Nepali Times
People vs park


Last month, the Sukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve published a notice in a local newspaper stating that all the people who were illegally inhabiting the world heritage site had to vacate within a week.

But by the time the deadline was reached villagers had published their own warning, "We will resort to any form of protest if we are evicted by force." After that, the authorities backed down because it is common knowledge that the squatters have protection from political bigwigs.

The reserve is unique among nature reserves in Nepal because it has a grassland ecosystem that is home to dozens of species of deer, chital and antelopes.

So far, 23 commissions have been set up to look into the issue of those who were displaced when the park was expanded in the late 1990s. Many of those evicted in 2001 say they are tired of waiting for alternative land to farm and have come back to their settlements. They have also encroached into community forests and the park proper. So far, 1,355 hectares of Sukla Phanta's 30,500 hectares have been occupied by about 2,500 households of settlers.

Jana Morcha leader Lokendra Lamsal says it is all the government's fault. "They should have given them land to cultivate after evicting them from the park when it was expanded in 2001. The only way to resolve this is by providing them with an alternative."

Jaya Roka is with the Victim Struggle Committee and says 10,000 people were evicted eight years ago. He says: "We aren't going to leave this place." The committee is demanding one hectare of land per household equal to what they have occupied now after clearing forests. They say they should be declared conflict victims and given compensation.

Kanchanpur CDO Kaladhar Deuja admits that there has been a dramatic rise in encroachment in the reserve and that it has political colour. "But the commission will resolve the problem by deciding on alternatives," he told us. The matter has gone back-and-forth to policy-makers in Kathmandu and Rs 22 million have been spent on various task forces to investigate.

Independent observers here say all it needs is a cabinet decision to decide on where to move the estimated 32,000 people involved and what kind of compensation package they should get. There is a discrepancy in the numbers because a previous commission had only identified 21,000 people.

Conservationists say Sukla Phanta needs a critical mass of native forest to support the biodiversity in its eco-system, but admit that the pressure on the land in the Tarai is now so intense that they are fighting a losing battle.

New threat


Besides poaching and human encroachment on habitats, there is a new threat to the remaining jungles in the Tarai.

Just as the banmara weed decimated forests in the midhills in the 1980s onwards, a new alien species of Mycynea is spreading across the plains. The banmara seeds are originally Mexican and entered the country with American wheat aid in the 1970s and have since spread wildly across the country.

The Mycynea is also called 'A Mile a Minute' weed for the speed at which it spreads. It is said to have come from India with the first sighting in Kosi Tappu about five years ago where it decimated the forests in the buffer zone. Today, Mycynea is spreading westwards and has crossed Chitwan.

Naturalists at the national parks in Bardiya and Sukla Phanta are bracing themselves for the onslaught. They are scrambling to find antidotes to the weeds that destroy the undergrowth and ascend trees like creepers and essentially strangle them.

How many tigers?

These tigers were caught on a digital trip camera in Chitwan during the nationwide tiger census currently being undertaken by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.

The tigers in the picture have been identified as Dibya Pothi and her cub last month in Chitwan National Park as they went hunting together at night. Over the next two months, tiger experts will count the number of different tigers caught on candid camera in Chitwan, Bardiya, Sukla and come up with a total figure for the endangered cats in the country.

"So far, it looks like the numbers are not as seriously down as we thought," says Conservation Officer Naresh Subedi from the National Trust for Nature Conservation, "we are very excited and hope that the decline in numbers is not too dramatic." It was previously thought that poaching in the lawless period after 2006 decimated tiger and rhino populations in the parks.


(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)