KAKARBHITTA (BHAJHANG), June 22 : It takes two long days to reach the base of Syphal hill from Kanda village. There is no human settlement there.
The only time in the year when people can be seen here is during the season of collection of yarsagumba (caterpillar fungus found in particular areas of high Himalayas). The government allows the collectors to remain in the hills for two months starting mid-May and Syphal hill sees a huge crowd of eager villagers making spectacular trip to make maximum of the priceless fungus.
But the story is not so simple. It is not just about Yarsha anymore, which is reported to be fast disappearing from the region owing to the mad rush. In fact, there is even dangerous thing going on over there under the cover of Yarsa collection: wildlife poaching.
“Yarsha used to be the only attraction in the past. But these days it is more of the wildlife business. To be precise, it´s about their dry meat,” says Devraj Bohora, a Yarsha collector. “Selling meat of wild animals is not as hard as collecting Yarsha. So many have settled for the easier job,” he adds.
It is not hard to realize what Bohora says is true. Over the recent years, eateries have mushroomed on either side of the way leading to the Yarsh collection fields through the Kanda village where they sell all sorts of dry meats of animals and birds, including the rare and endangered species.
“This business is ever growing ever since it started some seven years back. You can find such eateries in every nooks and corners now,” says Bohora.
It´s not that the operators of these eateries are oblivious of the law of the land that strictly prohibits hunting of wildlife for any purpose.
That is reason why they are in no hurry to offer their “delicacies” without thoroughly screening the background of the customers.
Earlier they would ask their customers if they wanted dry meat of wild animals — but not any longer. With the thickening presence of security personnel in the region, especially during the Yarsha season, they are on their toes.
But with the state struggling to police the region during the Yarsa season owing to huge flow of collectors from far and wide, the poachers and all those involved in the business of dry meat of wildlife may as well feel more relaxed.
Moreover, the state is more interested in revenue from Yarsha business as the disappearance of priceless wildlife under the cover Yarsha collection is yet to dawn upon it.
“The government has arranged tight security for the officers and staff of the revenue office. The security is also for the Yarsha collectors,” says DSP Dil Bahadur Kunwar.
“But for the smugglers of wildlife, more needs to be done,” he admits during at interview given to Republica. He was standing right in front of an old hotel that is famous among both locals as well as tourists for dry meat of all sorts of wildlife.
Farming of sheep is also very popular in a dozen of villages including Maja, Banchauka and Dhuli which falls on the way to Yarsha sites. Hundreds of sheep die every year due to consumption of poison and several kinds of diseases.
And their meet is dried up and sold off. It is a very lucrative business as the business of dry meat of wildlife is flourishing. Customers can hardly find out that they are being served meat of sick sheep mixed with that of wild animals.
Kanda VDC of Bajhang district is among the regions replete with wildlife. But after the Yarsha collection gained momentum over the past eight years, this VDC has gradually become a soft target for those who want to switch to wildlife business rather than Yarsha collection.
According to Bohora, those who are armless use stones to kill the animals. And others use nets. “Since most of the areas do not have presence of police or administration, it is no big deal for the wildlife hunters,” he adds.
Endangered species on verge of extinction
If such a massive scale of wildlife hunting goes on, they may soon get extinct from the Himalayn region, says District Forest Officer of Bajang, Ramesh Chand. According to him, action against the rampant killing of wild animals is an urgent need.
“The business of dry meat is going on at a very big scale. There is an urgent need to take action against killing of the animals,” adds Chand. “And it won´t work unless all the concerned departments and stakeholders work together.”
Pant says that Danfe, the national bird, is the most endangered of the wildlife in the region. “They use its best food – barley. And they mix it with alcoholic drinks to kill it.”
There are only eight range posts in 47 VDCs in the region. That means, only around 25 forest staffs look after all these VDCs spread over hundreds of square kilometers.
“In that case, how is it possible to ensure the safety of wildlife? Moreover, the staff are not armed at all. How can they take situation under control even if they happen to come across poachers,” he expresses concern, admitting that the forest office has simply not been able to take care of the wildlife.
According to him, the forest staffs themselves feel threatened at the hand of the poachers. They well know that trying to stop poachers or businessmen means inviting harm to self.
There has been a huge increase in the number of poachers every year due to the weak presence of the state in the region, Pant adds. “They have been making huge money through such criminal activity. They have been erecting building in Kathmandu and the Tarai.”
He adds that the rise of Yarsa business is directly related to wildlife hunting. “The peak season of the wildlife hunting is when the government allows the collection of Yarsa. In the pretext of Yarsha collection, many try their hands at poaching,” he says.
Date: 23 June, 2014