Case follow up is now also a key element of WildTiger’s work in #AntiSnare and that emphasis is increasing as part of Vision and Action 2021. Working in collaboration with partners, WildTiger updates wildlife crime databases in South Asia with selected cases followed up so as to maintain monitoring of investigation and judicial processes. Below are some examples of the types of cases/incidents WildTiger assists relevant bodies in addressing as well as engaging in follow up.
A current focus is the Kunjoc Lama case. 14 March 2021 Update – Link to an excellent summary of the case in this tweet and read below our timeline and previous updates:
#WildlifeCrime #SouthAsia – Good summary of the Kunjok Lama case. #tiger #leopard #wildlife— WildTiger (@WildTigerNews) March 14, 2021
2 #Nepal Police officers received a prestigious UN award. This was what they had done. https://t.co/C46AvWFz3F
Kunjok Lama was named in numerous seizures of tiger parts in Nepal and India, and was finally caught in Kathmandu on 25 June. But like high profile smugglers caught in the past, he may be released soon by Nepal’s courts. (Image and caption courtesy Nepali Times).
- 2005 – A seizure of 5 tiger skins, 36 leopard skins and 113kg of big cat bones in Rasuwa District, Nepal, made international headlines. Five smugglers were arrested and all mentioned the name of Kunjok Lama (aka Kunjok Tsering Tamang) as being the ringleader of trafficking of big cat body parts.
- Further inquiry indicated that Kunjok Lama had been mentioned in wildlife crime cases starting in 1999 in India at which time he became a person of interest for Interpol.
- The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in India has since claimed that Kunjoc Lama (acting as ringleader) is associated with the poaching of over 600 big cats.
- After 15 years of continued investigation the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal arrested Kunjoc Lama in Kathmandu on 25 June 2020.
- Documentation was submitted to the Rasuwa District Court by the CIB. and Kunjoc Lama was remanded in custody after a request for bail was declined.
- Kunjoc Lama subsequently petitioned the Patan High Court for release on the grounds he is falsely accused and his name is Kunjok Tsering Tamang, not Kunjoc Lama.
- On 14 July the Patan High Court requested submission of relevant documentation from the Rasuwa High Court. Due to the complications of covid-19 plus several requests for deferment from Kunjoc Lama’s lawyer the petition was not heard by the Patan High Court.
- On 20 October a habeas corpus petition was filed by Kunjok Lama in the Supreme Court (Nepal). The accused is claiming he is being detained illegally. The possibility of a special Supreme Court bench being formed to hear the case before the end of October has been announced depending on judicial review of documents submitted in reply to the petition. The writ in part seeks permission for release so as to prepare case defense. This action is significant as in a previous case Nepali national Lodu Dime was arrested in March 2018 and granted release as a result of a similar petition whereupon he absconded and has since remained at large. In a further development an associate of Kunjoc Lama, Nepali national Nitup Lama has been issued an Interpol Red Notice (15 October) as a fugitive at large charged with crimes against wildlife. The CIB have stated that Nitup Lama is a key associate of Kunjoc Lama in the involvement of wildlife trafficking and are currently preparing a letter of reply to the Supreme Court containing compelling evidence as to why Kunjoc Lama’s petition should be rejected.
- UPDATE: The Supreme Court of Nepal will hold the habeas corpus hearing of Kunjok Chhiring Tamang, also known as Kunjok Lama on Monday 2 November 2020. FURHER UPDATE 2 November – The hearing was deferred at the request of Kunjok Lama’s layer.
- UPDATE (9 November) as at above this timeline, the habeas corpus petition has been rejected by the Supreme Court.
- Updates on high profile wildlife traffickers Lodu Dime and Nitup Lama are currently being prepared.
- WildTiger will update as developments continue and there are upcoming publications in collaboration with other agencies with regard to this case within the overall scope of wildlife poaching/trafficking in South Asia.
WildTiger publicly states its support for the CIB (WildTiger in conjunction with the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) nominated CIB officers involved in the case for the UN’s Asia Environmental Enforcement Award which they duly won – more HERE)) in its efforts for prosecution of Kunjoc Lama for serious and ongoing wildlife crime. The arrests of high profile traffickers are rare and this is an important test case as well as being vital for the protection of tigers, leopards and other wildlife at a time where poaching is rife in South Asia. The absconding of another high profile trafficker, Lodu Dime (as mentioned above), under the same petition procedure raises serious concerns as does Supreme Court intervention before there was a verdict by the High Court regarding Kunjoc Lama’s request for release. As mentioned above the link between Kunjoc Lama and other high profile traffickers suggests his prominent role in the network. The Red Notice as issued by Interpol for Nitup Lama comes as a result of intensive investigation by the CIB. Nitup Lama’s link to Kunjoc Lama is within CIB documentation.
An article by the Nepali Times shortly after Kunjoc Lama’s arrest is titled:
Further on this case and others as well as our South Asia Leopard Poaching/Trafficking Snapshot throughout 2021. UPDATE 26 December: Recent poaching and trafficking incidents in western Nepal highlight serious problem Two cases involving arrests and seizures of wildlife parts in the last week in western Nepal confirm a poaching and wildlife trafficking spike in the region. In the image above is a seizure of more than 70kg of Sambar deer meat along with firearms and camping equipment with the two men arrested in Bardiya National Park. The incident which took place in the northern sector of the park also had findings that a minimum of seven poachers had set up camp in the area, were consuming bushmeat as well as stockpiling and it is speculated that that the poachers were also targeting high trafficking value species such as tiger and leopard. WildTiger will update on this case as part of our Snapshot at #AntiSnare through 2021. On 25 December a leopard skin and bones were seized in Kailali District. Three men from Doti District were arrested. This continues a year (2020) when there were 20+ seizures of big cat body parts in Nepal with the vast majority in the west of the country. Trans border trade has been indicated with 4 seizures in Dang District alone as well as recent reports of increased wildlife trafficking in the city of Butwal, a key administrative area near the India border. This most recent seizure in Kailali District took place in Attariya on the East-West Highway, a town where leopard skin seizures have taken place in recent years indicating the area is a trading hub.
We’ll have more details as we develop our our South Asia Leopard Poaching/Trafficking Snapshot timed for early February 2021, 12 months out from the Year of the Tiger 2022. Western Nepal is a focus area due to the high levels of activity in poaching and trafficking. WildTiger is giving the area increased emphasis as part of Vision and Action 2021. A concern is accuracy of information as we’ve found several incidents of misreporting in media and other open source information which differ from official reports. WildTiger endevours to bring accuracy and understanding in regard to case follow up as there are concerns regarding investigation and judicial processes meaning the of hindering conservation efforts. The leopard in particular is a species which has suffered due to drawn out and inconsistent processes.