Nepal to Turn Parks Management Over to NGOs

By Deepak Gajurel

KATHMANDU, Nepal, September 4, 2003 (ENS) - A gang of four poachers was nabbed with illegal leopard skins in western Nepal recently. In a separate incident, police arrested a trader with tiger bones. Ten one-horned rhinos were found dead in July in Royal Chitwan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located in central Nepal.

Political turmoil and a Maoist insurgency are devastating this Himalayan country, and as a result, Nepal is experiencing a steep rise in the poaching of endangered wild animals in national parks and other protected areas.

Conservationists have been demanding stronger and more effective initiatives for wildlife conservation. In response, His Majesty's Government of Nepal has announced a policy of handing over the management of some of the country's protected areas to nongovernmental organizations.

Finance Minister Dr. Prakash Chandra Lohani in his budget speech July 17 announced that the government has adopted a policy of providing the country's conservation areas, barring four national parks and one wildlife reserve, to nongovernmental and other institutions for management.


Finance Minister of Nepal Dr. Prakash Chandra Lohani (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
Exempted from this policy are Royal Chitwan National Park, Royal Bardia National Park, and Sagarmatha National Park as well as Langtang National Park and Royal Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve.

The government has identified Khaptad National Park and Shey-Phoksundo National Park, both located in western hills of Nepal, and Makalu-Barun National Park, in the eastern hills, as three parks that could be subject to the new policy.

In addition, Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve and Parsa Wildlife Reserve, both in the southern plains of Terai bordering India, and Dhorpatan Wildlife Reserve in the western hills, were named by the government as potential sites that could be managed by national or international nongovernmental organizations.

Though officials at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation said that were not forewarned but learned of the new policy only through the budget speech, they now are engaged in preparing procedures to implement the policy. We are preparing the procedures, criteria and other things for hand over, an official at the department said.

But conservationists are pressuring the government to roll the policy back. Environmental experts and conservationists say handing over valuable bioresources to the private sector will ultimately have adverse impacts on protected areas and their rich resources.


Shey-Phoksundo National Park in the mountains of western Nepal, the country's largest national park, is on the list for NGO management. (Photo courtesy Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC))
"We don't know whether there was any policy level environment impact assessment before the decision. Has any scientist or expert proposed the change in the policy?" questions Bishwa Nath Upreti, a former Director General at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.

"Vested interests should not work on the conservation front," he warned, speaking at an interaction program organized by the Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ).

Citing global trends on the conservation of protected areas, conservation botanist Dr. Tirth Bahadur Shrestha said, "No country in the world has so far handed over its national reserves to private organizations." Chairman of the IUCN-World Conservation Union's Nepal National Committee, Dr. Shrestha told the experts and media at the interaction program, "It has further demonstrated the government's weakness and helplessness."

"We must not support the move that may ultimately give our protected areas to the multinational companies," Dr. Shrestha said.

The move is illegal say legal experts. Speaking at the NEFEJ discussion, legal expert Dr. Bharat Karki said, "There are legal difficulties to implement the decision as the existing legal status does not allow NGOs and other institutions to manage the protected areas."

Dr. Ravi Sharma Aryal, a wildlife law expert, argues that except for "conservation areas," no reserves and national parks can be managed by nongovernmental organizations or institutions other than government agencies under the existing law.

Currently, the Annapurna Conservation Area Project and Manaslu Conservation Area, in central hills of Nepal are managed by King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation, a nongovernmental organization set up by special legislation.

Similarly, management of Kanchanjunga Conservation Area, in eastern hills, is assisted by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Nepal Program.


An elephant in Parsa Wildlife Reserve near the Indian border. The reserve is slated for NGO management. (Photo courtesy DNPWC)
Defying the urging of experts and conservationists to reconsider the policy, the government is defending its strategy. The government took the decision keeping in line with the prevailing regulations, said an official at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, adding, "We will not make any compromise with our protected areas."

Speaking at the interaction program, Krishna Poudel, joint secretary at the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation said the move does not intend to harm Nepal's biodiversity conservation efforts but to upgrade management practices. "The move has opened new avenues towards protected area management, and we can review the decision if it doesn't work properly," said Poudel.

Despite such clarification from the government side, conservationists simply do not agree with the government policy.

"It is a devastating move which will sweep away all our past efforts in nature conservation," says environmental journalist Jeeb Nath Khanal. "There is no reason why we should hand over our public property to the private sector."

While conservationists argue with the government, the Maoists are stepping up their insurgency. On August 27, the Maoist leader Prachanda declared a unilateral end to a seven month long ceasefire.

The next day police said the rebels bombed and torched Dr. Lohani's country home, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Kathmandu. The house was unoccupied and no one was hurt in the incident.