The link between loss of bio-diversity and the deterioration of eco-system has been well established, and the awareness on this issue is growing. In 2010, the government signed Memorandums of Understanding with both the Chinese and the Indian governments with the intention of conserving biodiversity and controlling illegal trade. And yet, just Sunday, 1,150 kilos of Chiru hide was nabbed in Gorkha, and a cache of tiger hide and bones (in Nuwakot. Among the illegal substances traded across the border are Chiru hide from Tibet, horns of rhinos, elephant ivory, the hide and bones of big cats, the scent gland of musk deer, and the bile of bears from various parts of South Asia. Many of these animals are endangered. Even though almost 20 percent of the country’s land is allocated for conservation purpose, Nepal continues to be a hub for the evergreen trade in animal parts.
The reason illegal trade in animal parts continues to flourish is its immediate rewards, which in most cases far exceed the efforts and risks that go into procuring these substances. Rhino horns fetch up to Rs. 800,000/kg within the country. And these prices are just a pittance compared to what they cost in international markets. Some of them are used in high-end luxury items: a single Shahtoosh shawl made from the fur of four or more Chirus (small Himalayan antelopes) can fetch up to Rs. 15 lakhs. Other substances are reputed to have medicinal uses: the retail price of powdered tiger bone, supposed to cure ulcers, rheumatism and typhoid, can be up to Rs. 2.5 lakhs/kg. Given the scale of the returns, it is perhaps not surprising that every link in the chain of vast organized crime networks is eager to cash in. A recent report by Nagarik daily indicates that in Gorkha, the police themselves were involved in the smuggling of Chiru hide.
Some success has been achieved against trafficking, but not without its costs. For example, the government has revoked the prohibition in the collection and trading of Yarsagumba, a Himalayan aphrodisiac herb. As a result, locals can now legally harvest Yarsagumba at the She-Foksundo national park. But this has led to many problems like early harvesting (before the plant has had enough time to generate seeds), which has resulted in smaller harvests every consecutive year, leading to fears that such a solution may not be sustainable. Similar regulated collection of other animal products is not a viable solution, as it could lead to an even more rapid extinction of the animals in question. While long term solutions to illegal trafficking of animal parts can only be found with the eco-awareness and economic prosperity of the locals, a short term solution could be the enforcement of the bilateral pacts that Nepal has signed with India and China.
These pacts offer joint monitoring mechanisms as a solution to illegal trafficking. Considering that Nepal shares an open border with India and conducts a substantial amount of trade with China, a strict and regular joint monitoring of all vehicles is currently the best bet to reduce illegal trafficking of animal parts in this part of the world