- Wildlife collectors in Nepal will have to declare their collections to the government, under a landmark ruling spurred by the perceived injustice of the country’s strict wildlife protection laws.
- The May 30 Supreme Court ruling caps a legal campaign by conservationist Kumar Paudel to hold to account wealthy Nepalis who openly display wildlife parts and trophies, even as members of local communities are persecuted for suspected poaching.
- Under the ruling, the government must issue a public notice calling on private collectors to declare their wildlife collections, and must then seize those made after 1973, the year the wildlife conservation act came into effect.
- Conservationists and human rights advocates have welcomed the ruling, but say “only time will tell if the government will take this court order seriously or not.”
KATHMANDU — In a landmark verdict, Nepal’s Supreme Court has directed the government to take concrete steps to implement the country’s conservation laws and seize illegal private collections of wildlife parts.
Justices Sapna Pradhan Malla and Til Prasad Shrestha also ordered the government to come up with programs to massively raise awareness about the legal status of private collections, and not incinerate or destroy seized wildlife parts, as the country had previously done, but rather to use such items for educational purposes, preferably in a museum.
“This is a landmark judgment in Nepal’s conservation history,” conservationist Kumar Paudel from the NGO Greenhood Nepal, who filed a writ petition at the court in 2018 that culminated in the May 30 ruling.
According to the verdict, whose full text is expected to be published in the coming months, the government must issue a public notice calling on private collectors to declare their wildlife collections. The government must then seize all collections made after 1973, the year the country’s National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act came into effect.
The law states that no one is allowed to sell or distribute wildlife or its parts without permission.
Paudel filed the petition on the basis of what he decried as Nepal’s double standard in enforcing its laws on wildlife crime. While largely considered among the strictest in the world, the laws tend to apply to the poor and marginalized while ignoring the elite and influential, Paudel said. He gave examples of places where wildlife parts such as tiger pelts and heads were openly exhibited in public spaces, flouting the law and undermining conservation efforts.
“Under Nepal’s laws, wildlife crime also entails transport and collection of contraband, not just poaching. But regulatory authorities have been blatantly ignoring this,” Paudel said.
Although Nepal has achieved remarkable success in conserving charismatic species such as the greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) and the Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris), critics argue that local communities dependent on forest resources for centuries have been paying the price for this success. Under Nepal’s strict laws, members of local communities have been reported to be regularly harassed and persecuted by security forces for even minor infringements.
“The verdict is an important step in discouraging wildlife crime in Nepal,” Padam Bahadur Shrestha, the lawyer who petitioned the court on Paudel’s behalf, told Mongabay.
“We can see that the court gave private collectors time to register their collections if they were dated before the wildlife law and sourced legally,” he added; if the court had ordered the government to seize the collections right away, no one would come forward to register their collection, he said.
Gyan Basnet, a professor of human rights, who was not a party to the case, welcomed the court verdict as helping level the disparity in the implementation of conservation laws in Nepal.
“However, only time will tell if the government will take this court order seriously or not,” he added.
Banner Image: In 2017, Nepal’s authorities incinerated 4,000 pieces of seized wildlife parts, including tiger pelts and rhino horns, to demonstrate zero tolerance against poaching. Image courtesy of ZSL
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Abhaya Raj Joshi is a staff writer for Nepal at Mongabay. Find him on Twitter @arj272.