By Om Astha Rai
Early this year, police seized five tiger skins which were reportedly being smuggled to China through Rasuwagadhi border in Nuwakot. Later, the seized tiger skins were brought to Kathmandu to find out whether the hides belonged to big cats from Nepal or elsewhere.
The test, which compared the DNA of the seized skins with the stored DNA samples of Nepali tigers, concluded that the seized skins did not belong to local big cats.
With the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) beginning to maintain DNA profiles of tigers inhabiting various national parks and wildlife reserves of Nepal, finding the origins of tigers killed by poachers is likely to be made possible, provided that their parts, like skins and bones, are seized by police.
"The test that we conducted after the seizure of tiger skins in Nuwakot was just an instance," says Maheshwor Dhakal, an ecologist at the DNPWC. "We can conduct similar tests after each seizure to find out precisely where the poachers killed tigers."
However, DNA profiling of Nepal´s tigers is still in an early stage. As of now, DNA samples have been extracted from scats of just around 70 tigers, according to Dhakal. Given the increasing number of tigers, which currently stands at 198 as per the latest census report, DNA profiling of tigers is not even half-completed yet.
"It is just a beginning," says Dhakal, adding, "If we maintain DNA profiles of all tigers found in Nepal, it would not be impossible for us to find out where seized tiger parts originated." Dhakal says DNA profiling of tigers would help enforce the Wildlife Conservation Act-1973 more effectively.
At the recently held Tiger Day, National Tiger Conservation Committee, which is led by the prime minister, had urged the responsible authorities to step up efforts in this direction.
At present, due to the lack of DNA profiling of all tigers, police and other authorities, like wardens of national parks and district forest officers, often fail to nab the prime culprits behind wildlife trade and poaching.
"We seize tiger parts every now and then," says SSP Uttam Karki, deputy chief of Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), a wing of the Nepal Police that has proved to be an effective mechanism against wildlife trade. "But, we succeed in nabbing just carriers. Other criminals involved in poaching, smuggling and trading of tiger parts are never identified."
Karki says wildlife trade is usually executed by a vast network involving poachers, smugglers, traders and, perhaps, in some cases, the responsible authorities themselves. More....