From rhino horns to elephant tusks, wildlife smuggling thrives

Tashi Wangmo/ Thimphu

A spate of wildlife smuggling and poaching incidents in Bhutan show that Bhutan needs to be on the guard against wildlife smugglers and poachers.

Recently, a man from Nanglam, Pemagatshel, was caught selling a rhino horn weighting 850 grams to a Jaigoan businessman for Nu 3mn.

In January, 2012 the forest officials apprehended three poachers with body parts of the endangered species, musk deer and Monal pheasant.

In August 2011, a man from Tsento Gewog, Paro was detained by the Jigme Dorji National Park officials for carrying the skin and bones of a leopard. The man reportedly brought the parts from Jaigaon for Nu 5,000 and was on his way to sell in the border town of Phangri, China, a few hours of walk from Nubri, under Gasa district.    The parts could fetch him about Nu 100,000.

In February 2011, the Forest Protection and Surveillance Unit (FPSU) staff cracked an elephant tusks racket at Umling, Sarpang. When the transaction was taking place the joint team apprehended the 20 men.

Fifteen of them, who were Indians, fled across the border while the Bhutanese middlemen were detained. The catch included two elephant tusks weighing 57 kilograms. In the international market 800 kilograms of tusk can fetch to around US$ 2,700.

Wildlife smuggling transactions generate up to US 20bn $ a year, but no proper study of this illegal business in Bhutan which is also used as a transit to smuggle the parts.

This paper learnt that there were Bhutanese selling precious animal parts to India, Nepal, or China; and from there it is sold to Hongkong, Taiwan, Vietnam, or South Korea.

The poachers first inspect the forest area for animal tracks and then lay traps. The business is done very carefully as the buyer or seller could also be a potential informer.

The director of the conservation program with the World Wildlife Fund, Bhutan, Vijay Moktan said patrolling in identified hot spots and transit points for animal parts have to be intensified.

The Deputy Chief Forestry officer of FPSU, Karma Tenzin, said a compiled report was needed to establish whether wildlife smuggling is on the increase, moreover there is not enough information on all different species in Bhutan.

Toward this, the department of forest and parks is working on the Bhutan Forest Enforcement Database sponsored by the WWF.

Karma Tenzin added that they were trying to build a law enforcement mechanism in collaboration with the immigration, the RBP and the Bhutan Agriculture Food Regulatory Authority to inform the forest department if such activities were found.


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