Last month, with the help of police stationed at Byas VDC in Darchula, smugglers successfully smuggled ten sacks of tiger skin and bones to Taklakot in Tibet.
People in Darchula believe that the smugglers had bribed the local police with Indian Rs 180,000 to accomplish the smuggling. To save the tarnishing reputation, Darchula Police Chief Kuber Singh Kadayat arrested two smugglers with four leopard skin within a week of the incident.
The main convict of the incident, Thakchhyo Lama, a resident of Humla, is still at large. She was living in Changru of Byas and running a shop for about a decade. Byas Village is regarded as the main transit for animal-parts smuggling.
However, in the second week after the police tightened the security, another resident of Humla, Penzing Lama, was arrested with 40 kilograms of pangolin scales.
After it was reported that the Indian police were also involved with animal parts smuggling, the Indian authority changed its police force in the Indo-Tibet border within two weeks. Nepal also stationed half a dozen police to the district headquarters due to climatic discomfort who were otherwise stationed at Byas.
PHOTO: SHYAM BHATTA
Due to lack of proper security, such incidents occur every year in Darchula, which shares its borders with both neighboring countries, India and China. According to Police Chief Kadayat, smugglers are mostly active during those six months when police are absent from Byas. “The smugglers collect as much as animal parts during this period,” he says.
Last year, when four convicted for rhino horn smuggling were sentenced to 10 years of prison, the then District Forest Officer (DFO) for Darchula, Devi Prasad Koirala, had to leave the district overnight for security reasons.
In the cases of animal theft and poaching, many people were unfairly convicted by the authorities. This has discouraged people working in conservation and made efforts against such crimes a futile attempt.
Records in Kathmandu imply that, every week, a smuggler is arrested. “We’ve been arresting animal-parts smugglers almost every week,” says Kathmandu DFO Prakash Nath Pyakurel.
He says that smuggling of animal parts has also gotten broader since a few years. Earlier, tiger skins and rhino horns used to be the main contrabands for smuggling but now smugglers are getting after pangolin scales, birds and even red panda skins.
A total of 116 smugglers were arrested in Kathmandu last year. This number of arrested smugglers did not just double from the previous year but it became the highest number of arrested smugglers till date.
In the fiscal year 2068/69, 134 were arrested for smuggling animal parts while more than 200 convicted for the same crime escaped the police.
“The ones who have escaped range from international smugglers to locals who work in the fields,” says Kamal Jung Kunwar, spokesperson of National Parks and Wildlife Department.
PHOTO: SHYAM BHATTA
Those arrested are charged by law, according to National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1973. The District Forest Office in Kathmandu was responsible for most of the convicted who were arrested with the help of Central Investigation Bureau.
Along with the smuggling of wildlife such as rhino, tiger, snow leopard, musk deer, red panda, pangolin and Eurasian Eagle Owl, illegal wood and herbs are also known to be the main smuggling items.
Due to lack of coordination between strict law and government bodies, the smuggling of animal parts is beyond control. Human resources under the conservation area are also helpless in such situation. Institutionalization of this crime and disappearance of endangered wildlife has troubled all conservation area activists.
Nepal has become a “transit” for animal parts smuggling and its effects are ruining the country’s reputation. In recent days, the far-western region has proven to be a haven for smugglers.
Although there are 1,400 staffs and 5,900 Nepal Army personnel deployed for national parks and wildlife conservation, the smuggling of animal parts have not gone down. Apart from Manaslu, Makalu Barun, Annapurna, and Kanchanjunga, Nepal Army is deployed in three other conservation areas and nine national parks. National parks like Langtang, Sagarmatha and Shey Phoksundo that cover the Himalayan regions, also under the care of Nepal Army, have also recorded higher smuggling frequencies.
According to National Park and Wildlife Conservation Department, the conservation areas in Parsa, Chitwan, Bardiya and Shuklaphanta also have high rate of animal parts smuggling. Chitwan records high rate of rhino horns smuggling while others record maximum number of tiger skin smuggling.
PHOTO: SHYAM BHATTA
Increasing crime institutionalization
Among the three convicts arrested for animal poaching and smuggling in Darchula, two were residents of Humla.
Two years back, Dansingh Chaisar, Nainsingh Thagunn, Prem Bahadur Pal, all of Darchula, and Prakash Buda from Salyan were arrested for the same crime. Pema Lama of Boudhha and Prem Bahadur Pal from Kanchanpur, involved in the same case, are still at large.
An old case involving two to 10 people for smuggling skin and horns is still not solved. “The contacts from the convicts involved in the rhino horns case signify the large network of these smugglers,” says Ramesh Bahadur Chand, former DFO.
On August 21 of last year, Tilak Bahadur Rana Magar, a resident of Ramechhap, was arrested with a six and a half foot long tiger skin. Six years back, Jaya Bahadur Bista from Bajhang was also arrested with four leopard skin in Mahendranagar. He had said that he had brought the skin from Dehradun, India. Less than two weeks after he was arrested, he was bailed for Rs 25,250.
Not long after that incident, security personnel had seized seven leopard skins from Bhakta Raj Bhatta, Jit Bahadur Bohara and Govinda Ram Parki in Galfai, Darchula. They confessed that they had smuggled for Rs 20,000 per skin from India to be sold to Hunya Khampa of Taklakot, Tibet.
Bohora, who was freed on bail, runs a hotel in Byas. Most convicts arrested in animal parts smuggling crime are freed on bail and they continue their business. “This has helped in institutionalization of this crime,” says Yuvraj Regmi, warden at the Shuklaphanta Wildlife Conservation Area.
Three years back, Maoist platoon commander Rabindra Aidee was arrested with rhino horn in Kanchanpur. Not much later, another Maoist platoon commander Janak Raj Giri was also arrested in Kanchanpur.
Animal parts smuggling network has spread from Boudha of Kathmandu to Indian border regions of the country.
Open border problem
And Indian nomadic people known as Kanzad live near forests on the Terai plains near the Indian border. But while they are not permitted to live close to the jungles in their own country, in Nepal they can settle near their preferred areas without much interference.
So far, the District Forest Office in Kanchanpur has arrested 20 Indian citizens with parts of endangered species.
After some women from the Kanzad community were arrested with precious tiger parts in Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, an Indian conservation area that lies close to Suklaphanta border of Nepal, the reserve authority have become very alert towards the Kanzad community. Nepali authority, on the other hand, is not seen to be serious even though Shyam Singh Kanzad, a resident of Jalaun in Utter Pradesh, India, was arrested in Kanchanpur.
“The Kanzads are involved in smuggling through various means. Nepal is one of their targeted places. As they are now identified as poachers and smugglers, they have started living in rented apartments in Kailali and Kanchanpur in Nepal,” says Devesh Mani Tripathi, former DFO at Kanchanpur.
The western Terai is regarded as the main home for the Royal Bengal Tiger. Due to open border with India and convenient distance from Tibet, tigers are not safe in these areas. Not only eastern Terai but the whole far-western region has now become unsafe for these animals. Lack of government vigilance in those areas has made the places a paradise for animal poachers and smugglers.
With 23 open border transit points between Nepal and India – six in Kailali, five in Kanchanpur, three in Dadeldhura, five in Baitadi, and four in Darchula – people can effortlessly enter and exit the two countries. This has been the biggest boon for animal poaching and smuggling.
Due to weak security system in Nepal, smugglers easily enter the country from any border transit from Kanchanpur to Darchula. Most smugglers choose nighttime to enter Nepal from those transit points.
The Indo-Nepal open border covers a length of 1,751 kilometers, among which the 95-kilometer stretch in Trinagar in Kailali District is the most sensitive.
“The transit point near Dudhwa Tiger Reserve in India is the most vulnerable area. Suspicious activities are believed to take place at all the transits at Tikapur in the eastern region as well,” says Rajendra Bhadari, the DFO of Kailali.
In Baitadi, among its five transit points, there is only one bridge, at Jhulaghat. At other points, boats or tubes are used for transport, which go basically unchecked. Kanchanpur borders with the Indian towns of Tanakpur, Gaddachauki, Dodhara, Chandani, Melaghat, Kutikwar, Jhilmila, Belauri, Punarbas, and Parasan, extending 132 kilometers. Of them, Dodhara and Chandani are more susceptible to smuggling.