Wildlife Conservation For Our Future : Bijaya Raj Paudyal
Humans and wildlife are an integral part of an ecosystem. But there is a challenge to conserving wildlife as well as ensuring the safety of the human population these days. According to a report published by the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation on the status of Nepal's species diversity, the number of mammal species increased from 181 to 208, of reptiles from 100 to 123, of butterflies from 640 to 651, and of birds from 852 to 867 between 2002 and 2014.
Despite the efforts made to conserve wildlife, a number of disturbing incidents have been observed in recent years. In Jhapa in east Nepal, human-wildlife conflicts have become a regular phenomenon, namely elephant attacks on the local people, whereas in Baitadi district in far west Nepal, it is the tigers that are being feared.
"More than 18 people have been killed by tigers in Baitadi district," said Kedar Baral, the district forest officer, during an informal talk recently with this columnist. Although the conflict has been observed only in the recent years in Baitadi, the elephant attacks have been going on for a long time. In both cases, large mammals are coming from India, which has now become a trans-boundary issue.
On March 30, a rhino entered Hetauda Bazaar, my hometown, and became hot news around the globe. On one hand, the local people were lucky to see a giant wild animal at their doors, but on the other hand, it killed Hari Maya Dahal, 61, and injured six other people in the attack.
The government has been celebrating 'Zero Poaching Year' in the recent years. It is focussed on large mammals like the rhino and tiger. But the loss of human life from the attacks of wild animals has become a challenge to the government and put pressure on it to re-examine its policy, action plan and mobilisation of human resources. The people are not happy with the lengthy process in accessing compensation funds, as provisioned by the policy, for those attacked or killed by wild animals.
The conservation of the vulture in the Terai has become effective due to the collaboration of the local people, clubs and governments. Vulture restaurants have opened at different locations: Chitwan, Nawalparasi, Dang and Kailali districts.
Similarly, a community forest user group in Bhaktapur has established a pangolin conservation area in the community forests. And Nepalese scientists celebrated World Pangolin Day with a call to protect the species. World Pangolin Day is celebrated on the third Saturday of February.
In the interaction programme on February 21, it was said that the government was focusing its conservation programme on large mammals, and the number of rhinos and tigers had increased in the last decade. But the number of small animals had decreased.
A recent study report on Chinese pangolins published in 2014 by Prakash Thapa, Ambika Prasad Khatiwada, Sushila C. Nepali and Shambhu Paudel in Nangkholyang VDC of Taplejung district, eastern Nepal, showed that the conservation status of pangolins was found to be bad. Poaching has been identified as the major threat. In other words, it seems that the government is gaining some large mammals at the cost of small wildlife in Nepal.
A number of awareness programmes are being organised by the government along with non-government organisations and development partners. One notable event is the Wildlife Week. The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Department has been organising a week-long programme in the first week of the first month of the Nepali Year, or Baisakh, to raise awareness about the need of public participation in the conservation of wildlife and improvement of their habitats. This year’s 20th Wildlife Week was celebrated with the slogan, ‘Wildlife for our future’.
The slogan clearly sends a message to conservationists to protect not only large mammals but also small animals. Hence, the government should prepare management plans not only for the protected areas and buffer zones, but also for areas outside the protected zones of the country. It means all the district forest offices should focus on wildlife conservation, especially in the middle mountains which have negligible share of protected areas.
The government is implementing plans for the conservation of the tiger, rhino, wild elephant, snow leopard and vulture. Similar conservation plans for the red panda, gharial and black buck are being prepared at the moment. However, the efforts are not sufficient to tackle wild animals outside the protected areas.
Further, the Buffer Zone Council should concentrate its efforts on uplifting the livelihoods of the poor people who live near the parks and wildlife boundary rather than spending a big budget on infrastructure development, such as schools, roads and bridges.
Raju Acharya, a conservationist, has become a role model in creating awareness among the people on conserving the owl in the country. According to Acharya, annually, at least 2,000 owls are exported either to India or China, and thousands are being killed at the local level. Hence, his initiation to conduct a survey, create awareness and protect them should be supported by the government. Gautam Sapkota, or Chari dada, who can speak with the birds should be encouraged to take up conservation education by the government.
A single country cannot protect mobile wildlife. This is a trans-boundary issue. Therefore, the government should work more closely with its neighbours, India and China, to protect such wildlife. Frequent meetings and visits between countries should be organised to combat the illegal trade in wildlife and its parts.
Zoological parks should be established in the country in all the physiographic regions and development regions. It will not only provide opportunities for promoting ecotourism but also help in ex-situ conservation and rescue of orphaned wildlife. Such initiatives will also support in earning foreign currency in the country. Moreover, small threatened wildlife should be protected beyond the protected areas.
The Forest Policy 2071 clearly provisions the conservation of biodiversity and explicitly mentions that the government will not allow any loss of biodiversity and bio-resources in Nepal. It is hoped that the government will be able to focus its conservation efforts not only on large but also small wildlife in the years to come.