Proactive Pangolin Protection: Building Law Enforcement and Community Capacity to Reduce the Pangolin Trade in Nepal

The world has lost a million pangolin from the planet from 2002-2014. And because of their rapidly declining population, all 8 species of pangolin have been placed into CITES Appendix 1 in 2016. Two of the species, the Critically Endangered Chinese Pangolin Manis pentadactyla and the Endangered Indian Pangolin Manis crassicaudata are found in Nepal. After the 2016 pangolin survey, we have now a comprehensive idea of how the two species are distributed in the country.

It is in this context that Himalayan Nature and ZSL-Nepal under the funding from US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) have been conducting a program “Proactive pangolin protection: building law enforcement and community capacity to reduce the pangolin trade in Nepal” for the last 1 year. This project has been implemented in Sankhuwasabha and Kavrepalanchowk districts. Both were identified as potential pangolin trade hotspots because of their close proximity to the Chinese borders. They likewise have good pangolin habitat.

As part of the project objectives, we have identified two working sites for project implementation. These are Manakamana Community Forest in Sankhuwasabha and Balthali village in Kavrepalanchowk. We recognize that community participation is an essential tool in achieving conservation. However, we also know that most Nepalese rural communities are simple minded on the issues of conservation. It is for this reason that we have supported in the formulation and institutionalization of a Community Based Anti-Poaching Unit (CBAPU) in each district, in coordination with the respective Division Forest Offices. We have chosen 15 members from each working site to conduct regular patrols and report on the status of pangolin in their respective community forests. We have conducted two training sessions for the CBAPUs in both districts. These trainings have been supported by the local representatives of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) and the Department of Forest and Soil Conservation (DoFSC).

The CBAPUs have been regularly conducting patrols in their respective community forests. They have continuously kept a record of all the pangolin hotspots within their community forests and have removed several snares. After a year of patrolling, I recently met Mr. Ganesh Tamang, an active CBAPU member from Sankhuwasabha. I asked him of the impacts of the CBAPU in his locality. He said “We have been conducting patrols in our locality. We didn’t use to recognize pangolin burrows before. But now, we have a fair idea of where the pangolin burrows are located in our forest. After we started our patrols, neighboring municipalities also became aware on the issue. We think our involvement has had a farther reaching impact.”   While taking it with a pinch of salt, we do believe that a single act of conservation can have a wider reaching impact.

Another important aspect of the project was to foster community awareness on the issue. We, along with the members of the newly formed CBAPUs, conducted several school and community programs to raise the profile of the pangolins. We involved children in art competition and conducted audio visual presentations. We realize that education is a powerful tool, and students are among the most critical target audiences. On so many occasions, I have been referred to as Saalak Sir (Pangolin Sir), or the Himali Sir (my organization’s name in Nepali translates to Himali Prakriti, and hence the name Himali Sir). What I mean to say by this is that people are starting to recognize the once anonymous animal. We have also distributed thousands of flyers and a dozen mounted posters in both districts. We have also recently erected a total of 5 hoarding boards. We have been continuously broadcasting radio jingles in both districts. The radio station’s coverage indicates that we cover around 12 districts east of Kathmandu, sometimes reaching up to a million people. Through all these, we have been able to realize an important objective in our goal to reduce pangolin poaching. We believe in the power of communication, dialogue, and most importantly education. The result of journey that began a year ago has made us reaffirm our beliefs.

If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. Our third objective revolves around this ethos. We clearly understand the need of collaboration. However, we also realize that agencies tend to collaborate on shared ideas more frequently. As an antidote to this dilemma, we conducted a first ever meeting for law enforcement officials and other government organizations. We highlighted the plight of the pangolin and discussed amongst each other of what the role of each organization was. We had representatives from the General Attorney Office, District Administration Office, Division Forest Office, Makalu Barun National Park, Custom Office, District Police Office, and District Court. We had training sessions that detailed the role of the investigators, prosecutors and judges. Only months later, the impacts of the training are beginning to be seen.