Siliguri (PR) – Human-wildlife interactions (conflict) and wildlife crime are among the largest threats to conservation efforts and the livelihoods of rural communities in the Kangchenjunga Landscape (KL).
Recognizing the transboundary nature of these challenges, government, research institutions, and civil society representatives of Bhutan, India, and Nepal, who share this landscape, have come together to outline a strategic regional roadmap for cooperation in consonance with each Nation’s priority for conservation and enhancing livelihoods of its citizens.
Speaking at the Reconciling Human-Wildlife Interface in the Kangchenjunga Landscape: Regional Dialogue for Action event organized by West Bengal Forest Directorate and International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Siliguri 9–11 December, Dr Soumitra Dasgupta, Inspector General of Forests (Wildlife), who was representing the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change of India said,
“Kangchenjunga Landscape is an extremely important global biodiversity hotspots and we share this landscape between three countries. Wildlife does not understand political borders and for communities in the forefront of human-wildlife conflict, it is a stressful situation.”
The incidence of human-wildlife conflict is rising for several reasons. Over a ten year period (2000-2010), 1,118 sq.km of habitat types such as riverine grasslands and tree cover were lost in the Landscape, 74% of which was converted to rangeland and 26% to agricultural land. The loss and degradation of wildlife habitat, which consequently affects food availability, increases the probability of wildlife intrusions into human settlements, resulting in crop and livestock depredation, infrastructure damage, and loss of human life.
Various mitigation measures to address human-wildlife conflicts have been implemented in the Landscape, including crop/livestock guarding, physical and electric fencing, sound and/or light alarm systems, and livestock insurance schemes. However, in some areas, retaliatory killing of wildlife species has also been reported.
As part of the meeting, participants from the three countries were taken on a landscape journey in the three countries, to showcase some activities being implemented to mitigate conflicts. Special emphasis was given on sharing on elephant related issues. The southern portions of the Kangchenjunga Landscape were once home to large herds of wild elephant that migrated from the plains of southeastern Nepal, through Bhutan and West Bengal, India into Assam, India.
Much of this elephant habitat has been significantly altered and obstructing traditional migration paths. On the other hand the number of elephants has also increased due to conservation efforts. As a result, conflicts between humans and elephants, resulting in the destruction of infrastructure and crops, as well as occasionally causing human fatalities, have been on the rise.
Mr. Gopal Prakash Bhattarai, Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, who led the official delegation from Nepal, stressed, “This is the right time for the three countries to work closely together. There is an urgent need to collectively monitor, study and share information in a timely manner about movement of wildlife in the landscape. There is also a need to share best practices and replicate them appropriately.”
Further echoing the need for urgency, Mr. Ravikant Sinha, PCCF (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden, Government of West Bengal said: “It is imperative that we all keep the movement paths of animals open and unhindered at all times. While protection of communities and property needs to be addressed, it should also allow for safe passage to animals.”
The Kangchenjunga Landscape is home to charismatic wildlife species such as the snow leopard, red panda, pangolin, takin, Himalayan black bear, and musk deer – all of which are globally threatened. Many of these species are threatened by poaching for the illegal trade of their body parts including pelt/scales, bile, or musk. Illegal trade of pangolin scales, tiger pelt, rhino horns, butterflies and rhino beetles have been reported from eastern Nepal bordering India. Greater cooperation across borders can also help address some factors influencing poaching and illegal trade in the border areas of the landscape – a lucrative market, porous borders, and insufficient patrolling.
“Human-wildlife conflict is without doubt a major challenge for all three countries, but illegal trade in wildlife is also an important issue which needs to be addressed collectively by our three countries,” said Mr. Tashi Tobgyel from the Department of Forests and Park Services, and the leader of the Bhutanese delegation.
Over the week long site visits and meetings, representatives of related line agencies from Bhutan, India, and Nepal, government institutions involved in curbing wildlife crime and relevant non-governmental and civil society organizations, developed a shared understanding of regional, bilateral, and local issues related to human-wildlife conflicts and wildlife crime. The roadmap which will be developed collectively will outline short-term, medium-term, and long-term actions and measures that will be implemented.
This new collaboration will also help the three countries of the landscape contribute to the goals of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). All three countries have ratified CITES (Nepal in 1975, India in 1976, and Bhutan in 2002). Recognizing that trade in wild animals and plants is transboundary in nature within the landscape, representatives at the meeting also called for greater regional cooperation to address this important, yet often neglected, issue.
Addressing the delegates at the Regional Dialogue, Dr. Eklabya Sharma, Deputy Director General of ICIMOD, said: “There are numerous challenges in the Landscape which is transboundary in nature; human-wildlife conflict, illegal wildlife trade, inter-species spread of disease, human induced forest fires, to name a few. The commitment of Bhutan, India and Nepal to work together on these shared transboundary issues could serve as a great example for other countries and regions of the world to do the same.”