Government officials from more than ten Asian countries and international wildlife experts gathered in Nepal this week with one mission in mind: to tackle the poaching crisis across the Asian continent. The five-day anti-poaching symposium, said to be the first of its kind, played out in the country's capital, Kathmandu. The location was fitting: with its enviable credentials when it comes to combating the poaching of threatened species like tigers and rhinos, Nepal is uniquely positioned to serve as an example to its neighbours.

While poaching rates across Asia and elsewhere in the world have been climbing steeply, Nepal has bucked the trend. In fact, it's already celebrated two zero-poaching years: in 2011 (for rhinos) as well as for the 12 months ending February 2014 (for rhinos, tigers and elephants). In 2012, just one rhino was lost to poachers. In this same period, rhino-range nations like South Africa have seen their poaching rates skyrocket. African elephants are faring even worse. Across the Asian continent, poaching has been intensifying as well. In India, the illegal wildlife trade claimed as many as 48 tigers in 2013 (the country has also experienced an alarming surge in rhino killings in recent years).

So what is the secret behind Nepal's success? The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently outlined some of the key factors that have helped this small, landlocked nation safeguard its iconic species, even in the face of escalating Asian demand for wildlife contraband. 

Political push

Army Rangers Nepal 2015 02 06
Soldiers patrol Nepal's Chitwan National Park.

The Nepalese government has made conservation a priority, strengthening legal protections for wildlife, imposing stiff penalties for crimes and forging strong partnerships with conservation organisations like the WWF. It's also streamlined cooperation between its police force, army and park officials, a move that's significantly boosted the effectiveness of enforcement and monitoring efforts across the country. Nepal's iconic Chitwan National Park, once a poaching hotspot, had more than 1,000 soldiers patrolling within its boundaries in 2013, according to a BBC report. The country has also established a Wildlife Crime Control Bureau to root out networks of wildlife traffickers. 

Making room 

It might be a small country (about the size of England and Wales combined), but Nepal has earmarked an impressive amount of space for nature. According to the WWF, it now boasts ten national parks, three wildlife reserves and six conservation areas that cover more than 13,000 square miles – that's 23 percent of the country. 

Embracing technology

The country recognised the potential of new technologies in assisting the fight against poachers early on. In 2012, it deployed conservation drones to act like 'eyes in the sky' to help track down poachers in remote, hard-to-reach places. It has also turned to specialised tools and software (known as SMART) to boost the effectiveness of anti-poaching operations and to help direct foot patrols and other resources to areas where they are needed most. Camera traps, satellite radio collars and, most recently, Google Glass have been helping researchers track threatened species like rhinos.

Giving communities a stake

While the promise of easy money continues to lure locals from impoverished communities to poaching in many African nations, Nepal's government has taken steps to foster stewardship by giving communities a stake in wildlife conservation. According to the WWF, an estimated 28 percent of the country’s forests are now managed by locals. Community Based Anti-Poaching Units (CBAPUs) are active all across the country – and they have good reason to be motivated. Crucially, communities that border Nepal's wildlife reserves receive 50 cents of every tourism dollar earned, so protecting the animals that attract the tourists makes economic sense.  

International teamwork  

National borders are no deterrent for wildlife criminals, nor are they an impassable boundary for wild animals. Well aware of this, the Nepalese government maintains strong relationships with neighbouring nations in an effort to nurture ecosystems and fight transnational wildlife crime. The country has joined hands with India to secure the vital Boom-Brahmadev wildlife corridor and joined the South Asia Enforcement Network, an organisation that strives to promote regional co-operation for curbing illegal wildlife trade. In addition, one of the outcomes of this week's anti-poaching meeting was an agreement to establish an intelligence-sharing network with other tiger-range nations to help fight traffickers.

Top header image: Steve Hicke, Flickr 

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