Government's plan to introduce tourism activities in protected areas alarms conservationists

Kathmandu , June 10th 2019

The government’s plan to introduce tourism activities inside protected parks of the country for revenue generation has alarmed conservationists who say such interventions could cause massive degradation of biodiversity.

The government has drafted a new working procedure with a view to promoting and regulating tourism inside all the protected areas of the country.

The new working procedure will pave the way for entrepreneurs to enter the conservation areas where they will provide jungle safari, ultra-running, cycling, rock climbing, hiking, boating, canopy walk and paragliding, among other adventure sports and activities to attract tourists.

Conservationists say while revenue generation is essential for covering expenses of such protected parks, government authorities should be careful about the adverse impact they can have on wildlife and the environment.

“National parks cannot sustain with what they earn, especially in countries like Nepal where the government has a list of priorities other than conservation,” Yadav Ghimirey, a conservation biologist at Friends of Nature, told the Post. “Therefore, protected areas should develop some mechanisms to earn revenues without much negative impact on their resources and wildlife.”

However, as happens in Nepal all the time, said Ghimirey, such moves could go horribly wrong if favouritism and nepotism prevail during any stage of the process.

“If that happens, it will be the start of a painful time for the wildlife inside the national parks,” he said.

Nepal’s protected areas with coverage of over 3.4 million hectares of forest are also home to rich biodiversity and a source of environmental services. These conservation areas also shelter valuable wildlife like tigers, one-horned rhinos, elephants, hundreds of mammals and birds species. Growing human pressure--which often results in human-wildlife conflict--and shrinking and fragmentation of their habitat have already posed threat to wildlife.

In recent years, Nepal has shown an exemplary role in the overall conservation of green cover, biodiversity and its wild animals. Now, the country wants to capitalise on its available natural resources to generate income for the country.

“So far, we have succeeded in conservation. Now it’s time to reap the tangible benefits for all. Revenue generation from protected areas and tourism is also the goal of the government,” said Man Bahadur Khadka, director general of the Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation.

But according to Uttam Babu Shrestha, an expert on biodiversity, such intervention, for example, in the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park (SNNP) will have three major consequences on ecosystem services, biodiversity and communities living inside the park.

“The immediate and direct impact is on the ecosystems and biodiversity which provide several ecosystem services like carbon, water [drinking, electricity, irrigation] for the Valley that costs nearly 11 million dollars per year as per one study,” Shrestha, who is currently associated with the University of Southern Queensland, Australia as a research fellow, told the Post.

“After the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park was established, locals were not allowed to get goods and services from there, which they have been doing for centuries. They are in fact suffering from the crop raiding by wild animals of the park. However, the proposed safari will be advantageous to not the sufferers but the outsiders--private companies. This is not good from the social justice point of view.”

According to Shrestha, Shivapuri-Nagarjun is an urban park and the only less impacted wilderness left in the Valley, and has huge educational, recreational and other values.

“The revenue generated by the proposed safari and other activities will be a tiny fraction compared to the whole ecosystem services provided by the park,” Shrestha said.

The Forest and Environment Ministry has started discussing the plan with the private sector as well.

In a recent interaction, the plan was discussed with representatives of the private sector--hotels, trekking agencies, and other tourism entrepreneurs.

As per the government statistics, over 60 percent of total tourists visiting Nepal reach protected areas of the country.

“As we all know the contribution of nature-based tourism to our economy is immense, the government should promote quality tourism as well,” said Bishnu Thapaliya, chief conservation officer at the Banke National Park, who was also part of the team that drafted the working procedure. “The proposed plan will take tourism, conservation and development with minimum impact on nature and maximum benefits,” he said.

Similar working procedures were already in operation for the Langtang National Park and Sagarmatha National Park.

 The working procedure provided guidelines on how tourism entrepreneurs could operate inside the park.

After the new provision sets standards for the operation of tourism activities inside the park, the erstwhile working procedure for Langtang and Sagarmatha will be scrapped.

Conservationists like Ghimirey called for “specials steps” when it comes to, say, wildlife safari, which can be a good source of income only if proper care is taken to fix a threshold on the number of vehicles that would enter the protected area.

“A checklist of dos and don'ts should be developed and strictly followed based on the experience of Chitwan and Bardia,” said Ghimirey. “One way could be monitoring the vehicles, as a lot of incidents in Chitwan and other parks have been reported where the safari tours are harassing wildlife.”

Government officials, however, have said tourism activities inside the park won’t be introduced at the expense of biodiversity and wildlife.

“Even if the proposal is passed by the government, not everyone will get permission to run their business. All the conservation laws and mitigation measures will be duly enforced,” said Khadka, director general at the department of national parks. “We won’t come up with any plans that will risk nature and wildlife.

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