A further ban on the wild harvest of many Nepali plant species – including all orchids – was introduced in 2017, although this is being relaxed in hopes of re-establishing a more sustainable legal harvest in future.
Despite these efforts on paper to protect orchids from illegal trade, in practice plant conservation is still often neglected. Orchids have made it into legislation, but often only on paper.
Most poaching of wild orchids goes unreported. In Pokhara’s Panchase, harvesters from outside the community have even been using monkeys to gather valuable orchids from local forests.
Of late, there have been seizures, including a 2017 case where more than 74kg of Nepal’s most highly protected orchid species were apprehended. There have been over 25 seizures of wild orchids since 2010, nearly half of them bound for China.
Yet, seizures of protected plants are very rare and incidental. More often than not it is a case of the police spot-checking a truck or a bus and finding wild plants without permits. These seizures are only the tip of the iceberg, and are in stark contrast to huge investments and efforts deployed to protect threatened animal species.
Admittedly, however, our relationship with plants is often different from that we have with animals. Nepal has a long history of legal, regulated trade of many plants, especially medicinal species that are central to its culture, rural livelihoods, and exports. For example, wild spikenard roots are harvested under a strict quota system, and there are efforts to make this regulated trade more sustainable.