By Kamal Pariyar
With the growing demand for red panda skins in China, the animal species is in danger in Nepal from poaching, which continues unabated despite the government´s preventive measures.
According to law enforcement officials, the red panda, which is basically found in the Himalayan reaches, has been declining in numbers as they fetch a good price in China. “Of the total number of seizures of red panda skins in recent years, most were China-bound,” SSP Uttam Kumar Karki, joint-director at Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), said.
In the current fiscal year of 2013/014, CIB alone seized 14 red panda skins from different parts of the country, but most of them from Kathmandu while they were being smuggled out. The number of seizures last fiscal year was four, according to bureau data. Police deployed by CIB had arrested 25 people in the last three years while 17 people including a woman were arrested last fiscal year alone.
DSP Sabin Pradhan of CIB said, “The red panda is prized in China as the skin is used in many cultural ceremonies such as weddings, as ´good luck symbols´ and also for preparing decorative articles like caps and jackets.” As the Chinese government has been taking a stern policy against the poaching of red pandas in view of their declining population, poachers and smugglers are ready to pay handsomely for the skins from Nepal, DSP Pradhan said.
At the same time, wildlife species that are not on the government´s priority list for conservation are being increasingly targeted by poachers and this is raising serious concern over their vulnerability, law enforcement officials said.
Nepal has several action plans for conserving rhinos and tigers but government policy-makers do not have any specific plan to tackle wildlife crime related to animals like the red panda, they said.
However, Maheswor Dhakal, an ecologist at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation under the Ministry of Forests, denied these allegations and said, “The declining number of red pandas is not because of ´low priority´ on the part of the government but because they are easier to poach as they are smaller in size compared to other animals.” The poachers also find the poaching easy because of the scant human population, he added.
It is understandable that the market value of red panda skins is high because of the huge demand in China, but both sides are working seriously to regulate wildlife crime, he said.
The time has come to think seriously about protecting the red panda, a species classified as ´vulnerable´ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and joint efforts have to be made by law enforcement agencies, governments and international agencies, DSP Pradhan said.
A visiting Chinese delegation led by Chen Shusian, vice-minister at China´s State Forestry Administration, raised serious concern during a meeting with government stakeholders here over the poaching of ´endangered´ and ´vulnerable´ wildlife.
The delegation team on Thursday stressed the need to intensify joint measures against wildlife crime through regular communications between the countries and the enhancing of investigation capabilities, according to ecologist Dhakal.
The number of red pandas across the world is less than 10,000, but the authorities in Nepal have no specific figure for the red panda population in Nepal. They are found in the eastern Himalayas and live in trees and eat bamboo.