Following in the footsteps of Alfred Russel Wallace
June 15, 2023
Think ‘Nepal’ and you think ‘Himalayas’ – and indeed it is the mountain treks and rugged scenery which draw most people to visit. But when you have completed your mountain challenge make sure you grab the chance to experience Nepal’s astonishing wildlife. From wild tigers roaming through the lowland forests to red pandas and snow leopards at higher altitudes, there are intriguing species at every turn. One of the best places to encounter Nepal’s most attention grabbing array of creatures is Chitwan National Park, where Bengal tigers, Asiatic elephants, one-horned rhino, monkeys, leopards, jackals, antelopes, langurs, sloth bears and many more species enjoy the rich habitat of the Terai jungle.
Nepal’s wildlife is fortunate because a proactive and positive national strategy of conservation has been in force for many years, and in fact Nepal can boast some of the most successful conservation programmes of any nation. There are several endangered species that call Nepal home, and due to a multi-agency approach many of them are now increasing in number. Successful conservation relies on cooperation and commitment from various angles which can be difficult to achieve, but Nepal is blazing a trail for success which other countries are keen to emulate.
Second only to habitat destruction, the biggest threat to rare and endangered species is poaching. Sadly the illegal trade in exotic pets, or their horns, pelts and other body parts is thriving and poses an enormous challenge to many of the world’s most vulnerable species. Illegal wildlife crime is on the rise globally, but Nepal is bucking that trend and has now celebrated several years with zero cases of poached animals. One of the key factors in the success of the anti poaching programme is the collaboration of local communities. By making sure they benefit directly from tourist spending on wildlife experiences, communities around the national parks have an interest in making sure poachers cannot operate. There are now over 400 community based anti poaching units across Nepal and their impact has been phenomenal.
We have rounded up some brief details of the most successful conservation programmes in Nepal to date, with information on where to see the species involved. It’s truly inspirational to think that such a small and relatively under resourced nation can achieve so much, and the good news is that your visit to see the iconic wildlife of Nepal is actually helping to secure its future.
Parsa Wildlife Reserve was surveyed in 2014 by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, with assistance from the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). The number of tigers recorded was 198, and a conservation strategy was put in place with the goal of doubling the population by 2022.
The great news is that when a second survey was carried out in 2016, the tiger population was found to have increased by 90% in just three years. Such an encouraging result, and one that proves that effective conservation efforts are working.
Unfortunately for the scarce one-horned rhino, there persists a belief in some parts of Asia that the horn of these beasts has medicinal properties which will successfully treat a variety of ailments from epilepsy to cancer. This fuels demand for horns which means poachers with few other prospects of earning decent money will inevitably attempt to illegally acquire rhinos.
Nepal’s exemplary community based anti-poaching units have been so successful at preventing poachers that there have been 5 periods of 365 days without rhino poaching since 2011, and the population has increased by around 40%, mostly living in Chitwan National Park.
This elusive feline lives across several countries in Central Asia and in the Himalayas. The population in Nepal is estimated to be between 350 and 500 individuals, distributed along Nepal’s northern border areas including in the Annapurna Conservation Area and the Makalu Barun National Park. The major threat to the snow leopards internationally is habitat destruction, meaning land is cleared for agriculture and livestock; and farmers killing predatory leopards out of a need to protect their animals and their livelihood.
Conservation efforts are being stepped up, involving communities in the protection of snow leopards and educating herdsmen on better ways to protect their animals. For now the population is thought to be stable, and as more communities get involved in conservation initiatives the future looks bright.
A kind of crocodile with a long, narrow snout, the gharial is another of Nepal’s conservation success stories. The species was on the brink of extinction in the 1970s as rivers became polluted, fish stocks dwindled and the unusual crocs were hunted while their eggs were poached for medicinal use.
A breeding programme has been established in Chitwan National Park which ensures eggs are allowed to hatch safely without interference and then releases the young gharials back into the wild. Numbers are still worryingly low, with fewer than 2,000 gharials in the world, but it is nevertheless a vast improvement on the near-extinct status just a few decades ago.
Make it happen
Why not mix it up? Nepal has some of the best trekking in the world, and also offers fascinating safari opportunities. Get in touch with our expert local partner and they will build a bespoke itinerary around your priorities.
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