On 22 May 2017, Nepal added a new conservation milestone with the burning of 4,000+ wildlife parts for the first time in 20 years.
For Nepal, it is a statement, of bold ambition and promise, to not tolerate any act of wildlife crime.
For the world, it is an appeal, for unity of purpose in curbing this biggest threat to the world’s iconic species.
Prior to the burning, an audit completed in 2016 covered wildlife parts of 48 different species.
These parts, either of species that had died natural deaths or collected from seizure operations, were kept in two separate repositories in the Armed Forest Guard Training Centre in Tikauli in Chitwan district and the Chitwan National Park headquarters in Kasara.
Each item audited was barcoded.
On 21 May, wildlife parts from the repository in Tikauli were transported to the burn site in Chitwan National Park in two large containers.
Packed in sacks and labeled on the outside, the wildlife parts were loaded on commercial containers as two shipments as park authorities reverified each package with the audit spreadsheet.
Once fully loaded, each container was locked and sealed in the presence of government authorities with the consignment reaching Chitwan National Park at dusk the same day.
On the morning of 22 May, members of the Nepal Army began the task of unloading and emptying the contents of each sack of wildlife parts on a giant five-meter-wide and fifteen-meter-long pyre.
The contents were over 4,000 wildlife parts of 48 different species, including 67 tiger skins, 357 rhino horns, 418 leopard skins, two sacks of pangolin scales, and hides of red panda, clouded leopard and snow leopard.
The first flame to the stockpile was lit by Prakash Sharan Mahat, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal, in the presence of government representatives, security chiefs, diplomatic missions, civil society, local communities, conservation agencies and media.
As hides crackled and bones charred under a growing fire and a dense smoke hung over it, there was a sense of fulfilment yet incompleteness in the air.
The message was clear as the day of 22 May, that Nepal had spoken and it should ring true – that wildlife is not a commodity, that this small Himalayan nation decries inhumane acts against wildlife, and that it shall be a long time (if not ever) that a pyre is lit on innocence.
In Hindu tradition and belief, a body is cremated to free its soul to a new circle of life.