Pangolins are among the most extensively traded animals in Southeast Asia mainly due to the perceived medicinal value of their scales and other body parts, putting them at high risk of poaching. However, little is known about their trade status in Nepal. Despite the ban on the international commercial trade of specimens by CITES, pangolins remain among the most trafficked mammal species. At a time when Nepal’s effort in protecting species like tigers and rhinos is getting global recognition, rampant poaching and illegal trade of equally important pangolin species threaten to undermine the country’s exalted conservation status.
Despite Nepal being home to two species of pangolins and sharing an international border with China, one of the world’s largest pangolin traders, there is little information on the extent of pangolin trafficking from Nepal. Additionally, there have been only few robust studies on illegal trafficking of pangolins in central Nepal. Although illegal wildlife trade of pangolin has received attention from the conservation perspective, there have been only a handful of studies on the root causes and socio-economic context influencing this activity. For instance, there is little factual information on the profiles and motivations of the perpetrators involved in illegal trafficking of pangolins, especially in central Nepal.
Recently I got to study the pangolin trade in Makwanpur district under the financial support of WWF Nepal (Hariyo Ban Program). The study was carried out in the Hetauda sub-metropolitan city and Makwanpurgadi rural municipality of Makwanpur district. Different indicators such as the presence of pangolin, anecdotal evidence such as seizure and arrest records on local and national newspapers as well as major markets were considered for selecting these municipalities as study areas.
Our study showed that most pangolin-kills were related to monetary benefits resulting from their supposed medicinal value. Locally, different parts of the pangolins are thought to have different curative properties. However, these social and cultural values ascribed to the mammals are suppressed by people’s monetary motivation. The minimum price of live pangolins and their scales in the Nepali market ranges between $7-12.5/kg for local hunters. The price doubles at every subsequent level of trade. And yet our study suggested that the pangolin population in Makwanpur district was actually increasing, perhaps owing to active involvement of police and concerned authority in controlling its trade. The National Park and Wildlife Conservation (NPWC) Act provisions for fines ranging from Rs 100,000–Rs 500,000 and/or 1-10 year jail for those involved in illegal wildlife trade. (But then we are in no position to say the same about other areas of Nepal.)
We identified hunting as the major threat to pangolins at the study sites. Locals use different techniques to hunt pangolins. The most common entails filling pangolin burrows with water and hitting them on the snout when they try to scramble out.
According to the information on trade routes provided by DPO, Makwanpur, poachers from each area use a different trade route but the final destination is mostly China. Most key informants also said that the country was the major market for the mammals taken out of Nepal. Illegal wildlife trade generally occurs through a complicated network of locations and routes where poachers of one village supply pangolins to poachers of another until it reaches the international border. Wildlife trafficking occurs through a mobile trade network with constantly shifting trade routes.
Currently, several remarkable attempts are being made for pangolin conservation in Nepal. A national pangolin workshop was organized by the government of Nepal to come up with a roadmap for conserving the country’s globally significant pangolin population. Similarly, a wide range of stakeholders from local pangolin experts to government officials are working together to develop a solid database on pangolins through intensive surveys. In addition, the Pangolin Conservation Action Plan for Nepal (2018-2022) aims to address the critical threats to pangolin conservation by developing appropriate conservation strategies and actions.
The forest department, wildlife conservation department, security forces and local conservation units have to actively network with the community to save the threatened pangolins. The capacity of the law-enforcement agencies and local people must also be significantly enhanced. Moreover, low levels of punishment and fines are only abetting the trade. Lastly, there is also a need for a more comprehensive study on pangolin trade originating in Nepal. There is not a second to waste in our quest to save this beautiful animal.
I am currently a student of wildlife pursuing my master’s degree in Wildlife Management and Biodiversity Conservation