Thanks to the petition by a young conservationist, Nepal’s Supreme Court orders strict action against illegal display and use of wildlife parts

In a petition filed by Kumar Paudel, a conservation scholar-practitioner, against private possession of illegal wildlife parts, the court issued an order to the government to take strict action such practices.

NL Today

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Kathmandu: Supreme Court of Nepal pulled up the government for discriminatory and negligent enforcement of wildlife laws in controlling private possession of illegal wildlife parts (items such as trophies, pets, animal hides, and other body parts) that currently ignores Nepal’s elite while disproportionately penalizing the marginalized communities. The Court order instructs the government to take strict action against people who illegally display and use wildlife–regardless of who they are. And it will also help deter those engaged in such wildlife crimes and uphold Nepal’s noteworthy commitment to conservation.

Supreme Court Justices Sapana Malla Pradhan and Til Prasad Shrestha issued a writ of mandamus against the Office of the Prime Minister, Home Minister, Forest and Environment Minister and relevant departments for failing to implement the law in a full, fair and consistent manner. The case (074-WO-0807) was filed on 16 May 2018 by conservation scientist Kumar Paudel in response to private possession of illegal wildlife parts and the public flaunting by influential members of the society, including ex-Prime Minister Kritinidhi Bista. On 30 May 2023, the judges pronounced their verdict in favor of Kumar Paudel’s petition. A detailed, full-length verdict is expected to be published by the Supreme Court in a few months. 

Prior to filing the case, Kumar Paudel, a conservation scholar-practitioner from Nepal with an MPhil in conservation leadership from the University of Cambridge and the founder of Greenhood Nepal, a science-driven conservation nonprofit, was conducting research to find ways to deter wildlife crime in Nepal. He interviewed more than 150 people convicted of wildlife crimes across prisons in the country, where he found many of the imprisoned were the poor, marginalized and illiterate. The trigger for filing this case was a national broadcast of an interview with the ex-Prime Minister in his private residence, where a tiger pelt was prominently displayed in the background. Witnessing the unfair treatment meted out to individuals from different parts of society, Paudel was compelled to take up the issue. Additionally, bothered by the disrespectful display of threatened wildlife and fearing such rampant exhibition of privately held wildlife parts will further encourage poaching and illegal trade, Paudel demanded action from the government to investigate the legality of the possession of the tiger pelt.

Nepal’s stringent laws prohibit the illegal harvest and use of protected wildlife, with high fines of up to one million rupees and prison sentences of up to 15 years. But enforcement has consistently focused on Nepal’s poorest and most marginalized communities, who are often involved in illegally harvesting and trading wildlife–while systematically overlooking wildlife ownership by Nepal’s elite, rich and powerful.

After running in vain from one department to another for two years seeking action from the government, Paudel finally went to the Supreme Court to ensure fair enforcement of laws to curb wildlife crimes. In his court petition, he demanded a more consistent, transparent and fair application of the law.

Paudel demanded that the government 1) thoroughly investigate wildlife parts in private possession to ascertain its legality; 2) prosecute and seize illegal wildlife possessions, where acceptable permits were not submitted; 3) maintain records of how many wildlife parts were legally in possession prior to National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1973, and 4) act with utmost priority and urgency since any delay might propel the criminals to hide, destroy or sell the evidence.

In a landmark win for wildlife conservation, the court not only accepted the demands outlined in the petition but also ordered the government to take further strict actions to curb illegal wildlife possession through 1) the use of effective mediums to reach out and raise awareness among the public on the illegal possession of wildlife parts and the legal consequences beyond publishing gazettes, and 2) seize wildlife parts to be preserved for educational and research purposes to benefit conservation instead of destroying them. 

The case was presented by Advocate Padum Bahadur Shrestha and his team Shatkon Shrestha, Raju Phuyal, Bishnu Kumar Thokar and Shuban Raj Acharya. 

“I’m encouraged and feeling very optimistic to see the Supreme Court deliberate on wildlife crime control with diligence and thankful for the opportunity to draw on my research to strengthen Nepal’s wildlife conservation policy,” said Kumar Paudel, who was also awarded the prestigious National Geographic Explorers Grant to conduct research on pangolin conservation in Nepal in 2023. “This court order is an important step in bringing thousands of illegal wildlife parts under enforcement, regardless of who owns them. It closes a critical loophole that has been openly exploited by the privileged class of society without consequence, while the marginalized suffer fines and incarceration for similar crimes.”

Bothered by the disrespectful display of threatened wildlife and fearing such rampant exhibition of privately held wildlife parts will further encourage poaching and illegal trade, Paudel demanded action from the government.

According to him, the verdict will help ensure justice is served in a fair and impartial manner. “I am elated that this court order not only compels the government to uphold our environmental laws but also reminds us of the need to challenge injustice to shatter the status quo,” he said, adding “I will consider justice will have been served only when the government turns this court order into action on the ground.”