Friday, 9 June, 2023

Focus On Wildlife Conservation

Uttam Maharjan

Nepal is rich in biodiversity. There are many species of flora and fauna in the country. This is because there is geographical diversity suitable for various species of biota. Besides such geodiversity, there are suitable eco-climatic conditions in the country. Nature conservation is of paramount importance in maintaining natural harmony for the survival of life forms – plants and animals. And wildlife conservation is part of nature conservation. Nepal has put in efforts in this direction for years and has achieved exemplary success, too.

Nepal enacted the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act in 1973 AD. In the same year, the Chitwan National Park was established. The main objective behind the establishment of the park was to preserve rhinos and tigers only. The objective did not heed the need for preserving other animals and conserving natural resources. The period from 1973 to 1996 focused on the protection of wildlife and so desired results could not be attained. So buffer zones were set up in 1996. And human settlements near national parks, wildlife reserves and conservation areas were allowed to have ownership of resources lying around them so as to enlist public mobilisation in conservation activities.

Buffer zone
With consistent efforts at wildlife conservation, over 23 per cent of the total area of Nepal is now devoted to conservation. Now, the country boasts 12 national parks, one wildlife reserve, one hunting reserve and six conservation areas. Each national park has a buffer zone. Buffer zones create an enabling environment for the co-existence of humans and wildlife. It is a matter of pride that out of the 12 national parks, two are on the World Heritage Site List. Efforts should be made to have other national parks enlisted as World Heritage Sites. Out of the six conservation areas, three are managed by a non-governmental organisation, two by the government authority and one by the local community.

Further, attention has been paid to the preservation of forest. Nepal has 45 per cent coverage of forest. Various forest management tools have been used for the preservation of forest. Forests are classified as national forests, government-managed forests, leasehold forests, protection forests, religious forests and private forests. Such forests are designated on certain criteria such as the economic status of local communities, biodiversity of local resources and social norms and beliefs of local communities. It may be noted that the concept of community forest emerged in Nepal with the establishment of a community forest at Thokarpa in Sindhupalchowk in 1973.

Nepal has been engaged in wildlife conservation in collaboration with non-governmental organisations, international non-governmental organisations, government agencies and local communities. Such collaboration has produced desired results. On the one hand, poaching and other illegal activities have been curbed, while on the other the country has proved itself a paragon in wildlife conservation.

Several organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC), formally called King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation, have been helping in wildlife conservation in Nepal. They also provide technical and financial assistance. WWF, ZSL and NTNC regularly conduct surveys of wildlife populations and habitat assessment.

There are community-based anti-poaching units (CBAPUs) in various parts of Nepal. CBPAUs are voluntary associations of youths that work under the guidance of forest user committees and national and international non-governmental organisations such as WWF, ZSL and NTNC. There are 400 CBAPUs scattered across the country. They are involved in wildlife conservation activities such as joint patrol and animal rescue. Youths play a pivotal role in nature conservation through CBAPUs.

In fact, success in wildlife conservation in Nepal is due largely to community participation. Local communities have realised the importance of wildlife conservation. Most people, especially those living in rural and remote areas, depend on wildlife resources for survival. Destruction of wildlife and natural resources may sound the knell for them. Their daily necessities such as fuel, fodder and herbs are met by wildlife and natural resources. Wildlife conservation is also a dollar-spinner. It contributes to eco-tourism and other recreational activities. It can supplement the gross domestic product of the country. Part of such earnings is also spent for the development and improvement of local communities.

However, local communities are facing certain hassles, the human-wildlife conflict being one of them. Several lives are lost every year in wild animal attacks. Those who go into a forest to collect fodder sometimes fall victim to wild animals like tigers and bears. At other instances, wild animals enter human settlements, and destroy crops, kill cattle, damage houses and kill people. These are recurring problems. The government should take drastic measures to overcome such problems.

Efforts at wildlife conservation in Nepal over the last few decades are praiseworthy. Wildlife conservation should be prioritised and included in relevant policies like the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan and the Forest Policy. Collaboration with national and international non-governmental organisations should be continued and promoted. What is more, communal participation should be stressed at every level of conservation efforts. After all, the country should adhere to its commitment of preserving all kinds of wildlife and natural resources for the sustainable conservation of wildlife and preservation of natural resources.

(Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000.