In the past, poachers would move horns of the Greater one-horned rhinos from India to China through Nepal.
But the trade route has shifted to Myanmar because of increasing anti-poaching efforts in Nepal, according to a new report.
This shift to Myanmar may be temporary however, rhino expert said, depending on how Nepal continues its efforts to check wildlife crimes.
Myanmar has emerged as the major transit route for trafficking of Indian rhino horns, according to a new report.
In the past, poachers would move horns of the greater one-horned rhinos from India to China through Nepal. But trade patterns have changed, conservationists write in the report submitted to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Myanmar now appears to be the preferred transit hub.
This is mainly because the Nepalese government has been proactive in arresting poachers and rhino horn smugglers, as well as successfully convicting them, Bibhab Talukdar, Chair of the IUCN SSC Asian Rhino Specialist Group, told Mongabay. “That has led to the shift of transit point to Myanmar.”
In October 2013, for example, a joint operation of the Nepalese army and special police arrested 14 alleged members of a Nepal-Tibet cross-border smuggling enterprise, including its Kathmandu-based leader. The gang allegedly killed more than 12 rhinos over six years. In June this year, a Nepalese court sentenced rhino poacher, Rajkumar Chepang, to 15 years in prison for his involvement in the killing of 21 rhinos.
Nepal intensified its anti-poaching measures in 2011, which has helped boost rhino numbers in the country. Nepal now has the second largest population of the greater one-horned rhinos with more than 645 individuals. In the last two years, there were no records of any rhino poaching, until September 2016 when an adult male rhino was shot dead by a poacher.
In contrast, poaching continues in India, a country that is home to about 3,000 greater one-horned rhinos. The northeastern Indian state of Assam hosts over 2,625 of these rhinos in four populations. Between 2011 and 2015, poachers killed about 121 to 125 rhinos in Assam, according to Talukdar, and horns from these poached animals are now making their way to China and southeast Asian countries via Myanmar.
In 2015, for example, authorities seized four rhino horns on the Myanmar-China border, while another rhino horn was seized in Manipur, India, at the Khudenthabi Check Point on the Myanmar border. Researchers have also observed rhino horns for sale in Mong La, in Myanmar’s Shan State, believed to be a wildlife trafficking hub to China.
But this shift to Myanmar may be temporary, Talukdar said, depending on how Nepal continues its efforts to check wildlife crimes.
“Greater one-horned rhinos are found in Nepal and India, so the Nepalese and Indian Government are trying their best to check rhino poaching and rhino horn trade,” Talukdar said. “However, rhinos are not found in the wild in Myanmar, and Myanmar’s government is yet to initiate concrete measures to check wildlife trade in the country.”
Steps to intensify protection on India-Myanmar border, too, is far from visible, Talukdar added.
“There needs to be some high-level intervention from the central government and this is only possible when the government of India starts treating rhino poaching and illegal rhino horn trade at par with drugs and arms smuggling,” he said. “The rhino horn trade could potentially invite threats to national security as some armed militant groups in North East India have reportedly been found to be involved in the rhino horn trade in exchange of arms.”
Talukdar added that compared to South Africa, where rhino poaching is rampant, India is faring better. Each of the three Indian states that hosts rhino populations—Assam, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh—have their own individual rhino conservation strategies. But India still lacks a unified national strategy to protect its rhinos, the report said. The IUCN Asian Rhino Specialist Group (AsRSG) is currently negotiating the preparation of a national rhino conservation strategy, involving India’s ministry of environment, forests and climate change, as well as Assam, Bengal and UP governments.