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SOS Rhino : In the News : Armed Conflict Impact On Conservation

Armed Conflict Impact On Conservation

  The Rising Nepal
Last Updated: 6:00 AM NST Kathmandu - June 24, 2005


By Bhimsen Thapaliya

WHEN the census takers were counting the greater one-horned rhinoceros in the jungles of Chitwan valley recently, it was not only the 170 big animals that had disappeared. Something else, equally important from the conservation perspective, were also missing. The number of security posts that guarded the world's rare animals had also vanished to worrisome levels.


There used to be 32 security posts in this crucial rhino habitat in central Nepal manned by army personnel. The security forces patrolled the jungle to save the animals from possible attacks by poachers who kill the animals for their horns. The loss of more than 170 Rhinoceros unicornis from the Royal Chitwan National Park (RCNP) in the last few years is not a coincidence. Due to the rising security threats from the Maoist insurgents, the 32 armed security posts had been reduced to seven.

This is only one instance of the many negative impacts the ongoing conflict has had on the conservation efforts of Nepal. Just like the other areas, the conflict has not left the conservation sector untouched.

The forest and park personnel frequently come under attack. Two rangers, two game scouts and a driver of Parsa Wildlife Reserve in central Nepal were killed in a landmine set off by the Maoist insurgents on November 22, 2004.

The Maoist insurgency that started in February 1996 has so far claimed around 11,000 lives throughout the country. Forest range posts and park offices become frequent target of the Maoist rebels as part of their destructive mission of attacking any government facility. They have also been attacking transport and development infrastructure, which makes security mobilisation difficult.

After patrolling the forests and parks became risky, some security posts were either vacated or merged, giving rise to all kinds of illegal activities in the protected areas and government forests. The rare and endangered animals such as the one-horned rhinoceros, Royal Bengal tiger, Indian wild elephant, musk deer and snow leopard have fallen easy prey to the poachers. The natural habitats of these animals are also dwindling because the criminal-minded people are taking advantage of the vulnerable situation arising from the armed insurgency. Poaching, illegal logging, cattle grazing, rampant collection of fuel-wood and livestock fodder and smuggling of commercial herbs pose a challenge to Nepal's conservation efforts that have been acclaimed as being highly innovative and successful for their integrated and participatory approach.

Due to threats from the insurgents, many people in the hills are forced to flee their villages in search of security. These displaced people usually set up makeshift camps along the East-West Highway running through the dense forest stretches of the terai plains. They depend on the forest resources for fuel and shelter, which results in critical deforestation. Past governments tried to liberate the bonded labourers of the western and far-western regions of the country only to resettle many of them on plots near the forests. This has put a lot of pressure on the forests of the far-western districts.

Community forestry has been one of the best practices of Nepal's conservation arena. There are over 12,000 community forest users committees throughout the country. These grassroots committees comprise local men and women acting as managers who maintain the existing forests and help regenerate new forests in the former barren lands. There are even forest management committees run only by women.

Conservation experts report that the Maoist conflict has given rise to different levels of management problems and crises in these committees. A certain portion of the revenue generated through the sale of community forest products must be used in the forest expansion and conservation measures. This money has now been diverted to the rebels in the form of donations. Many members of the forest committees have been forced to go into exile by the insurgents. As the committees are the handlers of forest money, the insurgents try to hold sway in the formation of these bodies. People with expertise and dedication to conservation have been deprived from being members of the committee.

In his article "The Wounds of Neglect" published in the journal Habitat Himalaya, bio-diversity consultant Dr. Pralad Yonzon says that in the protected areas of Nepal where army posts are absent, Maoist insurgents have conducted warfare training to their cadres. In the Makalu-Barun National Park in northeastern Nepal, the insurgents are reported to have extorted money from foreign visitors. Such activities of the rebels contradict their claim that they have no intention of disrupting eco-tourism.

It is frequently reported in the media that the Maoist rebels have used the Royal Bardia National Park and Royal Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve in the western plains of the country as safety valves to cross over to India. The insurgents use the unpatrolled jungle belts to smuggle in arms and explosives from India.

Wildlife poachers, who are said to have become rich and high-tech, have exploited the vulnerable security situation in the protected areas resulting from the armed conflict to accomplish their criminal missions. In 2000, poachers killed 38 rhinos. Last year, the World Wildlife Fund Nepal had to cancel its programme of translocating the rhinos from the Royal Chitwan National Park for security reasons.

A workshop held during the third World Conservation Congress in Bangkok in January tried to draw lessons from Nepal's experiences in effective conservation during times of conflict. Organisations active in conservation have been asked to remain equipped with contingency plans to effectively deal with the conflict situation. As in normal situations, the participatory model can serve as the best. When the local beneficiaries are educated and made ready to serve as custodians of local wildlife and natural resources, that is going to build a solid fortress. Local participation is the all-time best model of conservation.


The World Conservation Congress recommended that conservation institutions prove their legitimacy by working in a transparent manner, maintaining programme continuity and helping reduce the poverty of the local people. In this way, conservation may contribute to lessening the conflict. HEADLINES

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