National parks and conservation areas of Nepal witnessed a significant rise in illegal activities during the four-month-long nationwide lockdown imposed in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several national parks and protected areas have recorded an upsurge in illegal activities such as trespassing into core park areas, wildlife poaching, and logging.
According to Ashim Thapa, information officer at the Bardiya National Park, over 800 individuals were caught engaged in prohibited activities such as trespassing into park territory, illegal logging, timber smuggling and fishing at unauthorised spots from the day the lockdown on March 24 till mid-October.
“The park authority dealt with a large number of illegal incidents in the last few months. The situation was particularly challenging for us because of the pandemic and the lockdown,” Thapa said.
The park authority also filed around 90 cases for serious offences. The number of serious cases recorded within a few months, according to the officials, exceeded the total number of cases registered in the whole of fiscal year 2018-19.
Thapa suspects the number of such incidents increased amid the lockdown as many people had left their jobs in cities and returned to their villages.
“Some offenders admitted to entering protected forest areas because they were simply bored sitting idle for months due to the lockdown,” Thapa said.
Shuklaphanta National Park, another protected area in far-western Nepal, also recorded a rise in prohibited activities in and around the protected areas, taking action against nearly 3,000 people for trespassing from the day first of the lockdown till mid-October.
As the country went into a complete lockdown, there were concerns about the potential rise in cases of wildlife poaching and tree felling, threatening the country’s decades of conservation success.
Four days into the lockdown, security forces had killed a suspected poacher in Parsa National Park on March 27. According to Ashok Kumar Ram, who was then the assistant conservation officer of Parsa National Park, there were 30 arrests, including eight poachers, during the lockdown phase.
Manoj Shah, chief conservation officer, said the illegal incidents that occurred inside the park in the past few months call for extra efforts and measures to curb illegal activities.
Only a few days ago, three poachers with one homemade rifle was arrested from Parsa National Park.
Similarly, a one-horned rhino was found dead inside Chitwan National Park on September 8 after 1,249 days of zero-poaching.
With the rise in threat for wildlife and environmental crimes, authorities have been introducing various measures to protect the parks and their wildlife.
While Parsa National Park is developing measures to stop riverbed mining, Bardiya National Park is turning to technology to protect its valuable wildlife. Thapa, information officer at Bardiya National Park, said they had installed cameras at crucial locations to monitor illegal activities inside the park.
The park has also added drone cameras to support regular patrolling and inspection works.