Walk of the dead

This was originally Published in Republica National Daily on 11 May 2014)

KUMAR PAUDEL

Cheetah, the fastest moving land animal, sprints with the average speed of 102 kilometer per hour. When killed, it moves at six times the speed. Body parts and derivatives of dead animals move around the world fast. Cheetah is just an example; the bitter reality is that today’s world contains many organized and powerful smugglers spreading myths about animal parts, resulting in the growing market for these parts. 

Given that the global wildlife and their derivative trade is worth about US$ 20 billion, the scale of this problem can be imagined. South Africa faces the terrible scourge of rhino poaching, with more than 50 rhinos killed in just the first quarter of 2014. Last year, 1050 were killed. In 2011 an estimated 25,000 to 40,000 elephants were killed in Africa and their parts moved around the world. Indeed, wild animals have been under attack in recent years by rampant poaching around the world.

Dead Animal Walking
In Nepal, dead animals move in several forms; mainly the pangolin scales, tiger hides, rhino horns, red panda skins and dried seahorse. Most of them are sent to China, with Kathmandu acting as a collection center. They usually end up in South East Asian countries, Arabian cities, and Europe.
The seizures of seahorses in Nepal clearly indicate the animal part trading is being conducted by international networks. Nepal has no sea connections and naturally no seahorses are found here but dried seahorses have been seized a number of times. They must have been imported from Sri-Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Thailand or other parts where seahorses are found, with Nepal used as a transit. 

This trend of poaching is motivated by the use of body parts of wild animals as a decoration, a subject of pride, and as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for their supposed healing power. They are highly coveted in Southeast Asia. In Nepal, kings used to stand on tiger skins and pose in front of stuffed tigers for special occasions. Monarchy exists no more but some affluent Nepalis still have mounted tiger heads in their living rooms. 

Since 1993, China has banned the trade of rhino horn and tiger parts but the culture of using animal parts is strong. Many Chinese families and even non-Chinese are the consumers of TCM. This is why it’s still a big business. A consumer doesn’t care how much the animal suffered and what ecological crimes were committed while preparing the medicine. But these days alternative cures not derived from any animal and that are much cheaper have been found to work.

The true extent of this scourge remains unclear due to lack of universal frameworks to monitor wildlife crimes and its trans-boundary syndicates. The illicit trade will not go away as long as demand exists. Main factors that change demand are consumers’ incomes, their tastes and preferences; the number of consumers, expectations of the security of supply and future prices. The major consumer markets of wildlife parts viz. China, Vietnam, the European Union, newly industrialized Asian economies, and Sub-Saharan Africa have seen substantial increases in average incomes resulting in rise of the middle class. Demand reduction is a key challenge, and probably won’t be that easy here.

Every day the world is losing great gifts of nature. The list of endangered species is growing by the day. The effort to create parks, hunting reserves and conservation areas to conserve animals is taking a toll on many governments. In search of a new way to cripple black market, the South African government has decided to launch a legal once-off sale of parts of its billion-dollar stockpile of ivory and rhino horns. 

It plans to put forward a proposal at the next Conference of Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES) in 2016, requesting the removal of a decade-old ban on ivory and rhino horn trade. But this is absurd, just like pouring water in sand. The liberalized trade regime will inevitably lead to an escalation of the illegal trade.

There is still time to save magnificent wild creatures, preserve beautiful wild places and bequeath the biological wealth to the next generation. Regional coordination with neighboring countries could be an effective way to strengthen trans-boundary conservation and sustainable use of resources while good governance and political stability in the country could strengthen implementation of conservation programs at national and field level.

In early 2014, Nepal celebrated second year of zero poaching in which not a single rhino, elephant or tiger was reportedly killed. Many national and international news agencies reported that Nepal had defeated the wildlife trade. But sadly, this euphoria was short-lived as recently there was a report of rhino poaching in Chitwan. Even though poaching of rhino, elephant and tiger has sharply decreased, we should not forget the terrifying status of other endangered animals like pangolin, red panda, black bear, porcupine, owl and musk-deer. 

The secret of success of rhino conservation lies in a judicious combination of law enforcement and support of people at the buffer zone. But biodiversity is significant even outside the official conservation areas such as local and community forests. Poaching is even higher there but it doesn’t create as much buzz. The success of conservation effort inside the park should be extrapolated across local communities outside the park, so that animals can walk without fear and there will be no more stories of dead animals walking.

(The author is the founder of Greenhood Nepal and pursuing his Masters in Environment Management at Pokhara University)

Pangolins in peril

(This was originally Published in Republica National Daily on 16 February 2014)

Kumar Paudel

In 2013 Nepal recorded around 325 kg of pangolin scales seized on the Araniko-trail (Kathmandu-Bahrabise-Kodari) alone. Four pangolins make for a kg of pangolin scales. By this calculation, 1,300 pangolins must have been killed in 2013 alone. But this is just a small portion of a big game.

From our childhood, we are taught of the importance of conserving rhinos, tigers, elephants, snow-leopards and pandas. But they are only small fraction of the ecologic enigma. One in four mammals, one in eight birds, one in three amphibians, and one in three conifers are at risk of extinction. The peril faced by other classes of organisms is less analyzed, but fully 40 percent of the examined species of planet earth are at risk. Pangolins are no exception.

A host to two genera of Asian pangolin—Chinese Pangolin (Tame Salak) and Indian Pangolin (Kalo Salak)—Nepal’s eastern districts, Chure range and Sindhupalchok, Kavrepalanchok, Bhaktapur, Dolakha, Makawanpur and Dhading, among others, are prime habitats of pangolins.Kumar_Pangolin

Pangolins are one of the most commonly poached mammals in Asia. This is exemplified by the alarming volumes of pangolin products that have been seized in East and Southeast Asia, as reported by the media and law enforcement agencies. But even this news just scratches the surface of the underground wildlife trade. Pangolins derivatives like scales (and items made from them) are sold in south East Asia, China (especially Tibet region), the Arab World, and Europe. China is a major gateway for its exit.

Pangolin is a small mammal that eats insects and lives in burrows and is active around agricultural farmlands. These anteaters have a very prominent role in the ecosystem—it is estimated that one adult pangolin consumes over 70 million insects annually. This feature is directly linked with livelihood because it saves millions of rupees in pest control every year. Burrowing animals are very important to the ecology: their actions create breeding habitat or shelter for many other animals, and thus contribute to species diversity. Even more important, they help increase soil fertility and aeration, which results in better growth of seedlings. Thus, pangolins not only keep ecological balance, but also help farmers gain better yields.

During the recent law enforcement Operation ‘COBRA II’, 14 people involved in wildlife crimes were arrested from 14 districts of Nepal. The operation had participants from China, the US, Association of South East Asian Nations, South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network, CITIES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), World Customs Organization, and Interpol. However, apart from such large scale law enforcement efforts, it is also important to raise awareness in communities that host pangolins.

To curb poaching, it is important to shift the strategic approach of the conservation by including local communities. The great biological riches of the world are generally in the rural, poorest and least developed areas, and the custodians of such wealth remain unrewarded for protecting these riches for generations, or for their indigenous knowledge. It is imperative that mechanisms be developed to make it worthwhile for them to continue taking care of natural heritage that belongs to the entire world. New ways must be found to share incentives with local people, and make them feel a greater sense of ownership of those endangered animals.

Poaching is widely supported by local people because it is an easy means of earning. If the records of District Forest Office, Sindhupalchok are to be believed, out of 100 people arrested in connection with poaching, more than two thirds are locals. It is believed that “The one who plants one Pipal doesn’t go to hell”. Now this traditional quote has changed to “The one who sells pangolins goes to a bungalow.”

Poaching is major threat as it can drive species to local extinction. Local level poaching occurs for two reasons: consumption and export to nearby markets. The cost of scales varies from place to place. The whole pangolin costs more than just its scales. The minimum price for a live pangolin is Rs 5,000/kg at the local hunter’s. In the supply chain, the price is doubled when it reaches the next trader, and so on. The average retail price of the scale is Rs 40,000-50,000/kg, and sometimes more at the borders.

Illegal trade pressures, political instability, perverse incentives, poor economic situation, poverty, corruption and lack of law enforcement drive this trade up. The major consumer markets of pangolin have seen substantial increases in average incomes. Demand reduction is a key challenge, and probably won’t be easy. Booming economy and purchasing capacity of East Asian consumers are key drivers for international trade. Yet the problem is not booming economy, but the myths, beliefs and perceptions of people who think pangolin body parts and its derivates can do magic.

In a developing country like Nepal, unemployment, illiteracy, poverty, and resource scarcity have empirical relationship with poaching, illegal trade and habitat destruction of wild animals. Conservation programs must create visible economic benefits to local people. Only this can save pangolins and other endangered species.

(The author is doing his MSc in Environment Management from Pokhara University, He tweets for @nepaligreens)

My 23rd Birthday

Today is September 23, I am 23 years old. 23 years is not a very long time and then again it is enough time, I have more memories than if I were a 100s years old. I am just opening my email inbox. Everyone is wishing, The first one is from my sister and she is wishing me a happy birthday and 20-30 other emails from some friends and well-wishers. This is the day to celebrate coz my mother gave me birth and here now I m in the name of Kumar Paudel. But, Age and the average human lifespan are being scarcest things for me…. At 23, that is maybe an immature funny feeling…. Anyway, it’s strongly driving me to move on…. On this occasion, I want to thank all friends, family, well wishers and supporters for their great endeavor to explore my world; province of questions and unknowns with limitless possibilities.

Why youth in biodiversity?

This appeared in print in Republica  National daily.

Kumar Paudel

“Why are you worrying about Rhinos in a country like Nepal, where people are fighting for food?”

As a conservation activist, this is a question I face very often. Though I always try to convince them with my technical argument, they aren’t wrong either. But, the fact is, conservation issues everywhere goes parallel with these problems – poverty, climate change, food scarcity and conflict among others. However, it’s high time that the youth of this generation understood the significance of conservation, for their own good.

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Biodiversity might not sound that much significant on the surface level, but in real

ity it has a series of imperative relation with us. It’s the variety of life on earth – the variation of genes, species, and biomes, along with the interactions between them. Currently, world’s species is declining due to Habitat loss, Invasive Species, Pollution, Population over growth and Over exploitation (HIPPO). And youth’s concern is very important about this prominent situation, because not only our generation, but the generations to follow will be adversely affected by the human-induced biodiversity loss.

A research on Bee has concluded that if they get extinct, human beings will only have four years until they die. No more bees would mean no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, and eventually, no more man.

Our energy primarily depends on plants and animals. Our body contains trillions of cells, each of which is connected to the other, forming a rather complex system. Given, we human beings are superior in the brain-ware but we shouldn’t forget that we share the planet with as many as 13 million different living species including flora, fauna and microbes, only 1.75 million of which have been named. This incredible biodiversity is a priceless treasure, and this nature’s grant forms the ultimate foundation of human life.

These millions of fellow beings are collectively working to produce food, water and clean air, making earth the only living planet in the solar system. They are directly and indirectly supporting the living structure of earth, each one species contributing equally to maintain the ecological balance. The loss of a single species is not only a cultural tragedy, but it also undermines our own survival.

Biodiversity’s contribution to our life is not only practical, physical and functional, but also cultural. The diversity of the natural world has been a constant source of inspiration throughout human history, influencing civilization, the way our society has evolved and supplying the basic goods and services upon which trade and economy has been built. The disappearance of unique species like Rhino is a loss that cannot be calculated and leaves us all much poorer.

According to the 2011 census, nearly 55 per cent of the total population of Nepal is below 25 years of age. Recognizing this important demographic cluster, concerned authorities need to reach out to their expectations and ideas to inculcate awareness among them on environmental stewardship, nurture lifelong skills to manage the environment sustainably and, ultimately empower them to incorporate environmental issues as part of their lives, especially those who live in rural areas, where biodiversity exploitation takes place. Most rural young people are not aware of the value of biodiversity. Proper awareness programs, campaigns and trainings could play vital role to change their attitude and promote the values of biodiversity conservation. This will also encourage them to share nature’s benefits fairly and equitably.

However, if we aren’t able to do so, the impact will be felt not only by us, but by several generations ahead us. Therefore, we need to raise a cadet of leaders that understands the immense value of biodiversity.

(The writer is founder of Greenhood Nepal and currently pursuing Masters in Environment Management at Pokhara University.)

अज्ञानी म !

बुबा भन्नुहुन्थ्यो, “म बहुत भड्किलो मान्छे अरे ।” सबै कुरा जान्नै पर्ने । “लाटा देशमा गाँडा तन्नेरी” भनेझैं गाउँमा केहि जान्ने कहलिन्थे पनि म । समयक्रममा फलामे ढोका नि भाँचियो । र, छिरियो “ज्ञानको सागर” भनेर बुझिएको विश्वविद्यालय भएको शहर काठमान्डौं । कहिले रत्नराज्य त कहिले थापाथलि क्याम्पस धाउँदा धाउँदै अन्ततः अस्कल (अमृत क्याम्पस) मा पुगेर अडिएं म, बिएस्सी सकें । अहिले एमएस्सी पढ्दैछु ।

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अनकन्टार गाउँको त्यो एक्लो स्कुलमा पढ्दा म आफूलाई जति जान्ने सोच्थे, अहिले सहरको सानदान भनिएको नीजि कलेजमा पढ्दै उत्तिकै केही नजानेको सोच्छु ।

विज्ञानका केही अन्तर्राष्टिय सभा–समारोह तथा कार्यशालामा सहभागिताको अवसर जुरेसँगै म मुम्बई, व्रोनो, प्राग, कोलम्बो, ढाका, सिंगापुर पुगें । त्यत्तिकै घुम्दै पोल्याण्ड, मलेसिया, सिंगापुर, दिल्ली लगायतका ठाऊँहरु धाएं । त्यहाँका विश्वविद्यालय पुगें । झन्, आफू केही नजान्नेको रुपमा चिन्दैछु । कलेजमा प्रोफेसरहरु परिक्षामा के लेख्ने मात्र भन्नुहुन्छ तर योबाट के गर्ने भन्ने उत्तर सोचिराखेको हुन्छु म । नोबेल पुरस्कार बिजेता रिचार्ड अरनेस्ट हुन् मोहमद युनुस, उनीहरुलाई भेट्दा मभित्र केही सिक्ने तरंग पैदा हुन्थ्यो । मजस्तो अज्ञानीबाट ति विद्धानहरु पनि केही सिक्न खोजिराखेका देखिन्थे । म हरेक दिन कलेज जान्छु । जाँचमा नम्बर राम्रै ल्याउँदा मात्र मेरा प्राध्यापक खुसी हुन्छन् र छन् पनी । तर कसलाई के मतलब, “मैले खाँटी के सिंके ?”

Araniko Highway ‘route for int’l wildlife smuggling’

ANKIT ADHIKARI KATHMANDU, FEB 26
Conservation school for awareness:
KATHMANDU: In a bid to make people of Sindhupalchok aware of the illegal trade in wildlife materials rampant in the region, local wildlife campaigner Kumar Paudel, in coordination with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), has initiated a conservation school in the district. Every six months, the school will bring together at least 30 local schoolchildren and educate them on the perils of smuggling. “If we start educating children at the school level, they can turn into individual conservationists in future, ridding Sindhupalchok of smuggling,” Paudel expressed his hope. (PR)

DISTRICTS surrounding the Araniko Highway have become regional hotspots for smuggling with the rising frequency of rare wildlife and plants being seized from districts like Sindhupalchok, Dhading and Nuwakot. The Araniko Highway leads to the Tatopani-Khasa stretch, the only open trade link between Nepal and Tibet, which is considered one of the world’s most prominent destinations of poached animal parts. Smugglers consider Sindhupalchok and the Araniko Highway one of the easiest routes to transport valuable wildlife parts, said experts. Animal parts poached from other parts of the world, including Africa, are also being transported to Tibet via this route. Another route often utilised by smuggling rackets is the highland route between Siliguri and Tibet. The Sindhupalchok District Forest Office (DFO) said that red sandalwood, pangolin parts and seahorses are among the frequently seized materials on this 114 km highway. According to the DFO data, since 2007, around 15,774kg red sandalwood has been seized on the highway. Similarly, over 63 kilograms of pangolin parts have been confiscated in the last two years. “There have also been some significant seizures of seahorses, tiger hides, rhino horns and red panda skins in recent times,” said Indra Prasain, district forest officer for Sindhupalchok. For instance, some 20kg of dried seahorse was seized in June 2012; 2.5kg of seahorse en route to China from Khorsanibari along the highway was seized in August 2012. These seizures of seahorses clearly indicate the active operation of an international racket since Nepal is a landlocked country. Continue reading

धूर्वे आतंक किन ?

This appeared in print at op-ed page in Sourya National dailyClick here for e-paper view
चितवन राष्ट्रिय निकुञ्जको हात्ति धूर्वे अहिले जताततै हट केक बनेको छ । संरक्षण क्षेत्रमा एकखाले बहस शुरु त भएको छ नै राजनीतिज्ञका बोलिदेखि फेसबुक, ट्विटरका जोक्समा अहिले धूर्वे विरलै छुट्छ । यसैको कारण निकुञ्जमा वार्डेन सम्म फेरीए तर धूर्वे आतंक किन भयो र जन्मनु पछाडिको नेपाली संरक्षण कार्यनीति कतिसम्म दोषी छ भन्ने चुरो बिषयले भने अझै बहसमा प्रवेश पाएको छैन ।
 धूर्वेको यो स्वभाव कुनै नौलो होइन । जवान हात्ती पोथीसँग सम्पर्क राख्ने चाहना तीब्र हुने समय एक्लो भयो । जंगली हात्तीको आकर्षण भने निकुञ्जकै ध्वरब पोष्टमा रहेको पोथी हात्तिसँग थियो । एकातर्फ ऊ जंगलमा आफ्नो समूहबाट छुट्टिको पीडा झेलिराखेको थियो भने अर्कोतर्फ मन परेकी पोथी हात्तिसम्म पुग्न समेत सक्दैनथ्यो । यसरी मनोवैज्ञानिक समस्या झेलिराखेको थियो धूर्वेले । र, त्यो कुनै अस्वभाविक पनि होइन कि जब कुनै हात्ति एक्लोपनबाट निस्किएको मनोवैज्ञानिक अभाव झेल्छ, ऊ आक्रमक बन्छ । ३० मंसिरमा माडीका बुद्धिविराम र जरिया बोटे यसले उसको १५ औं मानविय शिकार बने ।
सुरक्षार्थ रहेको सेनाको ध्वरुब पोष्टमा बसेका सेनाका जवानलाई लखेट्ने र त्यहाँका घर भत्काउने काम गरी उसले आतंक मच्चाएको थियो । तर त्यहाँ रहेका सैनिक जवानले भेट्न नदिएको ठानेर उसले घर भत्काउने र मान्छे ताक्ने गर्न थालेको थियो । निकुञ्जले त्यसलाई मनोवैज्ञानिक समस्याको रुपमा कहिल्यै हेर्न चाहेन । जसको कारण त्यही साल माघमा सेनाका जवान रिद्धिविर दोङ उसले पहिलो शिकार बनायो, हात्तीपोलोमा एम्पाएर भएर खेल्ने समशेरगजलाई पोलो खेल्दै गरेको समयमा जुधेर माय्रो तर निकुञ्जले यसलाई विनाशक ठानेन ।
पछिल्लो घटना लगत्तै माडीका बासिन्दा राजनीतिक दलका स्थानीय नेता सहित निकुञ्जको मुख्यालय कसरा पुगेका थिए । त्यसबेला उनले धनजनको क्षतिपूर्ति, हात्तीलाई तत्काल मार्नुपर्ने मात्र माग राखेनन् । स्थानिय नेताहरु भारतपुरबाट माडी जाने सडक २५ मिटर चौडा बनाउने पर्ने माग समेत तेस्र्याए । यसले दिने संकेत के हो भने यहाँ संरक्षण र मध्यवर्ती क्षेत्रलाई संवेदनशील रुपमा कहिल्यै लिइएन । कोहीले यसलाई राजनीतिक खेलको भूमि बनाए भने कोहीले तस्करीको । प्रायः अशिक्षित एवं गरिबिको चपेटामा रहने मध्यवर्ती क्षेत्रका जनता आफै केही वैज्ञानिक बाटो तय गर्नुपर्ने माग राख्न सक्दैनन्÷जान्दैनन् जसो भन्दैमा सरकार त्यसको संवेदनशीलता बिर्सेर आवरणका काममा अल्झिन मिल्दैन ।