On 30th January 2017, the Parliament of Nepal passed a legislation under National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1973, which opened the door for wildlife farming, breeding and research. It has a clause that specifically permits individuals to breed and use wild animals for any reason whatsoever ranging from harvesting organs and body parts, exporting and selling them anywhere, keeping the animals for entertainment, breeding purposes, and private zoos for educational purposes. It clearly states that any individual, business house or group of people can be issued the licenses who seek to use wild animals for profitable measures. This opens up the possibilities of fur farms, bile farms, circuses, mini zoos, meat farm, slaughter houses and experiments on animals. But is not the first time that the legislation like this has been passed. On August 27, 2003 the government had passed Wildlife Farming, Breeding and Research Policy, opening the door for US laboratories and other commercial ventures preying Nepal’s wildlife but it ended in 2008. And as Nepal does not have mechanism for CITES(Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) or for the Government of Nepal to distinguish between captive-bred and wild-caught animals. Passing policies like this again and again is a clear sign that the interested parties who wants this legislation to be passed want the line to be blurred between “farm” animal and “wild” so that their motives, whatever it may be, will move forward without interruption.
When the law was formulated in 2003, the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research (SFBR), based in Texas started to eye Nepal for the import of monkeys, especially Rhesus macaques for their physiological similarity to humans and their willingness to breed in captivity. But why did they have to focus on Nepal for this monkeys ? There are reasons: it is cheaper to buy monkeys from Asia than from Europe, and they had to shift to Nepal as India banned experimentation on Rhesus monkeys in 1977 after images of gruesome radiation experiments on monkeys, who are sacred to many Indians, were published in the media (MonkeyReport, CITES Nepal). As a result, US research institutes faced a shortage of rhesus monkeys.
In 2004, the centre received a grant from the National Centre for Research Resources of the US National Institute of Health for a 5-year project to develop a Rhesus monkey colony in Nepal (MonkeyReport, CITES Nepal). But when the amount the centre received to open the colony was revealed , it was unbelievable. For the fiscal year 2004, Southwest received $684,040 for establishing a breeding research center ; in 2005 it received $704,010; while in 2006 $673,756 was released (MonkeyReport, CITES Nepal). The total amounts to $2,067,806. That amount of money for a third world country like Nepal would have easily made education available for the poor children in the country .
But it is not only Southwest Foundation who were importing the monkeys. Washington University also played a vital part in it. Washington National Primate Research Center (WNPRC) works under Washington University , and they wanted monkeys too. Before its plan to make a breeding centre in Nepal it already had a centre in Indonesia which had over 1000 monkeys (MonkeyReport, CITES Nepal) . According to the International Primate Protection League, Washington University has been active in primate exploitation overseas for the past 30 years. But if these centers are importing monkeys from Nepal , Who are the ones exporting them?
Soon after Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research got its grant, interviews of Nepalese veterinarians were held in five star hotels, from which Mr. Prabesh Man Shrestha was selected . In 2005, he registered a company called National Biomedical Research Center (NBRC), and started constructing a Macaque farming and breeding facility at Lele, Lalitpur District. The Department of NPWC sold 50 macaques as a founder population to the center (MonkeyReport, CITES Nepal). Despite the fact that its donor will use the monkeys for biomedical and/or bio-terrorism, NBRC states its mission is ‘to find cures for AIDS, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, identifying the cause of alcoholism and drug addiction, finding a cure for sickle cell anemia and restoring function to paralyzed victims of spinal cord injuries, etc.’ As one campaigner pointed out, this is a very ambitious mission statement, considering none of these diseases or illnesses have come even close to having cures found for them in the west, where one would expect the facilities to be second to none and the victims of these illnesses to be more readily available for possible examinations. In his analysis, what they hope to achieve by going to such a remote nation of Nepal is not clear (MonkeyReport, CITES Nepal). And his analysis is quite correct, for NBRC’s focus was never on finding cures, but on selling those Rhesus monkeys, which was soon put to end when an coalition was formed which included IPPL, PETA India, SPCAN, Kathmandu Animal Treatment (KAT) Centre, Roots and Shoots and Wildlife Action Group. This resulted in a protest demonstrated by the students of Roots and Soots demanding an end to the breeding of primates for research purposes. And finally in 2008 NBRC was closed .
But, is it just the US?
It has been a known fact that Nepal has been acting as a supplier or a middle man in wildlife trafficking to India and China. This means having a strong base in the Trans-Himalayan Skin Trail, which stretches from Afghanistan to Mongolia. China has a long history of using animal parts for medical or religious purpose. In China and also Taiwan, people have been drinking soup of tiger penis, which is said to boost virility, and a pair of eyes to fight epilepsy and malaria. In the market, a bowl costs between $400 and $500. But China has laws passed against wildlife trafficking. The Criminal Law of China passed in 1997 and the new Regulation on the Administration of the Import and Export of Endangered Species, provide for severe penalties against those engaged in the trafficking and sales of tiger, leopard and snow leopard skins. Depending on the scale and nature of the offence, traders can face fines, confiscation of property, five to ten years imprisonment, or even the death penalty (Skinning The Cat, EIA). But these laws are enforced only in few regions while a vast part of the country carries on with skin trade without any need to hide. Linxia, just south of lanzhou in Gansu Province was said to have over 90 shops in one street openly selling fur of snow leopard, leopard, otter, clouded leopard and tiger. In 2005 investigators documented over 160 whole fresh leopard skin for sale in Linxia, with three large stocks of 36, 33 and 28 skins held by separate traders. They became more hostile towards non-Tibetan visitors in 2006 and it was not possible to conduct a full survey, but EIA and WPSI still saw/were offered 42 leopard skin and one tiger skin. (Skinning The Cat, EIA ). The staggering number of skins and the freedom to do it does not come close to astonishment and disgust when one finds out that the price for a single snow leopard skin in 2005 and 2006 was as little as Yuan 2000 (-US$250) (Skinning The Cat, EIA ). Until 2006 the primary market for tiger and leopard skin was to decorate Chapas (a traditional dress worn at the festivals) in Tibet, but this is changing . More business are buying it .While traditionally wealthy marriage rituals in Tibet requires the bride to step down off her horse onto a tiger skin, it is becoming a disappearing practice.
However, a tiny glimmer of hope for the tigers, leopards and let’s not forget rhinos, bears, musk deer and wild eagles was seen when under the Operation Tiger and Operation Wild Eagle, two of the four major operations planned between August 2016 and July 2017, the CIB ( Central Investigation Bureau) was targeting to arrest key poachers and traders ( Pragati Shahi, The Kathmandu Post ). Even though tiger are protected under CITES. Nepal only has 198 tigers and there are only 3,890 tiger left in the world. To put this in context, in the year 1900 there were an estimated 100,000 tigers in the world. The new legislation can certainly mean the death for all the wildlife in Nepal . And let’s not forget the impact it will have on the already fragile biodiversity with the global warming and global human made natural catastrophes. it is not only Rhesus monkeys and tigers which are in danger , it’s the whole of wildlife that the legislation threatens. The players behind the new legislation are unknown for now. Is it the same American agencies and the Chinese black market? It can be, for the new elected President Donald Trump is an anti-environmentalist and a climate-change denier, which can lead to bio research centers easily gaining permissions to use wild animals in an extensive way, while denying its global impact. And when it comes to China , as Nepal supports the One China policy, it can become an open road for traffickers between the two countries. So, concrete action needs to be undertaken by the activists in Nepal and around the world.
I can continue spouting facts and arguments, however I urge all the people who read this not to stay idle in this grave matter.
Sign the petition to repeal the new legislation, and help the activists in Nepal to win the upcoming lawsuit against the Government, either by getting involved directly if you are in Nepal, or by creating creative international support if abroad.