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The choice is ours: zero poaching or zero wildlife?


Poaching and illegal wildlife trade are the most serious and immediate threats to many of Asia’s charismatic and iconic species, such as tiger, rhino and elephants, as well as lesser known species such as pangolin. It is a transnational organised crime, as stated at the ‘Symposium: Towards Zero Poaching in Asia’ last week, by the representative from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

Smuggled Tiger Cub © WWF-Canon / James MorganSmuggled Tiger Cub © WWF-Canon / James Morgan

It’s a high profit and low risk activity, with demand for wildlife parts largely coming from countries within Asia. It is clear that poaching and illegal wildlife trade need to be transformed into high risk and low profit crimes and demand for illegal wildlife parts needs to be reduced. Poaching is a persistent threat on the ground in places such as Chitwan National Park in Nepal, and Corbett National Park in India, both of which I have had the great pleasure of visiting. In fact, I was only a few metres from a tiger in Corbett, which is the most memorable and exciting wildlife experience I have ever had – they are such beautiful and magnificent animals which really do need our help

Nepal as the benchmark

With Nepal’s inspirational achievement of zero poaching for a year, both in 2011 and 2013/14, the Nepal Government was the perfect host for this symposium, sharing its experience and celebrating the fact zero poaching is possible. A very inspiring film was shown on the first day illustrating how the country had achieved zero poaching.

The participation at this event was very impressive, with all 13 tiger range countries represented. Whilst sat on a table between a major from the Nepal Army and a prosecutor from the US Department of Justice, I listened to presentations from the Director General of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in Nepal, the Vladivostok branch of the Russian Customs Academy, the Central Investigation Bureau of Nepal’s Police, Interpol, and organisations such as the Wildlife Conservation Society and, of course, WWF.

Over lunch I spoke with a Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) of the Nepal Army in Chitwan National Park, and I was in awe of his dedication, motivation, determination, professionalism, pride, bravery and passion. In fact I was impressed by the dedication and passion shown by the wide range of participants at the conference, which is absolutely essential to achieve zero poaching.

The army takes its role protecting wildlife in Nepal very seriously. We may think this would be a dream posting, working in such beautiful places, protecting wild animals, but Lt Col told me “this is the most difficult job I have ever done” facing risks daily from the wild animals themselves, as well as armed poachers.

Diwakar Chapagain, WWF Nepal, with Lt Col from the Nepal Army at the Towards Zero Poaching Symposium © WWF Tigers Alive Initiative Diwakar Chapagain, WWF Nepal, with Lt Col from the Nepal Army at the Towards Zero Poaching Symposium © WWF Tigers Alive Initiative

He explained how working in the protected areas requires a change in attitude for army personnel who needed to adopt the “jungle flavour” (I love this phrase!) as working in the jungle requires a very different approach to the usual army deployments or tasks.

Later the Chief Warden of Chitwan National Park sat beside us and the Lt Col explained how the Chief Warden had motivated him towards conservation, and had guided him over the last year of his deployment in Chitwan. The Chief Warden, who has a great number of years of working to tackle poaching, replied that “without close coordination, it’s not possible – that team work is the important thing”.  He explained that at that table there were the “three pillars of Chitwan”: the community, indicating a community leader, named Basu, from Chitwan National Park Buffer Zone; the Nepal Army, looking at the Lt Col; “and the National Park” he added with a big smile.

The Army are effective because they are extremely professional – well trained, equipped and using the latest technologies (in fact have improved on established conservation tools such as SMART); they have studied and understood conservation extremely well;  and they respect and work with the local communities. They can be held up as a model for enforcement rangers elsewhere.

CA|TS for National Park

Throughout the four days the essential role of the local communities was discussed with very interesting local community approaches shared, such as helping communities in Sunderbans, Bangladesh and Sumatra, Indonesia, to live side by side with tigers and support local anti-poaching efforts. In one presentation the communities around Chitwan were described as “the ears and eyes on the ground”, helping in the investigations to track down poachers. This would not be possible without trust and shared benefits from wildlife conservation.

This symposium was very timely, with recent conservation news stories, good and bad, illustrating how critical and urgent it is to achieve Zero Poaching: There has been wonderful conservation news: India’s tiger population increasing significantly showing great conservation efforts on the ground, the arrest of a notorious Nepali rhino poacher in Malaysia, demonstrating coordinated and effective enforcement efforts and the horrifying news from South Africa that a record 1,215 rhinos were killed in 2014.

The Symposium ended with another good news story from Nepal, that Nepal’s legendary Chitwan National Park was announced as the first global site to be accredited with Conservation Assured Tiger Standard (CA|TS), which means this site has reached the highest level of tiger protection a country can aspire to thanks to an increasingly effective management and protection regime.

Members of the Symposium holding the CATS certificate, awarded to Chitwan National Park © WWF Tigers Alive Initiative Members of the Symposium holding the CATS certificate, awarded to Chitwan National Park © WWF Tigers Alive Initiative

Achieving Zero Poaching is a collaborative effort, and the key players expressed their sincere appreciation of WWF’s crucial support, with long-standing technical expertise, training and equipment, to help to achieve zero poaching. Items as simple as bicycles, which we have helped to provide, with the support of Whiskas, have made patrolling easier and faster in Chitwan. Support, in the form of training and equipment has also been provided to patrol teams in Banke National Park who are starting to use a real-time patrol monitoring system, using a system called SMART, ‘Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool which  was demonstrated at the symposium.

This appreciation also extends to the people and organisations who are supporting and working with us, as without you, we may not be celebrating the increase in wild tiger populations in India and Nepal, and zero poaching in Nepal.

Six steps to Zero Poaching

To achieve zero poaching, a number of things need to be done side by side:

  • Assess and understand what enforcement operations and methods are being used now and fill the gaps;
  • Improve the capacity of enforcement agencies and rangers;
  • Use appropriate technologies on the ground to aid patrolling and wildlife protection;
  • Engage communities and work in partnerships;
  • Strengthen prosecution for wildlife offences;
  • Cooperate with other countries to control and respond to illegal wildlife trade.

If we do all these things, then we can achieve zero poaching. I really do believe that we can achieve this not only in Nepal, but in other countries too, but it requires immediate and decisive action now, action which began here at the symposium, which “marks a major turning point for wildlife in Asia” (Mike Baltzer, Leader of the WWF Tigers Alive Initiative).

Finally, this symposium, and the recent confirmation of the rhino poaching crisis in South Africa, highlight the need for urgent action, internationally, to tackle poaching and illegal wildlife trade, which is the focus of a Government conference to be held in March, hosted by the Government of Botswana, following on from the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade held in February 2013  which involving 41 Governments. It is hoped that follow up of progress made will help motivate and maintain the commitment of Governments to escalate their efforts, without delay.

I’d like to thank the government of Nepal, WWF colleagues and others for making the conference such a success – now we need to see action. This really is urgent – zero poaching and illegal wildlife trade, or zero wildlife.

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