Nepal 'active transit' for wildlife trade

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Kathmandu (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) - The 'regional mafia' has made Nepal an active transit hub for the illicit trafficking of wildlife parts, according to evidences gleaned from the recent seizures of large amounts of such material by the police. A month-long transborder police operation, conducted between January 6 and February 5 and coordinated by an international security alliance, found that large amounts of rare wildlife products are being transported to either India or the Tibetan regions of China through various parts of Nepal.

Acting on intelligence gathered by the International Coordination Team (ICT), a Nepal Police team comprising police personnel and stakeholders concerned, seized 1,550 kilograms of shatoosh, the wool extracted from endangered Tibetan antelopes, from Dhading and Gorkha districts. The Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of the Nepal Police said the shatoosh can fetch upto 5 billion Nepalese rupees (US$57 million) in the international market.

"Around 10,000 Tibetan antelopes must have been killed to extract that amount of wool," said SSP Uttam Bahadur Karki, a member of the ICT. According to Karki, the wool was intercepted while being transported to India from Tibet. "By tracking the recent incidents of trafficking shatoosh and tiger products, a linear smuggling route can be traced between China, Nepal and India," said SSP Karki. "We are still working to find more leads and shut down the entire smuggling racket that is operating in the region. Persons we have arrested so far do not have much information about high-level players as they are simply carriers."

In another big haul, police confiscated five tiger hides, 142 kilograms of tiger bones and 122 kilograms of tiger teeth from Nuwakot. Following the same intelligence reports, two more tiger hides, 53 kilograms of bones and four sets of teeth were seized from Gorkha. According to the police, the tigers could have been killed in India and the materials sent to China.

Police also gained valuable insight into the smuggling racket from an individual arrested from Bouddha in the Capital in possession of varying amounts of cash in different currencies, five Nepali passports under different names, one Chinese passport, four human skulls, clothes embroidered with precious wildlife material and seven Tibetan rubber stamps.

Among other material confiscated in this one month period are a 1.8 kilogram pangolin in Naikap, two rhino horns in Sunsari and a red panda hide in Nuwakot.

At the international level, action by the ICT has yielded hundreds of arrests and the seizure of assorted wildlife specimen, namely 42,000 kilograms of red sandlewood, 6,500 kilograms of elephant ivory, 2,600 live snakes, 324 hornbill beaks, 102 pangolins, 800 kilograms of pangolin scales, 22 rhino horns and four rhino horn carvings, 10 tiger and seven leopard trophies, 32 kilograms of elephant meat, among others, a statement issued by the CIB said.

"The findings from the one month of rigorous trans-border action have led us to take poaching more seriously," said Deputy Inspector General Kesh Bahadur Shahi, the CIB director. "Extended support from all stakeholders concerned will be required to keep the operation ongoing in the same spirit."

The ICT consisted of representatives from the CIB, the Office of the China National Interagency CITES Enforcement, the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, South African Police Service, India's Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, Indonesian Police, Vietnam Environmental Police, Thai Police, Association of South East Asia Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Regional Intelligence Liasion Office for Customs in the Asia/Pacific region.

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