Steven Broad, executive director of TRAFFIC International, the wildlife trade monitoring network was in Kathmandu this week for the Global Tiger Forum to discuss big cat conservation and counter Chinese efforts to have the ban on tiger parts trade lifted. Broad talked to Nepali Times about trafficking of endangered species from Nepal and different approaches to controlling it.
Nepali Times: Where does Nepal stand in the international species trade?
Steven Broad: Wildlife trade is diverse, from timber to flagship species like rhinos and elephants. Nepal's laws are quite restrictive on what can and cannot be traded. In terms of legal trade you find a lot of medicinal plants going north and south, to China for traditional medicine and India for ayurvedic medicine. India is one of the biggest exporters of medicinal plants, and most of what is exported actually comes from Nepal.
When we talk of the trade of endangered species, we are concerned with rhinos, elephants, tigers, leopards. There are many other species of concern too, like musk deer being trafficked from Nepal for their musk in traditional medicines. Behind the scenes there is bird trafficking, and a thriving illegal bird trade in India. Globally there is high demand for reptiles, lizards, and snakes.
The hair of the Tibetan antelope, used to make shahtoosh shawls, is smuggled to Jammu and Kashmir, with Kathmandu as the point of sale in the past.
What are the challenges in controlling the trade of endangered species?
Policing is hard. You can smuggle rhino horns or tiger bones in a bag, suitcase or a sack. Second, illegal traders are businessmen, they adapt, and are often one step ahead of the law.
It's not just a poor country thing-in Europe 27 wealthy countries are campaigning to enforce laws against the trade of endangered species. That said, in South Asia, there aren't adequate resources for law enforcement. Even if there are government officers carrying out regular checks and they catch someone, what happens next? Are they prosecuted? Do they stay in jail? If you can get away by paying a few hundred dollars and are in a business where you make profits of thousands of dollars, you will pay and get away. Poorly-paid government officers doing dangerous jobs are more likely to look the other way or be involved in illegal trade. We'd like to call that a failure of governance.
For Nepal geography is a big challenge, being between the massive, growing economies of India and China, where illegal trade of wildlife is thriving.
What is TRAFFIC International's reading of the rise in rhino poaching in Nepal?
Let me be very clear about one thing: the end market for rhino horn is not strong because the demand is not that high at the moment. We do surveys of traditional medicine in China and east Asian countries and the laws are respected. This isn't a demand-driven trade, but if you had some rhino horns, you'd probably find someone willing to speculate.
Rhino protection depends on the security you can provide for the population in the protected areas, and the ability to predict where there are possible poaching problem. Chitwan has devised some model approaches; the communities around the park benefit from protecting the areas, and informers come forward if they hear of businessmen looking for rhino horns in the villages.
My own view, and I talked about this in detail with my colleagues in Chitwan, is that the rise in poaching is a symptom of the security situation. The unpredictability of what will happen creates opportunity. The army, a big part of wildlife protection, has been otherwise occupied. The good news is, I hear from government officials and my colleagues, that they are seriously thinking about getting a grip back on the situation.
What does it take to address problems of trafficking and poaching?
Political will-an interest and desire right from the top to make sure the controls work. We need people who are trained, who understand the legal framework in which they work, what approaches are available, what skills we need. Forest guards need to be trained to save the scene of crime so evidence is not destroyed. Wildlife crime investigation should be intelligence-driven. Cooperation between forest protection, wildlife and national parks, customs, army and border control is vital, as is cross-border cooperation, which almost never happens.
South Africa and China have put together very successful need-based trainings.
Intelligence gathering works, with basic tools to work with international organisations like the Interpol, World Customs Organisation, and specialist agencies. There are good examples of that, especially in the UK, where key government agencies, NGOs, and other groups come together to share and set priorities. India is thinking about replicating this model.
India has specialist bureaus for information on wildlife crime where people really specialise and are trained in intelligence gathering and investigation. Forensics is important and WWF in Nepal is thinking seriously about it. It doesn't have to be fancy science, just basic skills that identify whether the bone is from a tiger, whether it is rhino horn or fake skin. It could also be information from the scene of crime. Again, India has a good wildlife forensics department at the Wildlife Institute of India. We're talking about a similar set-up in Nepal.