GUWAHATI, Feb 27 � At a time when rampant poaching is pushing prime wildlife habitats across Asia and Africa to the brink, Nepal has achieved the most amazing feat of zero-poaching, as not a single tiger, rhino and elephant � three animals most vulnerable to poaching � fell to poachers last year.
Conservationists believe that Assam, which has been totally clueless in the face of mounting rhino fatalities, can learn a thing or two from Nepal�s handling of conservation. Nepal�s remarkable turnaround has been attributed � besides targeted intelligence-led enforcement action � to large-scale participation of communities living in fringe areas of forests in conservation. This committed community engagement is the result of the Nepal Government�s policy that ensures that as much as 50 per cent of the tourism-generated revenue in national parks ends up benefitting the fringe-dwellers.
Involving local communities in conservation is all the more imperative in Assam, as the relation between fringe-dwellers and forest managers ranges from one of constant friction to downright hostility in many of the State�s forests.
Dr Dipankar Ghose, director of Species and Landscapes Programme, WWF-India, told The Assam Tribune that Nepal�s success against poaching renewed hopes for conservation through community involvement.
�Even though the conservation challenges may differ in different countries, replication of the Nepal experiment is worth a try in some protected areas in India where the problems and issues involved are similar in nature,� he said.
Assam�s new Forest Minister Atuwa Munda told The Assam Tribune that he had already set community participation as a priority, especially in Kaziranga National Park, which was bearing the brunt of rhino poaching.
�While I am not much aware of the developments in Nepal, I strongly believe in involving local communities in conservation. I have already visited some fringe villages of Kaziranga and interacted with the local people who have pledged their support for its cause,� he said.
Munda added that allotting a share of the tourism proceeds generated by national parks and wildlife sanctuaries for community development work was a good idea. �As of now, tourism revenue goes to the Department of Tourism, but we will see if some arrangements can be worked out for ensuring some benefit to the fringe-dwellers from such funds,� he said.
In Nepal, there are now over 400 community-based anti-poaching units across its wildlife habitats. They keep constant vigil on wildlife trafficking, patrol park boundaries and wildlife corridors, and remove snares, among other things.
The 50 per cent of tourism proceeds from Nepal�s national parks is used in building farm roads, local schools, health centres and much-needed irrigation facilities. It is not a surprise why the cooperative conservation effort is working wonders.
According to WWF-Nepal�s Diwakar Chapagain, sustainable conservation requires more than wildlife experts, especially in the context of the devastating impact of poaching in many of the wildlife habitats of Asia.
�We have to involve people on the ground � volunteers and local law enforcement agencies must have a stake in the process. Otherwise, conservation is not sustainable. Spending money and running awareness campaigns is not enough. You need boots on the ground and that�s where local communities and law enforcement play an important role in cracking down on poachers,� he said at an international symposium on the topic �Towards Zero Poaching in Asia� in Kathmandu earlier this month.
Nepal had already celebrated zero-poaching years in 2011 and 2014. In addition to this success, not a single tiger has been killed in the last three years. Tigers best demonstrate the success achieved in recent years by Nepal. The tiger population rose by nearly two-thirds between 2009 and 2013.
Almost 23 per cent land in Nepal has been protected as conservation area to sustain endangered flora and fauna in their natural habitat. The country boasts of ten national parks, six conservation areas and three wildlife reserves, encompassing 13,000 square miles. As Nepal serves as a hub for transnational wildlife trafficking, it works cooperatively with China and India to curb illegal trade.