The need to raise public awareness about the threatened status of the Chinese pangolin and the laws that exist to protect the animal in Nepal has put community-engagement at the heart of a conservation programme in the east of the country.
The project – one of only a handful of community-based pangolin conservation projects worldwide – is being run by the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) with support from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) EDGE Fellowship scheme. Set up in 2012, the project aims to collect baseline information on ecology, status, distribution and specific threats facing the Chinese pangolin, and to generate support for their conservation.
There has been a genuine interest and support for the conservation programme, which helps to stigmatise and discourage local poachers. There is a virtuous circle driven by social cohesion and community values, backed by the threat of enforcement.
The project focuses on two villages (Nangkholyang and Dokhu) in the Taplejung municipality in the east of Nepal — a transit point for the illegal trade in pangolin into Tibet and India.
The population here is characterised by local ethnic diversity and the main sources of income are agriculture, livestock and labour. Most households live close to subsistence level, with some being better off due to income from farming or government jobs (such as teachers). However, data from the project revealed that those who get involved with illegal trade were generally not the poorest.
The poaching and wildlife trade problem
Species affected Chinese Pangolin Manis pentadactyla
Overview of the problem
Chinese pangolins are one of two pangolin species that occur in Nepal. They are widely distributed in non-protected areas, but local communities — often unaware that the pangolin is endangered — have been increasingly involved in the illegal trade. The meat is appreciated as a delicacy and the demand for scales is driven by the market for traditional medicine.
The price that illegal traders pay for scales varies at local level, depending on the bargaining experience of local individuals and their knowledge of the trade. In the project area, the value can reach US$700 per kg; a 350 per cent increase in local value over the past eight years. Most of the scales are fed into the international market, and their value at their final destination is unknown.
In Nepal, tough laws are in place to protect endangered species, but enforcement is weak and the government does not have the level of human resources needed to police the illegal wildlife trade outside protected areas.
The anti-IWT initiative
Local villagers are engaged through conservation sub-committees, set up within the existing local administration network. Through training workshops, these individuals learn about the Chinese pangolin and the consequences of illegal trade, which they then in turn share with their communities. The goal is to tackle widespread ignorance about these increasingly rare animals, and to strengthen community commitment to stop illegal trade
The project was designed on the basis of existing local governance. In Nepal, districts are divided into administrative units run by Village Development Committees (VDCs). These VDCs are each subdivided Chinese Pangolin, (Ambika Prasad Khatiwada) into nine wards. Working with two VDCs, the project has established a pangolin conservation subcommittee in each ward.
A representative from each sub-committee was then appointed to a VDC level conservation committee, tasked with launching and supporting conservation activities to raise awareness and control illegal trade in the village’s jurisdiction.
Strengthening disincentives for illegal behaviour
Sub-committees educate and work with locals on a number of levels, with one end-result being that locals discourage outsiders from coming into the villages in search of scales because they are ready to inform the authorities and security services.
Build/and or support sense of community ownership or stewardshipFurther detail
Conservation committees build awareness of the pangolin’s plight and win the support of villagers to feel a sense of responsibility for ‘their’ pangolin.
Improving education and awarenessFurther detail
Local villagers are engaged through conservation sub-committees, set up within the existing local administration network. Through training workshops, these individuals learn about the Chinese pangolin and the consequences of illegal trade, which they then in turn share with their communities. The goal is to tackle widespread ignorance about these increasingly rare animals, and to strengthen community commitment to stop illegal trade.
What works and why
The sub-committees form the front line of support and endorsement for the project’s aims. Through them, a total of 263 local people (192 men and 71 women) have been affiliated in conservation work, including surveys, community meetings, workshops and school teaching programmes.
Local leaders were involved in project design from the outset, and the main Nepalese project implementor was himself a resident of one of the villages, which boosted interest.
Before the project began, villagers who came across a pangolin by chance would more likely than not have killed it to have its meat as a delicacy and the scales to sell. Now, however, there is evidence of a change in attitudes. This change is seen in the growing number of cases where locals who come across a live pangolin in the road or fields, choose to bring it back to the village and to the attention of conservation sub-committee members. They then use the opportunity to gather people around to talk about the pangolin and explain the law before releasing the animal back into the wild.
The role of the sub-committees in reducing illegal trade in pangolins works on various levels. They are educating those locals who did not realise that killing pangolins was illegal, and exerting their influence and authority over neighbours, relatives and friends who may have been knowingly engaged in illegal activities. Finally, they discourage outsiders from coming into the villages in search of scales because they are ready to inform the authorities and security services.
Local press interest in the conservation project has helped to build stronger community self- esteem, and there is a sense among villagers that their efforts could help them to develop local tourism and gain government support.
Overall, there has been a genuine interest and support for the conservation programme, which helps to stigmatise and discourage local poachers. There is a virtuous circle driven by social cohesion and community values, backed by the threat of enforcement.
- Communication and raising awareness about the threatened status of local animals influences attitudes and wins support for conservation.
- Conservation programmes need to bring benefits, directly or indirectly, to local communities if their support and engagement is to last.
- Illegal trade at a local level is not always intentional.
What doesn’t work and why
• There is little direct benefit to the communities from participating in pangolin conservation.
• The initial high levels of interest and curiosity during the start-up phase of the project could be
difficult to maintain.
• Illegal trade is more widespread and more sophisticated than initially thought realised.
• Illegal traders who used to operate openly — for example coming into villages to buy scales - are
now setting up underground networks.
Organisers, donors and partners
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