A conservation success story - Veterinary Practice
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A conservation success story

Our conservation
witnesses the effects
of a common sense
approach in Nepal’s
Chitwan region

I AM WRITING THIS FROM CHITWAN National Park in southern Nepal, close to the border with India. Chitwan extends around 900 square kilometres and was the first of Nepal’s National Parks. In many ways, its establishment and development is something of a conservation success story. Asian one-horned rhino numbers in the park have increased from possibly below 100 in the 1960s to a little over 500 today and there is a healthy tiger population of some 120 individuals. In addition there are leopards, sloth bears, Indian bison or gaur, several species of deer and over 500 species of birds. How has a country like Nepal, one of the poorest in the world, managed to achieve this? The path to Chitwan’s success stemmed from the political willingness of the Nepalese government to safeguard the area which controversially saw tens of thousands of people relocated from within the park boundaries. The government set up an armed guard unit with posts throughout the park to protect the rhinos and other animals from poachers. In recognition of the protection given and its importance as a wildlife habitat, Chitwan was acclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, and in 1996 a further 750 square kilometres around the park was designated as a buffer zone. The natural resources in the buffer zone are jointly managed by the park authorities and the people who live there. A significant amount of the revenue obtained from fees to visit the park is given back to those in the buffer zone to assist with community development. For a country as poor as Nepal, money to develop worthwhile ventures is frequently in short supply. Being woefully short of natural resources and lacking any global manufacturing base, tourism is one of its trump cards and probably its biggest foreign currency earner. While most people would probably think of Himalayan treks and historical sites (Kathmandu alone has numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites), the opportunities to see a diverse range of wildlife are probably less well-known. However, that is changing rapidly and there is now a thriving ecotourism industry based in Chitwan with Jeep safaris, jungle treks and canoe “cruises” along the rivers. All of these activities are popular and they bring significant revenue to the area. There is now a huge range of lodges and hotels on the outskirts of the park to serve the many thousands of tourists that flock to the area each year.


The continued success of Chitwan is not without its challenges. There is significant pollution of the rivers that flow into the park and this of course impacts on the park’s ecosystem, not least on the survival of one of the world’s most threatened crocodilians, the gharial. Claimed to be the world’s longest crocodile, the species has an elongated and narrow snout armed with dozens of thin, sharp teeth. Completely harmless to humans, the gharial is a
specialist fish-eater; the same cannot be said for the mugger crocodile, which also occurs widely within the park. This is a more opportunistic feeder and larger individuals pose a threat to local peoples who are permitted to fish in the river and to cross it at certain times of year to enter the park to collect firewood and cut elephant grass for their livestock. In two days exploring the park with a local guide I saw no fewer than 14 rhinos. The highlight was when walking along a jungle path, a huge male approached from the opposite direction to within 50 metres before lying down in a mud wallow close to the track and rolling onto its back like a horse let out from its stable. He never even sensed we were there. Full marks then to Nepal for the efforts they have gone to in creating an authentic wildlife experience by conserving an important ecosystem that is now bringing benefits to both the local community and the country as a whole. It is a model that could be usefully exploited around the world and provides hope that all is not lost when it comes to conserving top-end predators and large herbivores that invariably compete with humans for the scarce resources available.

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