Confiscated tiger and leopard hides

Poachers galore

MoAF to come up with stern laws and levy heavy penalties on culprits

Poaching in the country, like in many other nations, is fast becoming rampant with reports of confiscation and clandestine incidents happening frequently.

Recently, the police in Gasa and officials of Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP) arrested a 33-year-old man for poaching musk deer on

the night of November 7, while three men are still at large. This was the second arrest made by the police and park officials within a week’s time in the same locality.

The trend of poaching in Bhutan is increasing, going by the number of cases in which the poachers are being apprehended within the park territories and protected areas in the country.

In another confrontation, police and park officials have caught two men, aged 18 and 25, on the night of November 2 on allegations of poaching.

Last year, three long-time poachers were apprehended in Neshingborang village, Nganglam under Pemagatshel by the forest officials for hunting down a leopard. The poachers had trapped and killed the leopard using poison left in the carcass of a horse left as a bait.

The JDNP Park Manager, also the national focal person for Tiger Conservation, Lhendup Tharchen said that the grounds on which poaching is rampant in the country is yet to be determined, but people believe it to be a lucrative business, therefore, is known to be encouraging people.

“Though we do not have a market for it in Bhutan, people fetch hefty amounts outside, which is why poaching, is increasing these days,” he said. He added that another reason could be lack of knowledge about laws or sheer ignorance. Moreover, the laws in place are neither very severe nor stern.

Lhendup Tharchen also said that lack of resources, especially human resources and vast forest coverage is also impeding the inspection carried out by the forest officials.

According to the head of Wildlife Conservation Division, Sonam Wangchuk, nabbing the poachers within the territory of the park and protected areas is due to less severity of penalty imposed on the poachers. Hence, he said that revision of the fines and penalties for protected species under section 82 (7) of the Forest and Nature Conservation Rules, 2006, pertaining to the tiger (Panthera tigris) and the snow leopard (Uncia uncia) has been revised.

He added that the poachers are either too complacent with the fines and penalties imposed on them or show a sheer ignorance of the Forest and Nature Conservation Rules. Therefore, he said imparting the existing rules would discourage people into poaching.

When asked about the expectation of the WCD in curbing poaching with the new revision of fine and penalties, Sonam Wangchuk said that he is optimistic as the new law would deter people from poaching and possessing the parts of animals.

“Revision of penalty is not intended to slap poachers with heavy penalties, but to discourage them from doing an act,” Sonam Wangchuk said.

The new law would levy a fine of Nu 0.5mn to any person found in an act of making an attempt to catch or injure the most conserved species, tiger and snow leopard.

Further, the revised law has also states, any person found in an unpermitted taking, destroying, capturing and trade of their parts and products regardless of whether the animal was taken, destroyed or captured in Bhutan, or elsewhere will be levied a fine of Nu 1mn or a penalty of imprisonment which may extend up to ten years or both.

Meanwhile, any animal parts or products possessed by the offender would be confiscated and shall impose fines accordingly, for instance, for the entire set of skin, the fine would be Nu 0.3mn, the fine levied on a set of bones is Nu 0.3mn, for claws at Nu 5,000 each, and canine at Nu 10,000 each.

The offender will also be charged for the missing parts of the species killed. The missing of bones would be levied Nu 0.05mn, any other parts Nu 10,000 each, missing in parts of skin Nu 0.05mn.

The firm laws in place are expected to curb poaching and illegal wildlife trade in the country which has increased in recent times.

It is estimated that there are around 100 tigers in Bhutan and the global tiger population is estimated to be around 3,062 to 3,948. In early 2008, Bhutanese forest officials found pug marks and photographic evidence that tigers in Bhutan were also being found at the snowline.

Meanwhile, Forest Protection and Surveillance Unit (FPSU) in their study ruled out that poaching is a low risk and high value profession where poachers escape with flexible penalties after being caught.

In their findings, the most pressing issues in wildlife trade is the Asian big cat Royal Bengal tiger, snow leopard, leopard cat, musk deer for musk pod, and Himalayan Black bear for its paws. FPSU has also caught poachers trading in elephant and rhinoceros parts being moved to China through Bhutan from India.

As per the FPSU official, in some situation, Bhutan has become a route of trading illegal wildlife parts, especially elephants and rhinoceros. “Poachers in Bhutan are increasingly into such illegal act as the demand from Chinese counterpart increase.”

The old law according to the FPSU was not acting as deterrence to poachers.

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