Is wildlife conservation a victim of its own success in Nepal?
Wildlife-human conflict is intensifying in Nepal, but while in the mountains, it is due to increased forest cover, in the Tarai, human encroachment on natural habitats have led to more encounters between wild animals and villagers.
Confusion about who is in charge of conservation work in Nepal’s new federal structure has added to this problem. The Division Forest Offices are now under provincial governments, but the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (NPWC) Department is controlled by the federal government in Kathmandu.
“Even asking for a dart gun is complicated, we have to go through the DFO in the district to the provincial government and then to the NPWC in Kathmandu,” says Kedar Baral of the Division Forest Office in Tanahu.
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Recently, a four-year-old was attacked by a leopard in the Bhanu village of Tanahu. The DFO requested the Department of Forest in Kathmandu which instructed the NPWC to inform the Gandaki Province authorities to send a team. Personnel reached the village, but only four days later.
Leopard attacks are becoming increasingly common with the spread of community forests, and out-migration has allowed vegetation to cover fallow farmland.
With nearly one-third of its population having left for the cities or gone abroad for work, Tanahu district is at high risk of wildlife attacks.
In April, 9-year-old Pushpa Adhikari of Bhakundothok village was killed in a leopard attack. Last year, 10-year-old Amirt Gurung and 4-year-old Ranjita Lamsal were mauled and killed in a neighbouring village. And just last year, four children were killed by leopards in Tanahu alone.
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The NPWC Department says Tanahu, Lamjung, Kaski, Syangja, Arghakhanchi and Kavre, with their thick community forests have the most human fatalities due to wildlife encounters. But because the Regional Forest Directorate, which used to collate data on wildlife attacks, has been abolished under the new federal set up, and no new agency has taken over the job, integrated figures for wildlife encounters are not available.
However, just in the last five years, 41 people have lost their lives in three districts: Arghakhanchi, Tanahu and Baitadi. Elsewhere in the country, 49 have been killed in the past three years in national parks and buffer zones alone – 14 of them children, and mostly by leopards. There are no records of livestock killed, or of crops destroyed by wild animals.
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“Since there is no fencing on national parks and community forests, we cannot control the wildlife wandering into villages or travelling along their migratory routes, and this has led to human-animal conflict,” admits Man Bahadur Khadka, head of the NPWC Department in Kathmandu.
District and park officials say they do not have the required manpower to deal with wildlife encounters outside protected areas, either for fencing, darting or rescue of animals that have strayed into human settlements.
The limited human resources available is concentrated in national parks, whereas most incidents happen outside them. For example, the Nepal Army has over 8,000 soldiers deployed to guard the country’s 12 national parks and hunting reserves.
With the new federal structure, local government are under public pressure to respond to increased wildlife attacks. The temptation is to restrict the movement of wildlife even more, making them even more aggressive.
“My constituents come to me every day complaining that rhinos and other wildlife have destroyed their crops, we hand out some compensation, but it is never enough,” says Mayor Dambar GC of Triveni Municipality in Nawalparasi who has put up a Rs700,000 fence. Neighbouring Kawasoti Muncipality has also built a 17km wall at a cost of Rs15 million to keep wildlife out.