The Nepalese ringleader of a rhino-poaching ring has been arrested, after an almost two-year long search by Interpol and local law enforcement. Thirty-year-old Rajkumar Praja, accused of shooting dead 19 endangered one-horned rhinos in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, was captured by authorities in Malaysia, where he had been using a false name and passport.
Praja admitted to reporters that he had earned 4 to 4.5 million rupees (about $50,000) selling the horns, but said had not saved any of the money. Rhino horns can ultimately retail for more than $66,000/kg ($30,000/lb), as Quartz has reported.
Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley is considered one of the world’s major centers for the black market wildlife trade, where parts of rhinos, tigers, pandas, and other endangered animals are trafficked to China and India, where they are used for its purported (though actually non-existent) medicinal and narcotic properties. Between February 2013 and February of last year, Nepalese authorities seized 1,200 grams of tiger bone, as well as rhino horns and toes, leopard hides, and panda hides.
But recently Nepal has made progress in protecting rare animals, who face extinction due to poaching as well as destruction of their habitats. Nepalese soldiers, locals, and drones now patrol protected areas. Last year, the country celebrated 365 days of zero poaching of rhinos, tigers, or elephants. As of 2011, there were 534 rhinos in Nepal, compared to less than 375 in 2005, when the country was recovering from fighting with Maoist rebels.
The belated arrest of Praja is evidence of some of those efforts. After escaping prison in Nepal after a 2006 arrest, Praja had evaded authorities for years, hiding in Singapore and then Malaysia. Interpol issued a “red notice,” or warrant, for Praja in 2013 after he managed to escape a mass arrest of his partners. He faces 15 years in prison.