Nepal’s unique geography, with its remarkable changes in elevation and associated variation in eco-climatic conditions, has given rise to a unique, rich biodiversity. In addition, the country’s location, lying as it does between two major biogeographic regions – the tropical Indomalaya ecozone and temperate Palearctic ecozone – has made Nepal a place that harbours species originating from both the regions.
A total of 118 different ecosystems have been identified in Nepal, including 112 forest ecosystems, four cultivation ecosystems, one water body ecosystem and one glacier/snow/rock ecosystem. Nepal is ranked 25th and 11th positions in biodiversity richness in the world and Asia, respectively. Nepal occupies about 0.1 percent of the global area but harbours 3.2 per cent and 1.1 per cent of the world’s known flora and fauna, respectively. About 5.2 per cent of the world’s known mammals, 9.5 per cent birds, 5.1 per cent gymnosperms and 8.2 per cent bryophytes are reported in Nepal. A total of 284 species of flowering plants, 160 animal species and 14 species of herpetofauna are reportedly endemic to Nepal. The diverse climatic and topographic conditions have also favoured ximum diversity of agricultural crops, their wild relatives and animal species.
Biodiversity is closely linked to the livelihoods and economic well-being of most Nepalese people. Biodiversity relates to almost every aspect of Nepalese life, including agricultural productivity, food security, building materials, human health and nutrition, indigenous knowledge, gender equality, culture, climate, water resources and aesthetic value for society. The economy of Nepal is very much dependent on the use of natural resources. The country’s biodiversity is also an important source of revenue.
Biodiversity is a source of a range of goods and services. These are also considered low cost and locally suitable adaptation measures to moderate the negative impacts of climate change.
For the first time, Nepal established the Chitwan National Park in 1973 for the conservation of biodiversity. Since then 10 National Parks, 6 Conservation Areas, 3 Wildlife Reserves and 1 hunting reserve covering 23.23% land area of the country have been established in Nepal. Nepal has several policies for the conservation of biodiversity. The National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1973, Forest Act, 1993 and subsequent regulations have been effective policy instruments for biodiversity conservation.
Nepal is also a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), 1992 and has submitted five reports to the CBD. In an effort to promote biodiversity conservation, Nepal has prepared the National Conservation Strategy, 1988, Nepal Biodiversity Strategy, 2002 and its implementation plan 2006. The National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2014 has been prepared with a vision of “conservation of biodiversity for sound and resilient ecosystems and national prosperity”.
A landscape management approach has been adopted for the effective conservation of biodiversity through the promotion of participatory protected area management programmes for improved management of biodiversity and livelihoods enhancement. Regular population monitoring of some important wildlife species such as the rhino, elephant and tiger has been carried out. Increased rhino population in the recently completed rhino census is a sign that biodiversity conservation programmes have been satisfactorily carried out.
Conservation of biodiversity takes place also outside the protected area with the active participation of the people. Community forests, especially in the mid-hills, have been restoring the forest ecology, which eventually will result in biodiversity conservation. The Forest Policy, 2071 also gives priority to biodiversity conservation with the active participation of people.
Nepal’s biodiversity is threatened by multiple factors. Nepal’s Fifth National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity identified loss and degradation of natural habitats, such as forests, grasslands and wetlands due to the expansion of settlements, agriculture and infrastructure; overexploitation; invasion by alien species; and pollution of water bodies as the predominant threats to biodiversity.
Poaching and illegal wildlife trade and human-wildlife conflict are other major direct threats to forest biodiversity, particularly in the protected areas. Rapid expansion of hybrid varieties and improper use of insecticides and pesticides are major threats to agro-biodiversity. Widespread and unsustainable mining of gravel from the streams and rivers beds has emerged as a major threat to wetland biodiversity.
Mountain ecosystems are threatened by natural disasters such as landslides, glacial lake outburst floods and drought. Climate change can have profound impacts in the future, particularly on mountain ecosystems. Besides these proximate causes, some underlying causes of biodiversity loss have also been identified. Demographic changes, poverty, weak enforcement of the laws, poor governance, ignorance about biodiversity values in the government and corporate accounting systems, inadequate awareness and motivation to conserve biodiversity, gender, caste and ethnicity based inequality, and lack of an integrated approach to development planning at the national and district levels are major underlying factors contributing to the threats.
From the past biodiversity conservation projects and programmes, it has been revealed that the meaningful participation of local communities in biodiversity conservation is a key to ensuring sustainability of biodiversity conservation programme interventions. In the coming days, people’s participation should, therefore, be increased in the biodiversity conservation programmes.
The landscape approach should be further promoted for addressing multiple drivers of biodiversity loss. Cooperation and collaboration between the multi-stakeholders is crucial to achieving success in biodiversity conservation. Human-wildlife conflict should be minimised through the enforcement of effective policy and institutional measures. Sometimes problems arise due to uncoordinated action among the law enforcement agencies, and hence cooperation between them is necessary for curbing the illegal trade of wildlife species.
The practice of holding prior consultation and discussion with the local communities is necessary before making any important decision that affects the local communities’ use of local resources. Biodiversity conservation without addressing the people’s livelihood is impossible, so the biodiversity conservation issue should be linked to people’s livelihood for sustainable conservation.
Conserving biodiversity is neither the task of only the government and conservationists nor is it possible only from them. Collective effort of all of us, both individually and institutionally, is needed for biodiversity conservation.