In world of wildlife crime, big fish go free as law enforcers chase small fries

House no. 807, Sama Lane, Naxal, Kathmandu. Situated on the western side of the house is the Nepal Police Headquarters.The heavy presence of cops in the proximate neighborhood, however, did not deter Ian Baker a bit from doing what he wanted.He lived king-sized life and a visit to his apartment, situated on the top floor of a mansion in Naxal, left everyone stupefied.

His flamboyant lifestyle, however, was financed with illegal means. Anybody who is even slightly aware of the strict wildlife laws in Nepal would feel flabbergasted if he entered his apartment.

The rooms in the apartment were full of animal bones, skins, teeth of rare animals, priceless archeological materials and so on.

Animal parts recovered on May 22, 2008 from fugitive Ian Baker’s earstwhile apartment in Naxal, Kathmandu. Although INTERPOL and Nepal Police are on the look out for Baker, an American national, who has a red corner notice against him, his accomplice, Rajesh Maharjan has been serving a jail sentence since his arrest in May 2008. (Dipesh Shrestha/Republica)

It appeared as if Baker was blissfully unaware of the laws that make illegal trade and collection of wildlife parts a serious crime. Thanks to his good rapport with high-level police officials, Baker lived in Nepal just like an emperor nearly for 24 years.

But then his good days did not last longer. On May 22, 2008, police raided his apartment. His empire crumbled in no time, although Baker somehow managed to escape.

During the raid, the team from Hanumandhoka Police Crime Branch seized 122 lots of animal parts and archeological pieces from the house in Naxal and another of his abode in the Baluwatar area. Hides, skull and other parts of tiger, snow leopard, ghoral, various types of fox and so on, were also recovered. Similarly, over a century old statues of lord Bhairab and Bishnu, window frames, temple parts, old fashioned cupboards were among other items seized.

Baker was 55 when police laid siege of his much adored property. Now he is 61. The case against him is registered at the District Forest Office in Kathmandu. Nepal police and International Police Organization (Interpol) has issued a red corner notice against him. However, Baker is still in the list of “absconded criminals.”

Where is Baker wandering at present? Is he still active in wildlife trade? 

There have been some hints of late about Baker´s comeback to the illegal business of wildlife trade. In fact, his stature as a criminal seems to have grown stronger by now.

Baker, who has written seven books on Tibet and was associated with “National Geographic” channel earlier, now runs a website called “rear” from Thailand. The website proudly mentions Baker as a partner and even portrays him as a promoter of art, culture, tourism and spirituality. The website invites people to sign up for trips to Mansarovar. His personal facebook account is full of pictures and posts that show that Baker has been leading trekkers to Tibet and Mansarovar areas. The website “rear” and his facebook ID show him as an adventure tourism entrepreneur quite active in China and Thailand, a far cry from what he actually is: a criminal on the run.

However, both Interpol and the Nepal police have done little to nab him.

More Bakers at large

Two of his closest allies in the illegal activity–Rajesh Maharjan and Nirmala Ranamagar–lived with Baker in his house in Naxal. The initial tip off the police received about the gang was against Maharjan. The informant had alerted the police about the wildlife parts and other illegal items stashed by Maharjan in a house in Baluwatar. The police were able to seize lots of animal parts and other illegal items on May 17, 2008, from the house. Maharjan later confessed that he was working for Baker.

While Baker never came in the hands of police, he had tried his best to free Maharjan as well. After he fled to New York, he called a high-level police officer in Nepal to admit that all the seized items were his possessions and that Maharjan, 23, was innocent.

Along with Baker, another person under the red corner notice is Rajkumar Praja. The local of Korek village in Chitwan district is accused of killing rhino and being engaged in trading of horns. The police believe that Praja used fake citizenship certificate to make a new passport to fly to Malaysia.

Beside Baker and Praja, there are over 200 people listed as absconders by the Nepal police for grave crimes of animal poaching and trading in wildlife parts.

Noticeably, Nepal ranks fourth among the countries where poaching of rare animals or smuggling in wildlife parts is rife. According to Sabin Pradhan, chief at the environment section of the Central Investigation Bureau, four layers of people are active in the crime.

Ian Baker

“The first types are trained poachers. The second ones manage necessary tools for poaching activities. The third ones work as carriers who transport illegal parts to transit points and then finally, those who further carry the smuggled items to destination countries,” said Pradhan. “At present, Nepal is serving both as source as well as transit point for animal parts smuggling.”

Pradhan is of the opinion that until and unless steps are taken to reduce demand and supply, efforts at wildlife conservation will not succeed.

Meanwhile, Diwakar Chapagain, chief of wildlife trade monitoring unit of World Wildlife Fund in Nepal, said laws against wildlife have not been effective also due to lack of coordination between the stakeholders. “The problem is even serious with the poaching of animals outside the conservation areas,” he said. Chapagain sees problem also with the way the cases against wildlife trade is handled. He is for establishing ´tribunal court´ to oversee such crimes.

Source: Republica