Communities against the illegal wildlife trade in Nepal

Wildlife trafficking in Nepal

Nepal’s most iconic species: Bengal tigers, Asian elephants, and greater one-horned rhino, face ongoing threats from poachers, who sell skins, horns and body parts to organised criminal gangs linked to the illegal, international wildlife trade. The same threat faces Nepal’s two species of pangolins, which are entirely defenceless, timid and largely nocturnal, but have won the unfortunate title of the world’s most-trafficked wild mammal, thanks to their scales, which are sold in Asia as a bogus cure for various illnesses, despite being made of keratin, the same substance as fingernails.

Wildlife trafficking not only decimates wildlife, but harms local communities. It draws criminality into rural areas, leading local people to get caught up in poaching, opportunistically collecting pangolins they come across. However, these people receive least benefits, while also facing great risks: arresting them is a relatively ‘easy win’ for law enforcement, compared to prosecuting well-protected criminal traders and kingpins further up the food chain.

Nepal stockpile burning
Burning the stockpile of confiscated illegal wildlife trade products in Nepal

In response, the Government of Nepal has not only committed to zero poaching of rhino, elephants and tiger, but has backed this up with resources and determination: creating protected areas, employing rangers, and building national and local pride in wildlife. ZSL is proud to support the Government and people of Nepal in their efforts to stamp out wildlife trafficking.

As a result of collaborations between ZSL, the Government, communities and other partners, Nepal has had great successes in combatting wildlife trafficking; for example, celebrating zero poaching of rhinos, tigers and elephants in 2014.


What is ZSL doing to combat wildlife trafficking?

Community-Based Anti-Poaching Units

ZSL's priority landscapes include three of the most important wildlife trafficking routes in Nepal, with the majority of recent illegal wildlife product seizures, containing tiger body parts, coming from here. ZSL works the with local communities, so that they understand, benefit from, and support conservation. Many Community Forest User Groups in Nepal already take great pride in protecting wildlife, and ZSL has helped set up 35 Community-Based Anti-Poaching Units, putting communities in the driving seat to prevent poaching. We are extending this successful model from Chitwan National Park to Parsa, Banke, Bardia and Shuklaphanta national parks, and hope to extend it to India.

Community-Based Anti-Poaching Unit releasing a rescued Chinese pangolin in Nepal
Community-Based Anti-Poaching Unit releasing a rescued Chinese pangolin in Nepal

Community-Managed Pangolin Conservation Areas

Unlike poaching of tigers, rhinos and elephants, pangolin poaching has been largely under the radar in Nepal and India. The Chinese pangolin has seen its population crash by over 90% in 20 years, so it is now Critically Endangered, reduced to remnant populations in the Himalayan foothills. ZSL’s responses include setting up two pioneering Community-Managed Pangolin Conservation Areas in Nepal, patrolled by Community-Based Anti-Poaching Units. Local households, especially women, benefit from livelihood support such as poultry management, goat farming, ecotourism and account keeping.

Goat farming workshop in a Community-Managed Pangolin Conservation Area, Nepal
Goat farming workshop in a Community-Managed Pangolin Conservation Area, Nepal

Ecotourism and alternatives to poaching

ZSL has enabled women to form small associations in the buffer zones of Banke, Bardia and Shuklaphanta National Parks. We provided small seed funds, so that these associations can give small loans to members to invest in sustainable livelihoods. To support nascent community ecotourism, we have enabled residents of all three buffer zones to learn from tourism experts, including on how to market and manage ecotourism.


Supporting government rangers

Successes in reducing poaching are in large part thanks to intensive anti-poaching patrols. ZSL supports the Governments of India and Nepal by training rangers, including in the use of SMART monitoring – which helps rangers to log their data, analyse it, and use it to target patrols to vulnerable sites. ZSL and partners have established innovative Rapid Response Networks in the forest: surveillance cameras automatically send images to command centres, where the images are assessed, and a Rapid Response Unit can be sent out to protect wildlife and arrest poachers.

Our work provides opportunities to bring communities, rangers and national park authorities together to share experiences and agree joint ways forward. We plan to include community-friendly policing in future training, to strengthen local relationships.

A SMART patrol at work in Nepal
A SMART patrol at work in Nepal


Better law enforcement for pangolins

In 2018 ZSL ran the first-ever training on pangolins for law enforcement agencies in two priority districts of Nepal. Our research showed that these Himalayan districts have extensive pangolin habitat and could have viable populations, but are also on trafficking routes to China. The training reached protected area managers, investigators, prosecutors and judges – all levels of the fight against wildlife trafficking. They now understand how threatened the animals are; can recognise pangolin scales and meat; know which legal tools they can use; and understand how poachers and traders operate.

Critically for communities, ZSL is also making sure law enforcement staff have the skills and shared intelligence to target higher-level traders and crime kingpins, where prosecutions can really disrupt trafficking, getting beyond arrests of impoverished local poachers.


    Project information

    Key species

    • Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris), endangered  

    • Greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), vulnerable 

    • Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), endangered 

    • Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), critically endangered

    • Chinese pangolin (Manis pentapactyla), critically endangered

    • Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), endangered

    People involved

    • Dr Hem Sagar Baral – Nepal country manager
    • Dr Bhagawan Raj Dahal, Project Manager
    • Jake Williams
    • Prakash Sigdel, Field Programme Officer, eastern landscape
    • Pawan Gautam, Field Programme Officer, western landscape

    Partners and sponsors 

    • Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation
    • the National Trust for Nature Conservation
    • Himalayan Nature
    • Mithila Wildlife Trust
    • Community Forest User Groups
    • UK Aid funds ecotourism and Community-based Anti-poaching, through our project ‘Strengthening Community Anti-poaching and Ecotourism in the Western Terai Complex’

    Related projects

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