack of inter-departmental co-ordination, and law enforcement."

Not that Nepal does not have laws to deal with the crime. One of the signatories of the Convention on International Trade in the Endangered Species (CITES), Nepal already has laws like the Wildlife Conservation Act 1973, Forest Act 1993 and Environmental Protection Act 1997 that provides strict penalty for such offenses.

"But the big question is who is going to enforce these laws in letter and spirit?" asks Shakya, an award-winning environmental journalist.

Ironically, the report came out just as conservation officials and authorities were discussing how to curb trade in the critically endangered species of flora and fauna at 12th meeting of the CITES parties in Santiago, Chile.

Source: World Environmental Journalists Egroup