King goes but royal sport flourishes in Nepal

June 18th, 2008 - 1:35 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 18 (IANS) Though it got rid of its monarchy, the former Himalayan kingdom of Nepal has now become the happy hunting ground of a sport that was once the prerogative of the royal family - trophy-hunting. Hunters are flocking to the birthplace of the Buddha with a licence to kill after the government reopened a hunting reserve in the west abounding in the coveted blue sheep and other game animals like the leopard.

Animal head trophy seekers, many of whom are associated with the controversial Safari Club International, the Arizona-based organisation founded by an American hunter, are willing to spend up to Nepali Rs.1.5 million (approx $21,800) to obtain a licence from the government of Nepal for shooting wildlife in the Dorpatan hunting reserve in Baglung district, the only reserve where hunting is allowed.

Licensed hunters are allowed to cart away the heads of the animals they kill and the skin as trophy.

This hunting season, eight teams have applied for licences.

The game reserve was established for the hunting pleasures of the ruling families of Nepal and their friends.

The powerful Rana prime ministers and the Shah kings revelled in hunting and old photographs show the members of the royal family posing before heaps of tiger skins and heads.

Most aristocratic families had stuffed animals decorating their mansions with heads mounted on walls; skins serving as rugs and are regarded by conservationists as one of the prime reasons for the vanishing of certain species, like the tiger.

Ironically, exactly a week ago, Nepal’s last king Gyanendra vacated the Narayanhity royal palace and moved into an inferior palace on the outskirts of the capital that was once the hunting lodge of his forefathers.

Before he made his final exit, the deposed king held an unprecedented press conference in a hall where he used to receive foreign dignitaries.

The historic press conference, that created a stampede, was held in front of two snarling tigers flanking an impressive staircase.

The Dorpatan reserve was opened to hunters in a bid to promote tourism. However, it was shut down after the Maoist insurgency started in 1996.

It was reopened this summer with the Maoists having signed a peace agreement and peace returning to the turbulent nation.

Though Nepal’s animal rights protection organisations have been quick to protest against the government decision to export monkeys to the US for experiments, they are yet to comment on the licensed hunting.

Hunters on the other hand say that licensed hunting keeps the number of wildlife down and promotes responsible killing.

In the past, Safari Club International has come under sharp criticism for organising hunting of endangered African antelope species at fenced “game” ranches in Texas and Florida and for giving awards for the hunting of big cats and leopard, elephant, lion, rhino and buffalo in Africa.

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