Last week, Nepal burned its stockpile of seized illegal animal parts, collected over 20 years and thought to have numbered around 4,000, in a defiant gesture against poaching and trafficking.
The huge bonfire was held in Chitwan National Park on May 22 to coincide with International Day for Biological Diversity. Items burned included skins and hides, bones, horns, and scales from 48 different species, with the usual suspects such as tigers and rhinos featured, as well as animals as diverse as red pandas and seahorses.
“Nepal has achieved a significant milestone in conservation,” said Man Bahadur Khadka, director general of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, in a statement. “The government of Nepal expresses its commitment to zero poaching and a non-tolerance towards wildlife crime.”
“The sight of such a huge volume of bones, skins, and horns up in flames may be somewhat distressing, but it sends a clear message to the world that Nepal will not tolerate wildlife poaching and trafficking,” added Heather Sohl, chief advisor on Wildlife at WWF-UK.
Nepal burned its stockpile of wildlife parts as a symbolic gesture of the country’s commitment against wildlife trade and poaching, but also as a way of managing the enormous haul – some of which had already started decaying – that had been procured during the last 20 years. The last time they burned their stockpile of seized goods and trophies was in 1998.
This stockpile featured 67 tiger skins, 418 leopard pelts, and 357 rhino horns, as well as the pelts of snow leopards and red pandas, python skins, leopard bones, tiger claws, bear galls, musk deer glands, pangolin and tortoise scales, elephant tail hair, and dried seahorses.
Their stash of elephant tusks, however, were not destroyed as it takes up to 1,000°C (1,800°F) for ivory to burn, so the government still has 1,100 kilograms (2,430 pounds) of ivory in storage. They also kept aside 10 rhino horns and five tiger skins, some of which are still under investigation, and some for further study.
The wildlife trade is the fourth biggest illegal trade in the world, worth around $15 billion dollars a year. The only way to combat this is “strong political will, enhanced law enforcement, approaches to tackle corruption effectively and behavior change campaigns that will reduce the demand for such illegal goods,” Sohl said.
Nepal's actions follow both Sri Lanka and Kenya, who last year burned their own giant stockpiles of illegally traded wildlife trophies to demonstrate their commitment to ending the illegal wildlife trade.