Wild watch

May 5, 2014-

Though Nepal only covers 0.09 percent of the total land surface of the earth, it is ranked 25th in the world and 11th in Asia for its rich biodiversity. Nepal’s 118 ecosystems are home to different species of fauna, which include 168 pletyholminthis, 144 spiders, 640 butterflies, 2,253 moths, 5,052 insects, 182 fish, 77 amphibians, 118 reptiles, 871 birds and 208 mammals. Nepal has already established 20 protected areas (PAs), including 12 buffer zones, which cover 23.23 percent of the total land surface of the country.

In 2011, the total contribution of travel and tourism to the country’s GDP was 8.8 percent. Protected areas, which attract more than 50 percent of all international visitors to Nepal, have played a significant role in driving the tourism industry. The Chitwan National Park alone generated $5.3 million in 2011. Of the total income of the PAs, 30-50 percent is shared with the Buffer Zone Management Committee.

The government has also decided to maintain 40 percent of its land as forests. Furthermore, it is committed to conserve wildlife by not only establishing PAs but also conserving wildlife outside of them through the landscape level approach.

Protecting wildlife

Before 1971, wildlife protection efforts were concentrated on conserving a certain animal species. For instance, the protection of rhinos through patrolling in Chitwan. From 1971-2003, the Minimum Dynamic Area Model (MDAM), or PAs, was adopted for wildlife conservation. This approach remained effective till 1995. MDAM laid emphasis on the importance of maintaining an existing habitat of appropriate size and character, which is suitable for the maintenance of biological diversity by isolating it from intensive land use in the surroundings. However, party authorities soon enough began to face a number of issues, including human-wildlife conflict. Then, the government initiated a Buffer Zone (BZ) concept in 1996.

Despite efforts to conserve wildlife by establishing protected areas and buffer zones, the confined areas became barriers to genetic exchange. It was realised that none of the protected areas in the Tarai were adequate for conserving a viable population of mega species such as rhinoceros, tigers and wild elephants in perpetuity. Hence, the government endorsed the Tarai Arc Landscape (TAL) vision in April 2001. The Nepal Biodiversity Strategy 2002 also identified two broad development strategies: cross-sectoral and sectoral. Under cross-sectoral strategies, landscape level planning was a major approach for biodiversity conservation in Nepal. The hope is that connectivity between natural elements will provide an opportunity to exchange genetic materials and consequently, prevent genetic drift. This model advocates for an integrated approach to biodiversity conservation, where all the ingredients of a landscape, including protected areas, farmlands, wetlands and forests, become part of a larger habitat network, thereby forming a mosaic of interconnected systems. For this to happen, it is imperative to have broad-based multi-stakeholder or cross-sector partnership, supportive policy instruments, decentralised planning and a pragmatic mindset.

Realising the role of non-forestry stakeholders, or outside-the-box stakeholders, in controlling wildlife crimes, the government decided to establish a Wildlife Crime Control Coordination Committee at the ministry level, a Central Level Wildlife Crime Control Bureau at the department level and a Wildlife Crime Control Bureau at the district level in 2010. A South-Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network has been established as well.  

Issues to address

Between the Bagmati river and the Mechi river in the Tarai and Siwaliks, there are hardly any programmes implemented as per the Landscape Level model. From 1990-1999 forests declined at a rate of 1.3 percent per year. A recently published report claims that forests in 18 Tarai districts have diminished at a 0.44 percent rate from 2001-2010. This is because the region is home to over 50 percent of the country with high land demand for agriculture and infrastructure. Still, the prevalence of forest encroachment and forest fires in the Chure and Tarai areas pose an increasing challenge to the TAL strategy.

Furthermore, though the mid-hills do not have many protected areas, they are rich in forests due to community forestry. So wildlife conservation efforts must be expanded to community forests. Also, there is a need to  sow plants in the barren areas of already declared PAs; address concerns about the governance of the Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas; integrate park authorities with DDCs, municipalities and VDCs as per the Local Self-Governance Act; restructure the existing organisation of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation by establishing buffer zone management divisions and units at the central and parks level respectively; and address the loss of human life outside the PAs, which has been happening at an alarming rate in areas such as Baitadi.

There is also an urgent need for the police and parks and forest authorities to work together to control wildlife crimes. Additionally, there is a need for regular and result-oriented transboundary meetings-cum-visits among China, India and Nepal to maintain wildlife corridors and conduct anti-poaching operations. A number of stakeholders also argue for the establishment of agencies that act as a forum for  policy formulation, research and maintain standards in the forestry sector. Furthermore, stakeholders are also demanding the establishment of a network or Conservation Area Management Council. Indigenous people’s rights, livelihood improvement and social inclusion must also be addressed. Establishing a community zoological park, orphan and rescue centre for wildlife and wildlife farming could also go a long way. There is also an immediate need to revise the existing relief fund for damage caused by wildlife.  

Coordination matters

The foremost need of the day is to increase awareness about the role and value of wildlife in any ecosystem. The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation and its field authorities have been organising Wildlife Week during the first week of Baisakh (April-May). To make more people aware, such activities should be expanded to all 75 district forest offices, 18,133 Community Forest Users Groups, 19 Collaborative Forest Management Groups and 8 Protected Forests Management Councils by inviting cross-sectoral stakeholders to the ceremony. The ever increasing demand for wildlife parts in the global market continues to be a great threat to conservation efforts. Hence, coordination among the various departments within the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation and joint efforts among non-forestry sectors are key to protecting our wildlife, maintaining the ecosystem and enhancing our economy in a very real sense.

Paudyal is a life member of the Nepal Foresters’ Association

Published: 06-05-2014 08:03

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