The first step to conserve its flora and fauna in Nepal began with the royally gazetted establishment of the (Royal) Chitwan National Park (CNP) in 1972 by the then king Birendra. Come 2010, Nepal boasts 10 national parks, three wildlife reserves, one hunting reserve, six conservation areas, and 12 buffer zones – all covering an area of 34,186.62 sq. km.
With various international and local organizations now working in the field, Nepal has come a long way in conservation. According to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Nepal, people’s participation in trainings and awareness programs have made the populace living in and around buffer zones and conservations areas more aware.
“The wildlife scenario in Nepal has taken many steps forward in terms of increment in the number of endangered species, increment of security personels in national parks, and the government being more active in conservation,” added Diwakar Chapagain, Wildlife Trade Coordinator at WWF Nepal.
Yagya Dahal, Joint Secretary and Assistant to Spokesperson at the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation, also seconds Chapagain.
However, in June this year, Republica reported the deaths of eight one-horned rhinos within the short span of only two months. Four rhinos died in Kathar during the indefinite strike in May, three of which were hunted down by poachers. The fourth was a calf that died after its mother’s death. The others were found dead at Narayani River near Pitaulighat on May 27, at Kathar on June 4, and at Gaur Machan inside CNP on June 11.
With 23.23% of country’s total area designated as national parks and conservation areas, and so on, is the allocation of space alone enough to conserve and protect wildlife, and especially those that are critically endangered?
Wildlife trading at peak
When questioned about the increased poaching in recent times, Joint Secretary Dahal said, “Poaching has definitely come down and the number of animals have also increased, due to community forest plans.”
On the contrary, open borders, poor security situation, tough topography, and political instability have twirled Nepal into a safe haven for poachers and traders to buy and sell animal parts like tiger skin, bones, and rhino horns. Moreover, poachers have become more efficient, too.
“Poachers are using high-end equipment to cut off rhino horns,” points out Shiv Raj Bhatta, Terai Arc Land (TAL) Program Coordinator at WWF Nepal. “It barely takes them 15 minutes to complete the whole process,” further revealed Bhatta.
“Most tiger parts are sold off to the north (China) while rhino horns are traded randomly,” stated Chapagain. Therefore, while most tiger skins and bones are recovered every now and then, it is a harder task to track down rhino horns. According to Bhatta, if the prime species such as tigers and rhinos can be saved, animals in the lower parts of the food chain will be automatically stable.
“Tough topography, insufficient vehicles for patrolling in conservation areas, lack of technology and tall grasses which act as hiding places for poachers are some major reasons why endangered species easily fall prey to poaching,” stated Chapagain.
The comprehensive land use policy and plan
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the population of Nepal grew by nearly three million between 2001 and 2007. With the growing number of households, forest encroachment for livelihood has become a huge problem.
The Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (MFSC) reports that 88,000 hectors of land has been encroached upon, this year alone. “People occupy federal lands and build houses. We can’t demolish them because, first, it’s costly, and secondly, we can’t just bring down homes,” Joint Secretary Dahal explained the dilemma. “But we are in talks with various departments of MFSC and with the government to find a solution.”
Bhatta, who has been working in the field for more than two decades, and recently joined the TAL Project, added, “Many of our corridors and bottlenecks adjoined with India are under threat because of settlements in and around the areas.” Due to land infringement, several animals are crossing the borders and entering into India as well.
WWF Nepal’s TAL Project that began in 2001 connects 11 protected areas of Nepal and India as well as large non-protected areas between them. Conservation, therefore, is not focused on one specific region, but benefits both people and wildlife as a whole.
To curtail the problem of land use, WWF Nepal and the Ministry of Land Reform and Management (MoLRM), Nepal, joined hands and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on August 2, 2010 for a comprehensive land use policy and plan.
“The idea behind the policy and plan is to make sure that the use of the country’s land is optimal,” informed Santosh Mani Nepal, Director, Policy and Support at WWF Nepal. The initiative also concentrates on defragmentation.
“If the land is fertile and can be used for farming, the land use policy and plan is to make sure that the terrain is used for farming and not to build houses,” highlighted Nepal. Provision of compensation to stakeholders is still being discussed.
The MoU stands at a five-year stance, but Nepal said that the study on the policy will be completed within three years. “The first and second phases include land use plan and policy, respectively, which will be followed by the third phase related to establishing legal instruments and institutions,” informed Nepal.
According to a report published in Republica on August 18, 2010, a female rhino was found dead at the Gyaneshwor Community Forest in west Chitwan. An electrified wire fence installed by the local farmers to protect their crops from wild animals fatally electrocuted the rhino.
“These electric fences have very low power flow, but some are directly wired to high-tension poles,” shared Bhatta and explicated, “At such places, the flow of electricity is unlimited and can take an animal’s life.”
He added that electric fences are supposed to be solar-powered and should only have electricity just enough to frighten the animal. However, animals too are clever and they keep poking at the solar powered fences, until they break. Solar-powered fences are expensive to install and the maintenance is equally costly. This leads the locals to connect fences to high-tension wires.
Wildlife in Nepal
Conservation attempts have helped save some animals; for instance, the number of Royal Bengal tigers in Nepal rose to 155 this year from 121 last year. The study was conducted by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) along with the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC), and WWF Nepal.
The wildlife census report of 2008 has it that there were 435 rhinos in Nepal, of which 408 were in CNP, 22 in Bardia National Park, and five in the Shuklaphanta Wildlife Conservation Area.
Wildlife census usually convenes in every four to five years. But if the government decides to do an immediate count, it can be done. “But it also depends on the funds we have,” said Ganga Ram Singh at DNPWC.
Though the MFSC confirmed that in order to improve laws and make them more comprehensive, it has passed the paperwork to other Ministries for approval, Nepal’s conservation stance is yet to be bolstered, making it easier for all living creatures to exist in harmony, including humans. This is also the spirit behind the much-vaunted peoples-and-parks partnership (PPP) plan in Nepal’s conservation.