Rupak Maharjan wasn’t sure how it happened. His team was investigating illegal poachers rumored to be in possession of tiger skins and bones when all of a sudden 300 armed and angry villagers encircled them. The crowd was determined to protect the poachers who lived within their borders.
Without warning, Maharjan and his unarmed team of rangers found themselves staring down the barrel of a gun.
Maharjan, a park ranger at Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, recounts that day four years ago that nearly cost him his life. Fortunately, he managed to call his chief warden, who sent in the police to rescue the rangers.
“The situation was so tense that even the police had to pretend to arrest us as thieves,” says Rupak.
Despite nearly losing his life, Rupak was anything but intimidated and admits that the incident that almost killed him also inspired him to fight harder to protect endangered species.
Since the beginning of his career, Maharjan has always worked to stop wildlife crime. Today, he organizes anti-poaching surveillance missions using intelligence gathered from a wide network of local informants. Once a legitimate threat is identified, he manages operations to track the poachers.
“While patrolling, if we receive any key information regarding a poacher or if we come to know of any suspicious activities, we will first verify the information and then carry out our operations at night,” says Maharjan.
In 2011, for the first time in 29 years, not a single rhino or tiger was killed for black market trade in Nepal. Maharjan and his team were part of that landmark achievement, and although this record didn’t stand, Nepal recently announced a 63 percent increase in its tiger population.
He credits this achievement to three efforts:
- stronger ranger commitments to stop wildlife crime
- more community based programs to elevate awareness
- heightened coordinated efforts between enforcement agencies.
“We know that it is possible to curb poaching by working with local stakeholders and organizations,” says Maharjan.
A future without wildlife crime
In January 2012, WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative awarded Maharjan’s staff, along with five other institutions in Nepal, the Enforcement Award for best site-based intelligence work. These sites were honored for their commitment and dedication to tiger conservation.
In addition to the award, WWF continues to provide support to Chitwan National Park, and other protected areas of Nepal, to stop the illegal tiger trade by developing informer networks and engaging with local law enforcement.
Thanks to a WWF Russell E. Train EFN Fellowship, Maharjan is also pursuing a Master’s Degree in environmental science in Nepal. He is thankful for WWF’s commitment and the opportunity he has to preserve Nepal’s wildlife.
“We are working hard to achieve another year of zero-poaching,” says Maharjan.