Supreme Court of Nepal sets a precedent, issues order to investigate rampant private possession and confiscate illegal wildlife parts


Supreme Court of Nepal sets a precedent for conservation and social justice: issues order to investigate rampant private possession and confiscate illegal wildlife parts in the country

Kathmandu, Nepal
31 May 2023

Supreme Court pulls up the Government of Nepal for discriminatory and negligent enforcement of wildlife laws in controlling private possession of illegal wildlife parts (items such as trophies, pets, animal hides, and other body parts) that currently ignores Nepal’s elite while disproportionately penalising the marginalised communities. The Court order instructs the Government to take strict action against people who illegally display and use wildlife – regardless of who they are. And it will also help deter those engaged in such wildlife crimes and uphold Nepal’s noteworthy commitment to conservation.

The Honorable Supreme Court Justices Sapana Malla Pradhan and Til Prasad Shrestha issued a writ of mandamus against the Office of the Prime Minister, Home Minister, Forest and Environment Minister and relevant departments for failing to implement the law in a full, fair and consistent manner. The case (074-WO-0807) was filed on 16 May 2018 by conservation scientist Kumar Paudel in response to private possession of illegal wildlife parts & the public flaunting by influential members of the society, including ex-Prime Minister Kritinidhi Bista. On 30 May 2023, the judges pronounced their verdict in favour of Kumar Paudel’s petition.

Prior to filing the case, Paudel was conducting research to find ways to deter wildlife crime in Nepal. He interviewed more than 150 people convicted of wildlife crimes across prisons in the country, where he found many of the imprisoned were poor, marginalised and illiterate. The trigger for filing this case was a national broadcast of an interview with the ex-Prime Minister in his private residence, where a tiger pelt was prominently displayed in the background. Witnessing the unfair treatment meted out to individuals from different parts of society, Paudel was compelled to take up the issue. Additionally, bothered by the disrespectful display of threatened wildlife and fearing such rampant exhibition of privately held wildlife parts will further encourage poaching and illegal trade, Paudel demanded action from the government to investigate the legality of the possession of the tiger pelt.

Nepal’s stringent laws prohibit the illegal harvest and use of protected wildlife, with high fines of up to 1 Million NPR and prison sentences of up to 15 years. But enforcement has consistently focused on Nepal’s poorest and most marginalised communities, who are often involved in illegally harvesting and trading wildlife – while systematically overlooking wildlife ownership by Nepal’s elite, rich and powerful.

After running in vain from one department to another for two years seeking action from the government, Paudel finally went to the Supreme Court to ensure fair enforcement of laws to curb wildlife crimes. In his court petition, he demanded a more consistent, transparent and fair application of the law.

Paudel demanded the government 1) thoroughly investigate wildlife parts in private possession to ascertain its legality; 2) prosecute and seize illegal wildlife possessions, where acceptable permits were not submitted; 3) maintain records of how many wildlife parts were legally in possession prior to National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1973, and 4) act with utmost priority and urgency since any delay might propel the criminals to hide, destroy or sell the evidence.

After five years of several deferrals and clarifications submitted by the government to the court, a verdict was announced on 30 May 2023. In a landmark win for wildlife conservation, the court not only accepted the demands outlined in the petition but also ordered the government to take further strict actions to curb illegal wildlife possession through 1) the use of effective mediums to reach out and raise awareness among the public on the illegal possession of wildlife parts and the legal consequences beyond publishing gazettes, and 2) seize wildlife parts to be preserved for educational and research purposes to benefit conservation instead of destroying them. 

The case was expertly presented by Advocate Padam Bahadur Shrestha and his team Shatkon Shrestha, Raju Phuyal, Bishnu Kumar Thokar, Shuban Raj Acharya. 

A detailed, full-length verdict is expected to be published by the Supreme Court in a few months. 

Kumar Paudel’s statement:

“I’m encouraged and feeling very optimistic to see the Supreme Court deliberate on wildlife crime control with diligence and thankful for the opportunity to draw on my research to strengthen Nepal’s wildlife conservation policy.

This court order is an important step in bringing thousands of illegal wildlife parts under enforcement, regardless of who owns them. It closes a critical loophole that has been openly exploited by the privileged class of society without consequence, while the marginalised suffer fines and incarceration for similar crimes. This verdict will help ensure justice is served in a fair and impartial manner. 

Too often, elite members of our society are shielded from consequences by existing social structures. I am elated that this court order not only compels the government to uphold our environmental laws but also reminds us of the need to challenge injustice to shatter the status quo.

It feels like one long journey has ended with this favourable ruling and I am relieved. But this is only the first step, another long journey awaits. I will consider justice will have been served only when the government turns this court order into action on the ground.

Biodiversity conservation is the biggest challenge of our time that needs all hands on deck. As scientists, we must not be afraid to get our hands dirty and go beyond research, publication and education. I implore my peers to take encouragement from this success, to actively knock on the doors of government offices – and even of the highest courts – to help protect biodiversity and ensure justice.”

For more information, please contact:

Kumar Paudel

Kathmandu, Nepal

Adv. Padam Bahadur Shrestha

Lead lawyer


Useful Links:

  1. Original petition filed in the Supreme Court - LINK (in Nepali)

  2. First hearing order from Supreme Court - LINK (in Nepali)

  3. First press release issued on May - LINK (in English)

  4. Research paper based on which the case was filed - LINK (in English)

  5. First Twitter complaint after first TV Broadcast announcement showing tiger pelt - LINK 

  6. Chronological updates on Twitter following the case - LINK

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