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SOS Rhino : In the News : Threat From Disasters

Threat From Disasters
5 September 2003

The protected areas like national parks are under constant threat from natural disasters like floods and landslides


Nepal's national parks and wildlife reserves are under a constant threat of natural disasters like floods and landslides during the three months of monsoon Æ June till August. The floods and landslides cause enormous damage to the habitats of endangered animals as well as other infrastructures. In the last three months of this yearÍs monsoon, 20 soldiers who were stationed to protect a conservation site were swept away by landslides, two rhinos killed by floods and an elephant breeding center was inundated.

"There is too much rain in too short period. During one hundred days of rainy season, more than 80 percent of total annual rainfall occur (about 1500 millimeters) fall in Nepal washing out geologically unstable soil in the hills and causing floods in the plain," said Batu Krishna Uprety, senior environmentalist at the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation

"In the hilly areas over exploitation of natural resources particularly the forest and over use of soil in the valley cause flash floods and inundations which are worsened by the aggradations of riverbed due to the deposition of sediment discharge," he said.

Floods and land slides frequently damage physical structures and habitats and lives of endangered species. Last week, a torrential rain washed out a security check post of Royal Nepalese Army. The check post at Ramche village in Rasuwa, was deployed to protect Langtang National Park, 70 miles north of the valley, which also borders with the Tibet. The sudden landslide killed 20 security personal on August 15.

Home of the endangered Red Panda, musk deer, and Himalayan Tahr, snow leopard and more than 250 species of birds, Langtang National Park, which is among the three national parks that lies in the countryÍs north bordering Tibet, occupies an area of 1,710 sq kilometer with ranges of height from 2000 meter above sea-level in its south to 6,000 meter in its northern parts.

More than 4,000 personnel of the Royal Nepalese Army are deployed to protect 8 national parks, 4 wildlife reserves,3 conservation areas and one hunting reserves covering a total area of 27,345, or 18.14 percent of NepalÍs total land.

The flood in Saryu River damaged Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, which lies at the bank of Saptakosi one of the main tributaries of the Ganges 350 miles east of Kathmandu. "A flash flood in Suryu river washed away some endangered animals and security posts at Koshi Tappu, which occupies 176 square kilometer of land and is home of the estimated 150 endangered wild-buffalos," said Lekhanth Pokharel, official working with Department of Narcotics Control and Disaster Management. "This yearsÍ flash floods and landslides killed 250 people and 674 animals."

Rapid and intense flooding of the reserve, depths ranging from 10-300-cusec meter, occurs during the rainy session. Embankments have been constructed parallel to the river to control the flooding but high volume of water flooded the reserve.

"Animals, flora fauna and infrastructures in different national parks and wild life reserves are under constant risk of floods and landslides," said Dr. Tirthaman Maskey, director general of Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC). "NepalÍs almost all major rivers either originate in the national parks or pass through them. These parks and wild life reserves are the lifeline of the entire eco-system but landslides and floods are perennial problem to their well-being especially during monsoon."

"We have lost many infrastructures this year including security check posts in Chitwan, Koshi Tappu and Langtang, sheds of elephant breeding center in Chitwan. The total cost of the damage is yet to be evaluated," said Maskey.

The early flood of July also incurred some major damage in Chitwan National Park, largest and oldest national park 80 miles south of Kathmandu, killing two one-horned rhinos and many other animals. Another rhino, which was trapped in an irrigation canal in India, was rescued but only after it killed one local villager and injured three others.

"We have contributed about US$ 1,200 to rescue the rhino and bring it back to the Royal Chitwan National Park," said Dr. Chandra Gurung, Country Representative of World Wildlife Fund (WWF). "We donÍt have any specific long term program aiming to protect the national park from floods. WWF provides support in the emergency situation to rescue the endangered species trapped in the natural disaster."

The DNPWC, which has annual budget of US$ 3 million, allocates some amount to build the embankment along the rivers but they seem to be inadequate to prevent the floods from entering into the national park areas. "The rhinoceros and elephants can survive major floods but the victims are mostly deer, wild boars and other animals. Chitwan, which occupies 932 square kilometer in the subtropical lowlands in terai, is a home to around 600 of the worldÍs endangered rhinos and about 80 Royal Bengal Tigers.

One of the major devastating flood in 1993 had badly damaged the Royal Chitwan National Park and its infrastructures. "The frequencies of floods have increased particularly in the national park lying in the south plains. Royal Bardia National park, situated 400 miles west of Kathmandu and Royal Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserves, too, suffer from floods.

According to the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), which is responsible to manage national parks and wildlife reserves, at least half a dozen incidents of flash floods causing damages to conservation sites are recorded annually. According to a study conducted by the Ministry of Water Resources, riverbeds are rising in the plain areas at the rate 15 to 30 centimeters.

"Since forest are vanishing in the hills and more land are used to grow the food in plain clearing the forest, NepalÍs national parks and wild life will be under a high risk of floods and landslides in future,î said Uprety.