6 musk deer killed by poachers during lockdown

Three of the musk deer found dead in traps laid by poachers during the COVID-19 lockdown in Sagarmatha National Park on Sunday. Photo: DAWA NURU SHERPA / FACEBOOK

Poachers have killed six musk deer in the forests inside Sagarmatha National Park using the COVID-19 lockdown period in Nepal, in one of the worst cases of wildlife poaching in the reserve below Mt Everest in recent years.

Photographs of the dead deer and the wire traps that they were caught in were posted on Facebook by Khumbu resident Dawa Nuru Sherpa, who also wrote a scathing condemnation of the park authorities for their inability to control wildlife and timber poaching.

“It is very disturbing, this is the worst case of wildlife poaching in the history here,” admitted Pemba Sherpa of the Sagarmatha National Park. He said the previous case was more than a decade ago when three endangered musk deer had been found killed.

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Of the six deer, two were decomposed, one was female and three male. The musk pods of only one of the deer had been extracted, and the pouches in the other two were intact. Park officials said the decomposed deer had been dead for at least a month.

There were an additional 54 wire traps in a deep gorge of the Imja Khola below Syangboche. A golden eagle was also found dead in one of the traps. It is thought that the poachers could not go to the traps to harvest the musk pods of the other deer because of the lockdown.

This has lead conservationists to conclude that there must have been at least five or six poachers, and that this must have been an organised group of criminals with ties to smugglers.

The Himalayan musk deer is in the IUCN Endangered List, and is prized for the musk pouch found in the male of the species which fetch thousands of dollars in China and Korea, where they are used in traditional medicine, perfumery and cosmetics.

Locals in Khumbu are outraged by the discovery, and blame the national park and the Nepal Army that guards the park for not being vigilant enough during the lockdown period.

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“We local Sherpas do not killed wildlife for religious reasons, but there are many non-Khumbu residents whose source of tourism income has dried up because of the COVID-19 lockdown, and this is why poaching must have increased,” said one Namche Bazar resident who declined to be named. “If they had an intelligence network, they could easily have been caught.”

A suspected poacher from Sankhuwasabha was found near Phortse army post last month by locals and soldiers, and handed over to the national park. However, officials said the musk deer was found to have died of natural causes and the person was released.

In the Facebook post, Dawa Nuru Sherpa also accused the official of allowing trees to be cut in the Tengboche area for use to repair a guest house being run by the National Park. “The cries of help from these musk deer and eagles caught in traps must be haunting you,” the letter notes, pointing the finger at the park’s Chief Conservation Officer.

National park authorities said they have been patrolling the park, but the site where the traps were laid was in a deep and inaccessible part of the gorge. They said a joint team composed of the army and locals had been formed, and a meeting is scheduled tomorrow with local communities, youth groups and the park and buffer zone to stop further illegal activities.

Said Pemba Sherpa from the Sagarmatha National Park: “Because of the lockdown, we think the culprits are still in the area, and we are confident we can find them.”

A marked increase in wildlife and timber poaching has been reported from community forests and national parks across Nepal during the monthlong lockdown, which has been extended till 7 May.

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