Illegal wildlife trade threatens biodiversity, including Nepal’s iconic One-horned Rhinoceros, Royal Bengal Tiger and plant species. Nepal has strict conservation laws and strong enforcement, including nearly 8,000 military personnel monitoring protected areas.
The illegal wildlife trade doesn’t only hurt plants and animals, it also ruins peoples’ lives.
Illegal trade also threatens human communities. Our research, published in Conservation Science and Practice, drew on interviews with more than 100 people arrested for wildlife crimes across Nepal. We found that most of them were from poor, rural, indigenous communities. Many faced fines that they could not afford, were serving prison sentences of more than 5 years and shared heartbreaking stories of family hardship. While many of the prisoners knew the wildlife trade was illegal, few recognised the scale of the punishments they could face.
People will not be deterred from participating in illegal trade if they do not perceive it as a risk.
#BanKoKatha shares the painful stories of people arrested for wildlife trade. We chose to communicate these using traditional music of the Gandharva indigenous people, whose travelling musicians are known throughout Nepal for their tragic ballads. It features Prakash Gandharva (Dilu) singing and playing the Sarangi, with stories and lyrics by Kumar Paudel. These songs were shared via live performances in communities where wildlife trade is common, reaching more than 1000 people (Sept- Nov 2019). They were broadcasted through the Community Information Network to 330 community radio stations across 77 districts, covering an audience of more than nine million.
Description of the songs:
1). Nam Ganayo (Shameful name)
A story of regret & illegal wildlife trade: It is a story of a farmer from Parsa District. Encouraged by a smuggler to poach a tiger, he ended up in prison. He knew that catching protected species was illegal, but underestimated the risk. He recounts how his arrest affected not only his freedom and his mental health but also the dignity of his family, one of which even committed suicide. Now, through this song, he shares his regret and appeals to the listener not to repeat his mistake. Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRzZBYlGKwY
2). Rapti tirai tir (On the Rapti Riverbank)
A story of loss & illegal wildlife trade: This is a story of a man jailed for rhinoceros poaching in Chitwan National Park. He tells us about his father, who was also once a poacher and died in prison. In the absence of the father, he never had the opportunity to attend school and lacked the skills to support his family–and so he also turned to the illegal wildlife trade. The young man tells us that, at the time of his arrest, he was a newlywed and was responsible for his elderly mother. After 10 years, he was released from prison. However, after returning home, he found out that his mother passed away because she lacked medical treatment, and that his wife had remarried. Now, he is filled with waves of melancholy, as he sails his small boat along the Rapti River. Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcLJ6AkAxRU&t=292s
3). Driver dai
A story of warning & illegal wildlife trade: This is a story of a bus driver who illegally transports wildlife along the Nepal-China border highways. A traditional Gandharva musician sits next to the driver and warns him to check the goods he is transporting. He tells him about how smugglers are known to try and convince drivers and passengers to carry illegal goods. The singer further describes the severity of the punishments handed to those found guilty in illegal wildlife transport. He suggests that greater caution would not help drivers to avoid fines and help safeguard Nepal’s wildlife. Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cksuL_TKyFs
4. Chituwa ko chithi (Letter from Leopard)
A story of mourning & illegal wildlife trade: The song describes how animals feel after their friends are trapped for the illegal wildlife trade. It shares a mournful letter from a leopard, who remembers his best friend, the red panda, who was trapped by poachers. He recalls their memories of playing and dancing in the Himalayan bamboo forest. In this song, the leopard sings to the moon and stars. A firefly carries his letter to the red panda, and the moon reads it aloud. Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xdJ17dKyqI
5. Hey barai
A story of empathy & illegal wildlife trade: The story of an animal who is afraid that her child has become the target of a wildlife poacher. She seeks her infant all over the forest and eventually loses hope. She later drafts a list of questions for humans about why people and nature seemingly cannot co-exist. The song calls for people to understand that maternal love exists across species. Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ot1sNaItFrQ&t=126s
Partners: Hariyo Ban Program (USAID/WWF Nepal), Lancaster University