Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Araniko Highway ‘route for int’l wildlife smuggling’

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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.

According to the police, the seized seahorses come from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, among other countries. In a recent operation conducted by the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of the Nepal Police, some seven tiger hides and over 150kg tiger bones and teeth were confiscated from the surrounding districts of Nuwakot and Dhading. It later came to light that the tiger parts came from animals killed in India. “Being close to the open trade centre between China and Nepal, the Araniko Highway and the surrounding districts are considered critical areas in terms of smuggling,” said SSP Uttam Bahadur Karki of the CIB. According to Karki, the CIB will soon be launching an anti-wildlife smuggling campaign, in coordination with concerned government stakeholders.

DFO data states that roughly 100 people have been arrested on smuggling charges. According to Prasain, over 80 percent of arrestees are Sindhupalchok locals. “Those who were arrested are just carriers,” he said. “Our state mechanism has been unable to reach up to the higher rings of the smuggling rackets.” Wildlife campaigner and Sindhupalchok local Kumar Paudel said that the involvement of locals in smuggling has to do with many factors, including unemployment, a lack of awareness and the availability of endangered species like the pangolin and red panda in the region. “Whatever has been seized so far is just 10 percent of what is being transported across the border,” said Paudel. “Each child from the remote villages of Sindhupalchok has directly experienced smuggling one way or another. The smuggling racket surely stretches to the higher political level, which we have been unable to track so far.” The involvement of government authorities in smuggling becomes clearer with the seizure of illegal wildlife parts from one of the 16 check points along the Araniko Highway, starting at Bhaktapur and ending at Kodari. 

"If something is seized at checkpoint number 16, it means that the substance passed through all other check points,” said Paudel. “This clearly hints at the rampant corruption at, or the incompetence of, state mechanisms. Although these cases have only started to come to the surface recently, animal trade in the region is centuries old. A lot needs to be done to eradicate local people’s belief in smuggling and making easy money.”


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