The rate of resource use and its implication on environment has been well documented. According to the Living Planet Index report of 2018, 60% of wildlife population has declined over the last 40 years. It is also looking more and more likely that we will be unable to meet the goals we have set like the 2°C target for global warming,the SDGs among others. The situation looks particularly bleak in south Asia where two of the projected dominant economies of the future (India and China) are flexing their muscles. However, sandwiched between these two, Nepal gives an impression that it has been doing well in biodiversity conservation.
Nepal boasts an astonishing variety of flora and fauna species due to the diversity of its topography and habitat types. Within its area of a mere 1,47,181 sq. km (0.1 percent of the total global land area), Nepal is home to 8.5 percent of all bird species, 4.2 percent of all mammalian species, and 2.2 percent of all flowering plant species that exist in the world .There are altogether 2220 species in Nepal which are assessed in the IUCN red-list including 115 globally threatened species.
One of the key players in protecting the biodiversity in Nepal are the protected areas. There are 12 national parks, 1 wildlife reserve, 1 hunting reserve, 6 conservation areas and buffer zones around the park and reserves, totaling more than 3.4 million ha of country’s land, which counts to above 23 percent of the land of Nepal directly committed to biodiversity conservation .Originally the parks were conserved using very strict approach without much or no involvement of the local people .However, community based conservation has become a big game changer mainly influenced by the huge success of community based forest conservation in Nepal . The establishment of conservation areas and buffer zones inside the national parks are examples of this march towards a participatory community based protection where the local communities with the backstopping from government and the NGOs play an active role in conservation. The sharing of economic benefits among the stakeholders is one of the driving forces which motivates the local people towards conservation of these areas. As a result, conservation of many important species has been very successful inside these protected areas. Between years 2011 to 2018,zero rhino poaching year was celebrated on 5 occasions marking no illegal poaching of rhinos which has been a big issue in the past. A tiger census was conducted between November 2017 and April 2018 with camera traps which estimated the population to be 235 which is almost double of 2009.The almost extinct vultures were also brought to life with an impressive implementation of a vulture conservation action plan. These are only few of many examples which reflects a good conservation status of Nepal.
Alongside protected areas and conservation policies, the forests of Nepal have also played a big role in protecting the species. The canopy cover of Nepal has increased from 29% to 45 % in couple of decades as per Forest Resource Assessment report of 2015. The community forest programme launched in 1992 is greatly responsible for this growth. Also, the massive outward migration of people has contributed to this as a lot of agricultural land are left abandoned and most of these revert back to forest within a few years. During my cross country trip in 2017 through the southern belt of the country, I had an opportunity to conduct surveys in the villages closer to the protected areas. There was a general consensus on growth of the forest cover as well as the wildlife population in the recent past.
The conservation efforts in Nepal certainly look encouraging at the first glance but definitely not sort of challenges. The major focus on the charismatic species has really left other species out of the limelight. This has caused a lack of funding for research seriously impeding conservation of these species. The small mammals are one of the highly neglected groups among others in Nepal.
One of the major problems is the human wildlife conflict which has soared in the recent years. Many people living close to the protected areas have lost lives, livestock and harvests due to the wildlife. The wild elephants wreck havoc every year destroying villages which come in their way. The respective conservation authorities must intervene quickly to keep the local people’s motivation to save wildlife intact.
However,the main challenge is the socioeconomic one. The political transition in Nepal over the last two decades has been nothing sort of dramatic with the country transitioning from a communist insurgency to a secular federal state. The dust has settled in the political front and the country is gearing for an unprecedented economic growth. The government has already forged ahead with building big infrastructures which will come at the expense of the environment. A recent decision of the government to build one of the largest airports in south Asia by clearing thousands of hectares of pristine primary forest has sparked a big debate. This is definitely not the last of these kind of debates. Furthermore, being in proximity to the resource hungry neighbors is not an ideal situation for conservation. It will be interesting to see how conservation authorities in Nepal navigate through these changing times.
1. Acharya Krishna, Biodiversity conservation in Nepal:A success story (2012)
2. Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015 (FRA. 2015)
3. IUCN 2019.The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.Version 2019-2. http://www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded on 18 July 2019.
4. Jnawali, S.R., Baral, H.S., Lee, S., Acharya, K.P., Upadhyay, G.P., Pandey, M., Shrestha, R., Joshi, D., Laminchhane, B.R., Griffiths, J., Khatiwada, A. P., Subedi, N., and Amin, R. (compilers) (2011). The Status of Nepal Mammals: The National Red List Series, Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Kathmandu, Nepal
5. Robert B.Keiter,Preserving Nepal’s National Parks:Law and Conservation in the Developing World, 22 Ecology L. Q. 591 (1995).
6. WWF.2018.Living Planet Report–2018: Aiming Higher. Grooten, M. and Almond, R.E.A.(Eds). WWF, Gland, Switzerland.