Towards Zero Trade

On 5 May 2015, the Regional Investigation Bureau deployed from the far-west regional police office confiscated a tiger skin and bones from a person in Magragadi village of Bardia district. Ten days later, a tiger skin and 18 kilograms of tiger bones were additionally seized near Shuklaphanta National Park. Similarly, on the eastern side of Nepal, two people were arrested in possession of a tiger skin.

These cases were but part of the fourteen that occurred between February 2015 and January 2016 in various districts of Nepal. In this series of consecutive poaching incidents, and probably the highest in Nepal so far, 124 kilograms of tiger bones and 15 tiger skins and body parts were seized from around two dozen poachers.

These recurring incidents came as a serious threat to decades of tiger conservation efforts and Nepal’s quest to double the number of wild tigers by 2022 – a commitment made by Nepal at the Global Tiger Forum in 2010. Nepal was already making strides on this front given the increase in its tiger population to a current estimate of 198 – a growth of 63% from the 2009 estimate – all made possible by the unity of purpose amongst the government of Nepal, enforcement agencies, conservation organizations and local communities.

Another striking finding that came out from these arrests was the involvement of the Banjara community – one of the nomad communities found in temporary settlements in the areas bordering Nepal and India.

“These constant arrests particularly from the far and mid-western development regions whose forests serve as important tiger habitats, raised serious question over our years of conservation and enforcement effort,” said Ramesh Thapa, Chief Conservation Officer, Bardia National Park. “The involvement of the Banjara community in tiger poaching signaled a new threat and as an immediate step, we called for a high level meeting which later actioned a three-point strategy to address this issue”, Thapa added.

© Puspa Pandey / WWF Nepal

The Beginning

On 26 January 2016 the high level coordination meeting called under the leadership of Bardia National Park brought together Nepal’s key players in tiger conservation. The meeting concluded with an unwavering commitment from the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, Department of Forests, Nepal Army, Nepal Police and WWF to address the root of the problem. As immediate measures, the focus was on strengthening the enforcement network both from the national parks and Nepal Army, expanding the scale of sweeping operations and anti-poaching technologies such as Real Time SMART patrolling, and mobilizing Community Based Anti-Poaching Units (CBAPU) and mass media for wider awareness and sensitization.

© Puspa Pandey / WWF Nepal

The launch of ‘Zero Absconding Criminals’ campaign

Following the high level meeting, the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal Police with the support from WWF, launched the Zero Absconding Criminal Campaign to bring to book as many criminals on the run. “Out of the names of 161 absconding criminals provided by Bardia National Park, 80 were arrested by the CIB” said Praveen Pokharel, the Deputy Inspector General of CIB. “During the operation, we were also able to seize 6 tiger skins and 85 kilograms of tiger bones from 4 different places” Pokharel added. During the campaign, in February 2016, the CIB also took part in the Investigation Support Meeting organized by INTERPOL. The meeting that saw participation from the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) of India, discussed and identified eight poaching and trading networks operating in both the sides of Indo-Nepal border. Out of this, one network was immediately cracked down by CIB within one month. The CIB team was also able to arrest, Sher Lama the kingpin of the eight networks who had been mobilizing the Banjara communities for poaching.

© WWF Nepal

Strengthening the frontliners

Within the buffer zone of Bardia National Park in the Terai Arc Landscape there are a total of 21 CBAPUs with a membership of about 2,700 youth who have been voluntarily monitoring illegal activities around buffer zones and community forests and providing tipoffs to police and army about possible suspects. “Following the high level meeting all the CBAPU members were effectively mobilized for intelligence gathering and awareness raising”, said Hemanta Prasad Acharya, Chairperson of one of the CBAPUs in Bardia. “We started joint patrolling with the Nepal Army and conducted various awareness campaigns such as street dramas and social media campaigns on tiger conservation. We also collected suggestions from the local people on how tigers can be protected effectively and submitted them to Bardia National Park” opined Acharya.

© Gary Van Wyk / The Gingko Agency / Whiskas / WWF-UK

Mobilizing the fourth pillar

Considered as the fourth pillar of the nation, the media has a huge role to play in shaping public perception and opinion. In order to build greater awareness amongst the media, sensitization workshops were conducted for local journalist of Bardia district which helped broaden their understanding on wildlife crime control and the role of media to address it. As a result, all the local media houses came together to highlight the issue of tiger poaching. Bhabuk yogi, station manager at Radio Tiger FM said, “Every day we announced the names of absconded criminals and poachers arrested by the CIB on the radio. As informed by CIB, some poachers who were at large, upon hearing their names frequently on radio surrendered themselves too”. Yogi was threatened over the phone numerous times but none of them detracted his role towards building a more informed society when it came to tiger conservation.

This swift response to poaching and illegal wildlife trade underscores the commitment of Nepal towards tiger conservation. This Himalayan country is steadfast in its belief to find a better future for tigers and through a coordinated conservation machinery that binds the government and enforcement agencies, conservation organizations such as WWF, and the local communities, the future does seem as bright as this iconic species in the forest of the night.