Conservation and Wildlife Crime – Accuracy of Information is Paramount

In a series of tweets, WildTiger’s Pragati Shahi (@greeningplanet) yesterday challenged information in an article by Mongabay with regards to zero poaching claims made by WWF in Nepal.

We’ll be following up this situation but it does raise once again the serious issue of accuracy of information.  Conservation strategy and particularly donor support depend on the right information being published.  The allocation of resources in the wildlife conservation sector is becoming increasingly controversial and our own research into this issue has revealed some disturbing information.  We’ll have more on this when appropriate.

#Nepal – Strong penalty for wildlife criminal Konchiring Lama a positive step

By Pragati Shahi

Banke District Forest officials and Banke District Court have done a commendable job in tackling wildlife crime. This is an initial victory and calls for close monitoring so that wildlife criminals doesn’t get away with crimes.

 

On April 7, 2018, Konchiring Lama (white shirt in image), also known as Kunjok Lama, a noted kingpin tiger trader with strong link with Babariyas (nomadic community in India known for tiger poaching), Nepali transporters ( mostly used to transport tiger parts and products from India to Nepal) and Chinese businesses ( ultimate market for wildlife trade) was arrested in Banke district with pangolin scales. A local resident of Humla, Nepal Lama along with another Nepali was arrested with 1.5 kilograms of pangolin scales with the help of Wildlife Crime Control Bureau of Central Investigation Bureau of Nepal Police.

On April 23, acting on the charge sheet presented by the District Forest Office Banke, the District Court has remanded the case for further proceedings, and approved the request of the District Forest Office’s to apply maximum punishment for Lama’s alleged involvement not only in pangolin trade but his past engagements in trade of other wildlife species, particularly tigers. The Forest Office had requested for maximum punishment of 15 years of imprisonment and a fine of one million rupees. According to the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act of Nepal, those convicted in wildlife crime of protected species listed in Appendix I of CITES and national list are liable to five to fifteen years of imprisonment or a fine of Rs 500,000 to one million rupees, or both.

The charge sheet submitted by District Forest Office, Banke, reads that Konchiring Lama who was arrested with pangolin scales is found to have been involved in trade of various wildlife in the past, part of organised crime of wildlife and using Nepal as a transit hub for wildlife trade between India and China. The analysis of the documents and information (including Call Link Analysis, CDR, and other documents) submitted by CIB in addition found a picture of tiger hides in Lama’s mobile phone. This all leads, to the CIB’s findings suggesting Lama as a kingpin in the tiger trade and his activities have been under close monitoring for some time now.

Now, after the District Court’s decision to remand an extended custody for Lama and further the process of convicting him of his crime. It may take some time, maybe several months or a year, but good news is that he will be in prison until he gets his final verdict.

This is a good start. There has been increasing concern over the poor investigation, prosecution and convictism of poachers and traffickers in the country. A case in a point is about Sanam Jayakar ( Jagari), a Nepali national connected with Indian poaching community and wildlife trader was arrested with a tiger hide in March last year in Kailali. The investigation from CIB had found his involvement in trade of tiger hides and body parts but the prosecuters and judges involved in this have freed him after paying Rs 50,000 only and serving one air jail-term. Interestingly to note that, the arrest of Jayakar, link with the Lambu Fariyad ( the kingpin tiger poacher and trader from Babariya community ) in India, and the now the arrest of Lama are interlinked. This also shows the network of how tiger trade operated between India and China with Nepal as a transit and sometimes source country.

Wildlife crime has been established as an organised crime, and the turn of events in Nepal in the recent past (either it be about the seizure of critically endangered chimpanzees, pangolin scales coming from African nations and heading towards China), have established the fact. Seizures are taking place, national and international arrests are being made, but when it comes to enforcement actions, convictions and punishments, the concerned bodies often fail to reflect the gravity of the underlying crimes. This results incases like Jayakar’s where a wildlife crime convict gets away with the crime.

We have evidences showing that even after proper investigation, prosecution and conviction of wildlife poachers and traders, the country, comes up short. In some cases it has been found that the prosecutors fail to treat wildlife crime as a serious matter.

Odisha Wildlife activists want Chief Minister Naveen to learn from Salman’s conviction

WildTiger has republished the article below as we look at the serious issue of lenient sentencing for wildlife crime in south Asia and beyond.  Pragati Shahi will be updating soon on the Jagari case in Nepal, first mentioned in our post on Quick comment on arrest of kingpin wildlife trader in Nepal

The recent conviction of Salman Khan (released on bail) in the 1998 blackbuck poaching case by a Jodhpur court might have brought cheers to many wildlife lovers across the country.  But in Odisha, wildlife activists and animal lovers do not appear much excited about it as they find that the state is utterly failing to bring the wildlife offenders to the book. They want chief minister Naveen Patnaik to intervene and step up action against poachers.

Lack of conviction of offenders has spurred wildlife criminals to continue to decimate the state’s rich wildlife treasure. Poachers resume hunting after being released.

Sources said as many as 1,269 Asiatic elephants have been recorded dead in Odisha by the forest department in the last 26 years. It is seen that death rate has increased over the decades from an average of 33 per year (1990 to 2000) to an average of 73 per year (2010 to 2016). In most of the death cases, the pachyderms were killed by poachers for tusk.

Surprisingly, as wildlife activists put it, the forest department concealed many poaching cases are attributed the deaths to “unknown cause” or “disease”.

Biswajit Mohanty, secretary of Wildlife Society of Odisha, says most wildlife offences in the state are recorded as “undetected” (UD) cases as the department is clueless about the identity of offenders.

A UD case is converted into an “Offence Register” (OR) case once the identity of the accused is established after investigations. Due to incompetent investigations by untrained forest staff the registration of OR cases is extremely low and in most cases the culprits go unpunished.

“Even in cases where the accused are arrested after wildlife products are seized from them, many go scot-free due to weak prosecution caused by defective chargesheets. Most forest officers who depose as prosecution witness also are unable to stick to their eye witness accounts as recorded in the charge sheets thereby allowing the accused to be released,” says Mr Mohanty.

Poachers resume hunting after being released. Such instances have been observed in many cases in Narsinghpur Range of Athagarh forest division and that is the reason why the conviction rate is low as compared to seizures and arrests.

In December 2014, three leopard skins were seized near in Bangriposi and Similipal in Mayurbhanj district and seven poachers-cum-traders were caught with animal skins. In February 2017, all of them were acquitted by court as the forest department failed to provide the required evidences as there were procedural errors in the interrogation documents.

In May 2015, a man was caught red-handed with a leopard skin at Rangamatia under Similipal reserve forest and he admitted his crime. In January 2016, the accused was acquitted by a court in Baripada due to discrepancies in evidence of official witnesses. In another recent case, a person selling parakeets in Balipatna range of Khurda division was denied bail and sent to jail but in a case of star tortoise sale in Bhubaneswar, the accused got a bail immediately.

Principal chief conservator of forest S.C. Mishra said efforts were being made to for ensuring full-proof investigation of various poaching related cases to hand out  punishment to the culprits.

Bollywood superstar Salman Khan was sentenced to five years’ jail by a court in Rajasthan in the 1998 blackbuck poaching case earlier this month. He was granted bail later. Odisha activists are all praise for Rajasthan authorities.

Dr Gourang Rout, awildlife activist, said, “Those who are caught under wildlife crimes are supposed to be jailed as per Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. No leniency should be shown to the wildlife offenders.”

This article was written by AKSHAYA KUMAR SAHOO and first appeared in The Asian Age on 16 April 2018