Nepal authorizes wildlife farming for conservation

By Deepak Gajurel

KATHMANDU, Nepal, May 18, 2004 (ENS): Wildlife farming might sound like a contradiction in terms, but it is the government of Nepal's new strategy for conserving animal species. New avenues have been opened for farming, breeding and research of high value wild species under the government's new Wildlife Farming, Reproduction and Research Policy.

The government started providing licenses for wildlife farming immediately after promulgating the policy. Since the parliament is dissolved and the country is reeling under political uncertainty, the only option to establish a law to this effect is by ordinance. After six months of issuing licenses, the government is now working to write proper legislation.

"Since we do not have parliament, an Act for this purpose will be brought through ordinance," said Narayan Sharma of the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation. "The ordinance is currently being given a final touch," he said.

Meanwhile, to facilitate and encourage researchers and conservationists to undertake wildlife farming, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) has already granted licenses for farming and research of rhesus monkeys, snakes and vultures. The DNPWC is a government agency, under the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, which looks after protected areas and wild species of plants and animals.

The protected species that are permitted for farming under the new policy include the gharial crocodile, Gavialis gangeticus; the black buck, Antilope cervicapra; Nepal's national bird the Impeyan pheasant, Lophophorus impejanus; the crimson horned pheasant, Tragopan satyra; and the cheer pheasant, Catreus wallichii.

Other species on the list for wildlife farming permits include the barking deer, spotted deer, sambar, rhesus monkey, hog deer, wild boar, snakes and all bird species.

Under the new policy, the DNPWC would provide seed animals for farming and breeding. The permission fee ranges from 5,000 to 40,000 Nepali rupees (US$69 to $555) per animal depending on the species.

The government's decision on wildlife farming, reproduction and research policy is in conformity with the Tenth National Plan, which mentions farming high value wild animals and birds.

The Tenth Plan - a five year plan ending in April 2006 - specifically points out the need to improve the livelihoods of women, the poor, and disadvantaged groups by conserving biological diversity through farming of high value wildlife, and promoting involvement of individuals, groups, nongovernmental organizations and institutions in wildlife farming, reproduction and research.

The policy sets criteria that the applicants for wildlife farming must meet before obtaining licenses such as basic infrastructure, management and technical qualifications and expertise.
Wildlife experts have welcomed the new initiative. "The wildlife farming and research policy will help conserve wild animals. This will also promote various types of researches for the benefit of human being," says Dr. Sanat Dhungel, a former DNPWC director general.

Another former director general of the department, Dr. Udaya Raj Sharma, has a mixed reaction. "We should use our natural resources for the benefit of our people. The wildlife farming policy is a positive initiative in terms of conservation aspects," Sharma says, but he cautions, "An effective monitoring mechanism should be in place, otherwise this policy would promote illegal trade in wildlife."

Monitoring and evaluation are the key to success of the policy, which stipulates that a regular and effective monitoring mechanism is essential to ensure that there is no illegal activity under cover.

"The DNPWC will monitor the farmers and the animals every six months." says Surya Bahadur Pandey, who serves as an ecologist and management officer with the agency.

"The policy represents sustainable use of natural resources, as many countries are doing around the world," says Dr. Randall Kyes, head of International Programs in the Regional Primate Research Center at University of Washington. The University of Washington is planning to collaborate with Nepali experts in research on monkeys.

On a research trip to Nepal, Dr. Kyes told ENS, "There should be a proper and effective mechanism so that there is no negative impact on natural populations."

Primatologist Dr. Mukesh Chalise, who is president of the Nepal Biodiversity Conservation Society and is a professor at Tribhuwan University, has obtained a license for farming and conducting research on rhesus monkeys. He has started working on plans to establish infrastructures for research on this wild species.

"First, we are going to breed the monkeys in captivity," said Chalise. "We will start research on monkeys of first generation (F1 generation) at our research facility."

The research will be conducted with the monkeys bred in captivity. The Wildlife Farming, Reproduction and Research Policy prohibits the use in any type of research of any wild species provided by the government as seed animals.

"This is a good initiative for biomedical research and any genetic discoveries or findings can be claimed by Nepal. This will eventually benefit Nepali people," says Dr. Kyes.

There are others who find problems with the wildlife farming policy. "The government is working under policy. We still do not have any legislation for this," says legal expert Dr. Rabi Sharma Aryal, who wrote his doctoral thesis on implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in South Asia.

"Going ahead with just a policy in hand might make the whole endeavor in vain. First we have to have proper legal framework," said Aryal.

Though there is no controversy over snakes and vultures, licenses granted for farming and research of rhesus monkey has drawn protests, some on the ground of cruelty to the animals and others on religious grounds.

Animals rights activists are campaigning to stop research on monkeys. They allege that under the cover of research and farming, Nepali monkeys will be supplied to laboratories in the United States for biomedical research.

According to some activists, the United States requires over 14,000 monkeys for research annually.

A petition has been filed with the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation demanding a halt to providing monkeys for research. The petition, supported by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Nepal; the International Primate Protection League; and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, states that "Nepal will not deserve credit for providing monkeys for biomedical research by maintaining outdated, unreliable, and unethical methods for conducting studies."

According to the campaigners, the policy on wildlife farming should not facilitate breeding and export for biomedical research of monkeys, or any other animal.

"This is just propaganda by certain vested interests. Our intention is not to send our monkeys to death but to use them for human benefits," contends Dr. Chalise.

The government officials do not care about the campaigns. They do not see anything serious in such campaigns. "We are still working on the proper legal framework. In addition, the policy does not allow export or commercial use of any wild species," says conservation officer Surya Bahadur Pandey at Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.

Dr. Dhungel goes further in agreement with the government move. "We should allow farming and research on any wild species including one horn rhinos if it benefits the people and the nation. Our natural resources are not for the sake of protection. We should make sustainable use of them for the welfare of human beings," Dhungel argues.

The population of rhesus monkeys in Nepal is abundant, according to Dr. Chalise. They are not on the government's protected list but are found in jungles and also in temple areas, including those in Kathmandu.

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