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SOS Rhino : In the News : Rhino Population Will Increase Again

Rhino Population Will Increase Again

Peace Journalism
Independent emagazine
Issue 11 – September, 2005


Director General of the Department of National Park and Wildlife ConservationDr. TIRTHA MAN MASKEY is a well known person in the conservation sector in Nepal . Maskey joined as a warden of Royal Chitwan National Park in 1972. He completed his Master’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1978 on Wildlife Management. He did Ph.D in 1979 from University of Florida on Wildlife and Range Management specializing in Gharial Conservation. Along with receiving medals in Nepal , he also received Award from Netherlands ’s Prince Bernhard - the Order of Golden Ark. He has visited national parks and wildlife reserves extensively. Dr. Maskey spoke to KESHAB POUDEL on various issues confronting the conservation sector in the country. Excerpts:

How do you see the state of wildlife conservation in the last three decades?

One can see many changes in the area of conservation. During the initial days, nobody knew what the wildlife conservation and management were all about. When I went to work as a warden in Royal Chitwan National Park , local people were unaware about the concept of conservation. They used resources from the declared sanctuaries. So it was very difficult to convince local people about the benefits of conservation. In initial phase, our efforts were concentrated towards conservation of mega species like Rhinos, elephant, Tiger, Ghaur and others since these wild animals were on the verge of extinction. For example, the population of rhino was about 80-100 and the tiger population was below 30. The Ghaur population was almost extinct. The wild elephant population was absent from the area.

What was the first objective then?

Our first objective was to control illegal use of natural resources for the betterment of wildlife habitat. It was a big challenge for me because it was not easy to convince the people about the conservation of these mega species by stopping their collections of natural resources. So that way, we were mainly concentrated on species conservation. After three decades, the situation has changed because of the effective and successful conservation efforts by the government. All the animal population has increased. Because of the increase in the animal population, there were many consequences that were seen in the neighboring areas like the killing of livestock, crop raiding etc. Then all of a sudden, the conflict erupted between man and wild-animal. On the other hand, the human population in the buffer zone, too, had grown in the meantime. This resulted in the human- wild animal conflict. To resolve this conflict, we discussed with the people. The people argued that they could not benefit from conservation because all the income made by protected areas, national parks and wildlife reserves went to the pockets of the government. Even when wild animals destroyed their crops, the local communities did not get any compensation. Their livestock were killed by tigers and leopards. In such a scenario, how could they help to protect the wild animals? In fact, local communities were correct because they did not get anything from conservation.

What programs you had to improve relations between people and wild animals?

To improve the relations between wild animals and local communities and inject the feeling of ownership on conservation, we introduced the concept of buffer zone. We realized that without the participation of local communities, the conservation will not become successful. The conservation is for the benefit of the local communities since they are the stakeholders of local resources. They want to share the benefits for the betterment of their livelihood. After the implementation of buffer zone concept, we are providing local communities fifty percent of income generated by Royal Chitwan National Park . Local people are spending the money in different community development activities like irrigation programs, road constructions, income generating activities, literacy programs and so on. Following the introduction of buffer zone concept, people are aware of the benefit of the conservation. Our experiences have shown that we can change the attitude of people towards conservation. When we started the park and people program, we received overwhelming support from the local community. It shows there is a need to generate feeling of ownership towards the conservation programs. Twenty-two years after the establishment of the parks, we started community mobilization in conservation through different programs. When I met local community members and discussed about their participation in conservation, I was so much encouraged to find positive response of local communities. After working for so many years, I am very happy to say that local communities are now appreciating the importance of conservation. I feel that the government has been successful to win the heart of local communities.

What is the level of conflict now between people and wild animals?

There are still some conflicts between human population living outside protected areas and wild animals living inside the park. Since the resources left out side the protected areas have been used up, local community enter into the protected areas. There were many Sal forests outside the park areas in early days. Because of indiscriminate use by local people, most of the forest outside the park has already vanished. Local people enter into the park to get resources and animals come out of the park to graze in the crop fields and sometimes they kill the livestock. The buffer zone concept was introduced to grow the resources outside the park area.

How the violent insurgency is affecting the efforts of conservation?

We have been facing many problems because of violent insurgency. Because of violent insurgency, we have to remove many security posts. The RNA reduced the number of security posts by merging the smaller ones. This has created big gap in security arrangement and poachers have benefited. We have learnt now how to fill the vacuum created by removal of the security posts. Because of removal of security posts, poaching activities increased in 2002 and 2003. We lost many rhinos. Now we have changed our strategy concentrating on mobilization of security and our staffs. We are trying to strengthen our communication system. Now the poaching has again gone down. It was 30 cases of poaching in 2003 and now it came down to 10. We are trying to completely control poaching but it is very difficult to fight with poachers. We have already caught more than 50 poachers in the last few years but there are still some poaching going on.

How many staffs your organization has lost due to insurgency?

Our staffs are working very hard in the national parks and conservation areas. They have to constantly work under threat to their life. Last year, we had lost five very good staffs when their patrolling vehicle was blown up by the Maoist landmine. They were on duty. In Shuklaphata, we had another incident when we lost two parks staffs. Despite all these difficulties, threats and challenges, our staffs are working hard to protect the wild animals. They stand alert 24 hours a day and they take risk of their own life to protect the wild-animals. Because of dedication and hard work of our staffs, we are able to bring down the poaching rate.

What are the stages of conservations?

We have already passed three stages by now. Initial period was species conservation and second stage was integrated development program involving local communities in conservation. Now we are experiencing that effective conservation in the protected areas increased the wild animal population and wild animals are coming out of park. If we don’t implement new idea, protected areas are going to be Islands and that is not good for the long term protection of wild animals. We have designed a landscape approach of conservation. Right now we have three landscape programs running under this department. One is Terai Arc Landscape Program –which covers four protected areas in the terai and they are connected with other seven protected areas in India . This type of program is very important for the free movement of the wild animals. Main objective of TAL project and other landscape programs is to develop connectivity and corridors for the animals.

How do you see the declining number of rhino population?

Rhino population declined but it is not as bad as projected in some media. We have more than 375 rhinos. If we can stop the poaching, their numbers will increase. We are working hard to control the rhino poaching. We have already implemented a new strategy and we have submitted a proposal for support. We want effective communication system in place. We are also raising some money to buy vehicles so that we can strengthen the mobility of the people. We will have mobile groups as well as local community on our side. We want support of local community and active involvement of local NGOs and INGOs. I am very much happy to say that many communities in the buffer zone areas have already launched door to door campaign to raise the awareness about the wildlife. Some students are also raising the awareness level launching campaigns against. We believe that rhino population will again increase

How efficient are your staffs?

Our staffs are very much motivated. Despite all these difficulties, our staffs have done wonderful jobs. Despite difficulties to implement other development programs, our staffs are implementing TAL program very successfully. Since these programs are for the local community, people are coming out to support us. This program is designed to benefit the people. We have 1000 staffs to cover 18 percent of Nepal ’s total land.

How do you see the support of other organizations?

We are successful in conservation because we closely work with national communities, NGOs and international non-governmental organizations. I would like to thank King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation for its support in wildlife conservation. The WWF-Nepal Program supports us in implementing many programs. Likewise, UNDP, CARE Nepal, SNV and other so many organizations are contributing for conservation of Nepal . Finally, I am very happy to say that it is the local community whose contribution has been immense. The support of local communities are making us model country in the conservation in whole Asia .

What is the state of wildlife in Nepal ?

We have seen fair number of wild animals in our national parks. There are 350 to 375 tigers, 159-185 wild elephants and 370 to 375 rhinos.

You are in the last leg of your government career, what are your future plans?

I will retire from the government job in next five month. But I am mentally not retired. I want to spend my whole life in conservation. Whether I am in the government office or outside, it would make no difference to my commitment towards conservation in Nepal . Whatever I can contribute, I will contribute to the conservation efforts of Nepal . I want to spend my whole life in this country. I will guide and share my experiences with my colleagues.

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