Ruminating wildlife protection on 21st Wildlife Week (Commentary)

Chitwan National ParkDeepraj Sanyal (Kathmandu) / April 16: As the country observes the 21st Wildlife Week April 13 through 19, it is high time conservationists and the policymakers pondered over the real challenges that lie ahead in tackling the two pertinent problems – poaching of wildlife and loss of habitat.

The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) has been celebrating first week of Nepali new year as Wildlife Week since 1997 in collaboration with national partners organising several awareness activities about wildlife of Nepal.

Although Nepal’s track record in wildlife conservation is satisfactory and some progress has been made in that direction over the past some years, there is still much room for progress and effectiveness in wildlife conservation efforts.

Nepal, a country with geographical and climatic diversity and varied types of vegetation, is rich in wildlife. It is home to a wide range of wildlife population and many of the wildlife feature in the list of endangered species. Clearly, Nepal is home to a stunning variety of creatures both big and small.

According to the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), there are 137 mammal species in Nepal, of which one is critically endangered, 11 are endangered, 20 are vulnerable, and four are near-threatened. Among the several species of mammal found in Nepal, notable are the Bengal fox, Bengal tiger, clouded leopard, corsac fox, Indian rhinoceros, Indian elephant, marbled cat, red panda, snow leopard, Tibetan fox, and Tibetan wolf. Some of these, including the internationally recognised snow leopard are endangered and at risk of extinction. Besides, these there are many other birds and reptiles species that are on verge of extinction.

The Wildlife Week this year is being marked around the slogan – The Future of Wildlife is in Our Hand. The theme could not be more appropriate in the present context when the future of the wild animals is becoming precarious every passing year. Over 900 bird species are known to exist in Nepal of which 30 species are globally threatened, one species is endemic and one species is introduced.

Coupled with the population explosion, mankind’s mad rush for development is threatening the very existence of the wildlife. Increasing human encroachment onto forests – be it for infrastructure development like roadways, railway and other structure or for agriculture or settlement – the total area under forests is shrinking year after year. The frequent occurrence of natural disasters like bushfires, landslide and floods is also helping exacerbate the situation. A combination of these factors contributes to the loss of forest cover every year, which again, leads to the shrinkage of the wildlife habitat. The loss of wildlife habitat is a serious problem which makes the wild animals more susceptible.

Apart from the continual loss of habitat, poaching is another matter of grave concern in wildlife protection. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the government and the wardens as well as the security agencies, poaching has been curbed to some extent in the country in the last few years. The observance of the ‘Zero Poaching Year’ has paid off in curbing poaching. Wildlife poaching was burgeoning when the country was passing through a grievous conflict and an extended period of political instability. Poachers and smugglers of wildlife parts were having hay day. But the signing of the peace accord on November 21, 2006 between the state and the then Maoist insurgents brought some semblance of political stability heralding some respite from the rampant poaching and trafficking in wildlife parts.

The active cooperation and support of the government agencies like the Department of Wildlife Conservation, the Nepalese Army, Nepal Police, the Armed Police Force and the customs department as well as of the community forest users’ committees and the donor agencies is indispensable in efforts at wildlife conservation. These agencies have been playing a commendable role as far as wildlife protection is concerned.

But only the lone effort of the government bodies including the security agencies as well as the donor agencies and the forest users’ committees would not be sufficient enough to effectively curtail poaching and trafficking of wildlife parts. The community at large should be sensitized on the need of wildlife protection and how this is going to benefit the people.

In this context, one of the primary objectives of the Wildlife Week is spreading awareness among all the concerned bodies, classes and communities that wildlife is the asset of the country. The students, the common illiterate people in the rural areas and all the people in the community have to be informed well about the importance of wildlife and how our life is tied to the wild animals, and the need to protect them. Any plan at curbing poaching of wild animals and protecting the wildlife will require the full support of the local community. If the lay people are aware and well-informed about the importance of protecting the wildlife, then they can help in its protection.

As such, in collaboration with the local community the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation has adopted new technology for curbing poaching activities. The police and the administration have been activated. These efforts have largely been successful in curtailing poaching. Take for instance the Chitwan National Park. It implemented ‘zero poaching year’ three times, which have been largely successful in their mission.

However, experts opine that these efforts alone would not suffice to protect the wildlife. They are for monitoring the wildlife for the presence of any disease in the wild animals. For instance a new challenge has emerged in the conservation of the rare one-horned rhino in Chitwan National Park after a report confirmed a month back that one one-horned rhino in the national park had contracted tuberculosis. This was the first time that the tuberculosis was spotted in a rhino.

In the view of Dr Naresh Subedi, an expert in rhinoceros, poaching is not the only challenge but a new challenge has emerged in wildlife protection. “Now there is the need of carrying out deep and scientific study also of the wild animals for making the conservation works effective,” Dr Subedi, who is also the senior conservation officer at the National Trust for Nature Conservation, said adding that confirmation of TB in a rhino has proved that we need to carry out detailed study of even those wild animals that die of natural causes. RSS

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