Leading wildlife charities including Humane Society International, The Jane Goodall Institute Nepal, Wildlife Impact, World Animal Protection and a dozen other organizations have written to the Nepal government expressing their deep concern about an amendment to the country’s Wildlife Protection Act that will allow private companies or individuals to own and breed wild animals for any purpose, including commercial trade.
The decision to amend the act was taken without consultation with wildlife groups and, if implemented, would have a devastating impact on the welfare of wild animals, and fuel the illegal wildlife trade. Nepal has been identified by the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as a ‘category 3’ country, meaning it has insufficient legislation to effectively implement protections against illegal wildlife trafficking.
Captive breeding of wild animals could complicate conservation efforts of wild animal populations in Nepal, and raises serious ethical concerns. Wild animals cannot be farmed without compromising their welfare, and confinement in such facilities without adequate protocols in place to protect them or regulate their welfare will cause immense suffering, disease and death. By allowing the commercial production of wild animals, the new amendment risks fuelling the illegal wildlife trade by perpetuating the notion that wild animals, and their parts and derivatives, are commodities for human consumption.
The amendment could also create a cover for the trade in wild caught species fraudulently sold as captive-bred. This concern has previously been raised at CITES. Neither CITES nor the Nepal government have mechanisms to distinguish between captive-bred and wild-caught animals, which will make it easy for license holders to flout the rules. Already, Nepal struggles to control the illegal wildlife trade within its borders; a 2012 study of CITES implementation found serious problems with lack of security and patrols, limited resources, insufficient management capacity and high corruption, amongst others. The wildlife charities believe that even if welfare concerns could ever be resolved, there remains the danger that Nepal will not be able to effectively regulate and enforce laws concerning a captive-breeding industry so as to ensure that wild-caught animals are not laundered through the system.
Teresa Telecky, Ph.D., director of the wildlife department for Humane Society International, said, “We are deeply concerned that the Nepal government has legalized the farming and commercialization of wild animals. Breeding wildlife on farms poses a major threat to the overall well-being of wild animals, undermines wildlife conservation efforts, and diverges from the global shift against captive wildlife. We urge the Nepal government to take measures to protect its wildlife population by cancelling this amendment.”
Manoj Gautam, executive director, The Jane Goodall Institute Nepal said, “Nepal has a legacy of being a leader in wildlife conservation and it is a matter of shame that the people in the current government have even dared to think of compromising this legacy. Commercializing wildlife breeding, allowing selling of animals and animal parts for any purpose will not eradicate poverty or strengthen conservation, because what we treasure, what we take as our pride and natural heritage, will be lost. We call upon every person who knows the real value and intention of conservation to unite against this natural disaster that our government seems so determined to bring upon us.”
According to the new policy, the Department of National Parks & Wildlife Conservation will derive revenue by supplying seed animals for farming.
In 2003, the Supreme Court deemed unlawful a similar policy by the department after it was discovered that its fundamental purpose was to allow captive breeding of rhesus macaques for biomedical research.
In 2012, the CITES Standing Committee initiated a study that confirmed that declaring wild-caught specimens as captive-bred could impact wild populations. The conservation group TRAFFIC confirmed the same concerns in a subsequent study.