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Protected Areas: For species, habitats and people

Protected areas (PAs) have been established for a level of protection of ecosystems, biological processes and species. According to IUCN and UN Environment's World Conservation Monitoring Centre, there are 238,563 designated protected areas as of July 2018. Most areas are on land, and collectively protect just over 20 million km2, equivalent to 14.9% of the earth’s land surface. PAs such as national parks, wildlife reserves and conservation areas represent today one of the most important methods of conserving biological diversity worldwide. Beyond biodiversity benefits and ecosystem services that protected areas provide, they can also create investment opportunities and employment. As such, protected areas are crucial for attaining the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity and meeting the 2010 biodiversity target, and the Sustainable Development Goals. Considering the growing importance of the PA system globally, Nepal has established a fairly extensive network of protected areas that cover 23.39% of its total land area which is equivalent to 34,419 km2. This includes twelve national parks, one wildlife reserve, six conservation areas, one hunting reserve and thirteen buffer zones. The major challenges in the protected area management are degradation of habitats, wildlife crime, human encroachment, and human-wildlife conflict.

NTNC, since its early years, has been supporting the Government of Nepal (GoN) in the establishment and effective management of protected areas. NTNC is the only institution in the country mandated by GoN to manage three protected areas, namely: Annapurna, Manaslu and Gaurishankar Conservation Areas which makes up 33% of the total protected area coverage of the country. Besides this, NTNC also closely collaborate with the government and other conservation stakeholders across all the PAs in Terai where NTNC helps build conservation capacities through wildlife research and monitoring, habitat management, human-wildlife coexistence, problem animal management, combatting wildlife crime, community mobilization and capacity development. Over the years, our learnings and research outcomes have been especially instrumental in evidence-based decision making both at the management and at the policy level. 

As a change agent in the PA management system of the country, NTNC has been responsible for pioneering the concept of conservation area (CA) in Nepal. This was done by establishing the Annapurna Conservation Area as the first CA in the country which helped to institutionalized community-based conservation, and has been recognized subsequently as a proven model for sustainability up to this day. Today, CA has turn out to be one of the major PA categories in the country. Likewise, the concept of buffer zone community forest introduced in the Baghmara has been a case of tremendous success in creating a win-win situation considering communities as beneficiaries of conservation, but also as a new nature-based tourism product.

Healthy Ecosystems: A foundation to sustainable, resilient development

Nepal’s location in the transition of palearctic and oriental biogeographic realm along with its sharp variation in elevation makes it a biological hotspot with 118 different ecosystem types. These ecosystems harbor rich diversity of flora and fauna, and provide various goods and services that are vital for the well-being of people. However, these ecosystems are under increasing pressure from human disturbances, further compounded by climate change.

NTNC actively engages in understanding patterns, processes and the complex interactions in search of viable management options for maintaining the health and functionality of ecosystems. Restoration and rehabilitation of natural landscapes considering ecological, social and cultural needs of current and future generations underpins effective ecosystem management strategies of NTNC. Restoration of forest corridors in the Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) is a notable example of increased connectivity contributing to the genetic flow and facilitated dispersal of species.

NTNC interventions in forest and grassland restoration, and rehabilitation have not only reduced the pressure of forest resources, but also extended wildlife habitat, subsequently opening new avenues for tourism development. Restoration efforts initiated by NTNC in the early 90’s in Baghmara and Kumrose together with better community management are now prime wildlife habitats offering ecotourism opportunities that have become one of the mainstay of incomes for local communities. In addition, it has also supported sustainable forest management in buffer zone/community forests of PAs by assisting them to prepare operational plans and providing trainings to forest users. Besides forest ecosystems, NTNC has been providing support in restoration and management of rangelands, grasslands and wetlands that have served as key points in the biodiversity success of the country.