Smuggled chimps wait it out in Kathmandu

Deepak Kharel in, 16 December

Wildlife smugglers captured two young chimpanzees in Nigeria in 2017, put them in a wooden crate and flew them 8,000km to Nepal via Istanbul. After landing in Kathmandu, the boxes were taken to Sanjeev Bhari’s house in Sallaghari, a hub for international wildlife smugglers using Nepal as a transit point. The plan was to take the chimps to India, but the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) discovered the animals before that. The chimps, as well as other exotic birds, have been waiting at the Central Zoo for translocation to their wild habitat.

Officials at Kathmandu airport customs and animal quarantine department had agreed with the smugglers to facilitate the transport of the chimps through Nepal. The CBI arrested Sanjeev Bhari and his accomplices, including nationals of India and Pakistan who are currently in jail in Sundhara.

CBI chief Puskar Karki said: “This is a huge international racket that exploits weak governance in countries like Nepal to smuggle contraband and wildlife. This particular case is being closely observed internationally.”

Customs agent Raj Kumar Tiwari and Chuda Mani Dahal played pivotal roles to aid and abet the wildlife traffickers. Animal quarantine officer Dhirendra Shah also readied the necessary documents without proper checks. Most of these corrupt officials were released after paying bail, which ranged from Rs250,000 to Rs500,000. Many others at the customs department were also pulled into investigation.

The Central Zoo in Jawalakhel has deputed several staff to take care of the animals which have been named Chimpu and Champa. The curators feed the animals and conduct regular health checks. In 14 months that they have been in Kathmandu, Chimpu and Champa have grown and are awaiting the verdict of the District Court about where they will go next.

“We cannot keep the chimps in Nepal, but official proceedings can only start after a verdict from the court.” Man Bahadur Khadka of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation said. “While they are with us, we are providing the best possible care.”

Animal rights activist from London had called the Prime Minister’s office and registered a verbal complaint about moves by international traffickers to free the indicted. After the message reached Prime Minister Oli, he instructed Attorney General Agni Kharel to take up the case. The final court hearing is on Friday at the Kathmandu District Court.