Loathsome trade

  • Investigation should expose the dirty nexus involved in rhino poaching

Apr 12, 2017-Just as the Chitwan National Park (CNP) was preparing to celebrate the third consecutive year of zero-rhino poaching, poachers on Friday night killed a one-horned rhino and made off with its horn and tail. Police suspect it could be an act of an organised ring. Rampant poaching and human encroachment over the decades have drastically reduced the number of rhinos, whose number in the country’s southern belt was once estimated to be in the thousands.

In recent decades, however, Nepal has made considerable progress in rhino conservation, with an increase in their numbers from 534 according to the 2011 census to 645 according to the 2015 census. Numbers have steadily increased since the end of the conflict in 2006, when there were about 400 rhinos in the country. Reasons behind the recent success in conservation include stronger penalties for poaching and the use of the Army in anti-poaching endeavours. 

The latest incident represents a setback in the country’s conservation efforts. There have been occasional hiccups before. Two one-horned rhinos were killed in the same area in the CNP in 2014 and 2008, and a forest guard was murdered there four years ago. Illegal trade in animal parts remains a lucrative business on the international black market, where rhino horns can sell for tens of thousands of dollars for use in traditional medicines in China and Southeast Asia.

The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), which has the mandate to curb wildlife-related crimes in the country, has launched a probe into last week’s incident. Preliminary investigation indicates that the poachers were planning their move for a long time and were waiting for an opportune moment. It seems they struck at night when there was rain and thunderstorm, and used a silencer as no gunshots were heard. According to the CNP, around 100 persons involved in poaching and smuggling of animal parts are at large. 

While it is essential to carry out a thorough investigation and apprehend the guilty, it is equally important to ensure that no one is falsely accused. There are concerns about fake allegations in wildlife crimes, particularly against members of indigenous groups. There are concerns also about authorities arresting “foot soldiers” but not those higher up in the supply chain of wildlife trade. It is widely believed that the highly profitable trade in wildlife involves a dirty nexus among politicians, forest officials, security forces and traders. The WCCB’s investigation should not only lead to the arrest of Friday’s killers, but also expose others involved in the loathsome trade. 

Published: 12-04-2017 08:18

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