Nepal Has Already Had Great Success Protecting Its Wildlife: MAHESHWAR DHAKAL, Ph.D.

MAHESHWAR DHAKAL, Ph.D., the Director General Of The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DoNPWC), has held a number of posts within the organization and previously oversaw the Climate Change Division. Recent advancements in wildlife conservation, particularly the expansion of tiger and rhino populations, are in part thanks to him. At the COP conferences, he oversaw the Nepalese delegation as well. During Dhakal's tenure as DG, Nepal gained a significant victory with the doubling of the tiger population. Despite its successes in protecting wildlife, Nepal faces a tremendous challenge in managing the growing human-wildlife conflicts. Dhakal and KESHAB POUDEL discussed a number of topics. Excerpts

Feb. 1, 2023, 8:30 p.m.

What part do you think the department is playing in the current wildlife conservation?

With a solid legal foundation, our department is the top agency for biodiversity preservation. Nepal has a wide variety of habitats, plants, and wildlife. The policy that was implemented in 1970 is what led to the current success in conservation. In terms of conservation, the department's function is always vital. The department's involvement in preserving and saving these species has expanded in response to the rising number of endangered species and areas of protected national parks. The department has a distinct vision, mission, and strategy since I was named director general. Our strategy will be strengthened even more by the recently enacted Protected Area Management Strategy 2022–2030.

What condition is the national park in right now?

There has been a network of 20 Protected Areas (PA) since the Chitwan National Park was founded in 1973 to safeguard the bigger one-horned rhinoceros . A total of 23.39 percent of Nepal's territory is protected, including National Parks 12, Wildlife Reserve 1, Conservation Areas 6, and Buffer Zones 13.

As Nepal’s tiger populations have increased drastically, how do you see the challenges to protect them?

Nepal is one of the 13 nations in the world have tigers. Royal Bengal Tigers have been spotted in Nepal. The Royal Bengal Tiger's natural habitat is located in Nepal, Bhutan, India, and Bangladesh. The Terai Arc landscapes of Nepal, including Chitwan, Parsa, Bara, Bardia, and Shuklafata of Kanchanpur, are the only places where tigers may be found. These tigers have recently been spotted in Ilam and Dadelhura as well. The entire Terai subtropical forest, including the Chure mountain range, is an excellent tiger habitat. According to the 2010 census, Nepal is home to 121 tigers. The government of Nepal stated its intention to double the tiger population by 2022 based on that number in 2010. National parks, the Nepal Army, the local population, and organisasions working in protected areas like the National Trust for Conservation, WWF Nepal, and the Geological Society have all made significant contributions to raising money and providing technical assistance to the Department in the protection areas.

What role do you think conservation plays?

According to Nepal's pledge, the tiger population has risen significantly, more than doubling. Results of the census have already been released. In recent years, more tigers have also been seen as a positive sign of conservation. This demonstrates that there are many carnivorous species in Nepal as well. The Nepali government has received extensive strategic backing for this. The ecological sustainability of these species is critical. The moment has arrived to figure out how to make it economically sustainable. How to employ these species to promote tourism must be discussed and debated in order to achieve this.

How do you see tiger’s population?

Although the community, frontline department employees, and Nepal Army have all actively contributed to the growth of the tiger population, there are still some difficulties, such as an increase in incidents of conflict between the tiger and the community, the potential for tiger poaching, and the illegal trade in tiger body parts. Along with these difficulties, the risk from climate change has increased, increasing the likelihood of floods, inundation, landslides, and forest fires. The tiger's habitat will be destroyed by all of these instances. The tigers cannot find enough food in the event of habitat loss. This will have an impact on the tiger's general health. Given all these consequences, we must safeguard the tiger's food. Protecting the lush plains and water supplies like river banks, wells, and ponds is necessary for this. We won't be able to increase the tiger population unless by protecting green spaces and water sources. Boar, deer, monkeys, and numerous more species are among the foods that tigers eat.

What do you suggest for it?

There is a need to institutionalize research activities as well as raise awareness at community level. The significance of the tiger should extend beyond abstract ideas and moral precepts to include ramifications for how people live. The significance must be explored as a different strategy for enhancing societal economic gain. Under the umbrella of tourism marketing, strengthening local community economic activity capacity is crucial. For this, the green growth strategy for climate change should be combined with the strategy for wildlife preservation.

What dangers exist?

There are also a lot of hazards and vulnerabilities because of disasters brought on by climate change. I've already discussed how the timers will be more at risk from increasing floods, landslides, and water inundations. In the event of tragedies brought on by climate change, the plan should be altered to make the endangered species like tiger more adoptable.

What do you suggest to minimize the risk?

There need to protect the various dimensions of the tigers including habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation of grassland, water sourest, controlling poaching and wild-life crime and management of human-wildlife conflicts, adverse impacts of climate change, encroachment of alien species and research and generating the awareness. To provide a strategic road map for the efficient and long-term administration of protected areas and wildlife, the Protected Areas Management Strategy (2022-2030) has already been published.

How does Strategy see the protected area's administration?

A two-pronged approach should consist of exploring the opportunity and minimizing the harm. The protection of wildlife will so benefit not just the local but also the provincial and federal levels. On this policy, the department has been working.

What are the Strategy's Objectives?

By 2030, the policy aims to create ecosystems that are resilient to climate change and self-sustaining protected systems. The strategy's objective is to live in peace with nature by preserving biological resources to maintain ecological functions, supporting PA systems financially self sustained, and promoting social well-being.

What do you think of the fifty-year progress?

Nepal has already had great success protecting its natural resources , including its flora and wild animals. Important species including the tiger, one-horned rhinoceros, elephant, black buck, and wild water buffalo now have populations that were once on the edge of extinction. For instance, Nepal currently possesses 227 elephants, 355 givers, and 752 one-horned rhinos.

Do you want to create protected zones that can support themselves?

The national park and other protected places in Nepal are now ready to start making money so they can support themselves after receiving extensive assistance from the government of Nepal and Nepal's development partners. Some provisions for a self-sustaining management approach are included in the Protected Areas Management Strategy (2022-2030). In accordance with this plan, we will examine the revenue growth rate and discuss ways to involve the private sector in self-sustaining management.

What are the strategy's guiding principles?

The plan includes a species-focused eco-system approach, management that is climate resilient and adaptive, coexistence between people and animals, and balancing the requirements of development and conservation. The strategy also adheres to the guiding principles of carbon neutrality, inclusive and good governance, zero tolerance for wildlife crime, sustainable finance mechanisms, and zero tolerance for corruption.

What do you think of the protected area management?

We will investigate how to make protected regions economically self-sufficient. We will update the tariffs and include the private sector in the protected management in order to do this. We have experience running safaris through the jungle like Tiger Tops. The department will increase the private sector's participation in promoting nature-based tourism facilities and services in order to make protected areas self-sustaining. We also need to collaborate closely with a global group dedicated to wilderness and nature preservation. We won't be able to accomplish our aim without assistance from foreign groups.

In several areas of Eastern, Central, and Western Nepal, there has recently been an increase in the conflict between people and wildlife. Wildlife like elephants and tigers are held responsible for the conflict even though it was caused by human encroachment into areas that were designated as protected for wildlife. Which way do you see it?

Nepal is a nation with a strong agricultural economy and foundation in eastern philosophy. In the tiger and elephant habitat regions seventy years ago, there were hardly any human populations. Mass migration began in places with high levels of urbanization and wild-life habitat after the East-West Highway was built. Following Nepal's federalization, all attempts are being made to construct infrastructure. A lack of food is caused by recently constructed infrastructures that either split or destroy the tiger and elephant habitats. Similar to this, the conflict has grown as a result of new residents' interference in tiger and elephant habitats. The department is emphasizing coexistence between people and wildlife rather than criticizing wild creatures and people.

How many different tactics do you use?

The department will make use of cutting-edge technologies while enhancing the capacity and abilities of front-line employees. Create and implement site-specific action strategies to address human-wildlife conflict. For instance, the action plan for the Jhapa wild elephant habitat and the Chitwan, Bardia, and Shuklaphanta tiger habitat areas will differ. We'll also carry out alternate livelihood-improving initiatives for marginalized and poor populations..

Since human builds houses along the corridor of wildlife and encroach on their habitat areas, wildlife has been punished by adopting harsh and inhuman killing by electrifying them.

Can't we reduce the number of innocent wildlife deaths?

To prevent wildlife from entering populated areas, the Department is working to develop and maintain habitat and promote physically suitable obstacles for wildlife. We'll make sure there are dangers and barriers to the movement of wildlife. The goal of our entire plan is to reduce friction. This indicates that both wildlife and human lives will no longer be lost. In order to improve support for relief efforts and streamline the procedure, the agency will also modify the current human-wildlife conflict relief rules.

As the department's director general, don't you feel pain when you witness individuals bravely shooting elephants, tigers, and leopards, and when government figures condemn wildlife in public statements?

Laugh. Wild Animals and humans have been coexisting . In our eastern(Vaidik) Philosophy, wild creatures are revered as gods. The current conflicts are accidental, and we can reduce it and restore harmonious coexistence between humans and wildlife.

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