Fifteen years ago this place, north of the Rapti and east of the Royal Chitwan National Park, was 25 hectares of barren land. Once part of the vast Chitwan jungle, the forests had been cleared by loggers and a government resettlement campaign.
Then, in the late 1980s, the community got together to plant trees and recreate the once-lush jungles of the area. Today the Kumrose Community Forest is a 1,050 hectare patch of jungle and generates Rs 1.5 million annually from tourists visiting the area for elephant rides and nature walks.
Kumrose does not rival the nearby Royal Chitwan National Park, but what it has shown is that human intervention can bring back the nature that human intervention destroyed-and it can work for the benefit of nearby villages and raise their standard of living. Park and people need not be in conflict.
"In the past the floods from the Rapti river used to wreak havoc in Kumrose and seven other villages. We started tree plantations on the barren banks of the river to prevent floods, now there are no floods, the trees hold the soil together and the farms are more fertile," says Hira Bahadur Gurung, who chairs the forest conservation group.
Today, nearly 1,200 households in the vicinity benefit directly from the Kumrose forest, which helps meet their firewood, timber, fodder and thatch needs.
With the restoration of the forests, wildlife from the Royal Chitwan National Park has also started sneaking into the Kumrose forest. The Asiatic one-horned rhinoceros and the Royal Bengal Tiger both roam the forest, and this brings in tourists keen to get on elephant-back to catch a glimpse of the rare beasts, or go on jungle walks or even camp out.
The Kumrose Community Forest is a remarkable success story of how community forestry and conservation can go together. The village collects fees from the rides and ploughs the money directly into further conservation work.
The village charges Rs 300 rupees per elephant to enter the Kumrose forest and generates about Rs 1.5 million a year. "The money generated by levying entry fee to the tourist on elephants are used for conservation activities in the KCF. The fences demarcating the forest area from the villages are maintained and repaired, rhino trenches are dug, and money is also invested in various development activities for Kumrose village," says Hira Bahadur. Biogas plants have been installed in many households as alternative source of energy and villagers are encouraged to use less firewood from the forest.
Curious visitors to the community forest have also encouraged local micro-entrepreneurship, and the success of preservation efforts has also encouraged the people to start community enterprises. The users' group of the Kumrose Community Forest, together with the Village Development Committee, recently constructed a machan (viewing tower) that can accommodate eight visitors at a time. The machan offers visitors a chance to experience jungle life at night, and in the daylight, the opportunity to observe animals and birds in a peaceful setting.
With the growth of the forest and resident wildlife in Kumrose, there has been a surge in the community's awareness of conservation. Villagers have realised they are the immediate beneficiaries of the revenue generated by visiting tourists. There is some nervousness about the wild animals their forest now attracts, especially since crops are damaged by rhinos and wild elephants and livestock killed by leopards. Initially, when faced with the reforestation plans, not everyone was so sanguine. "The local leadership was criticised by people when it was first decided that a reforestation programme was to be implemented in our village. People were afraid that wild animals from the nearby Royal Chitwan National Park would make this patch of forest their home and cause more trouble to local farmers," says the Kumrose Village Development Committee Chairman Krishna Lal Chaudhary.
Now there is none of the hostility here in Kumrose towards wildlife often seen in other conservation areas of Nepal. "We tolerate the loss from wild animals because we see the benefits they bring us," says Hira Bahadur. Sometimes the village seeks the help of the Royal Chitwan National Park to relocate troublesome rogue elephants or marauding leopards.
A recent rhino census conducted by the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation found 20 resident rhinos in Kumrose alone. Says Hira Bahadur, "Since the Royal Chitwan National Park is near Kumrose, wild animals from the park used to stray in and around the Kumrose forest, but with the eventual growth of Kumrose forest area, the grasslands and the natural water holes and canals, large wild animals like rhinos have become resident in the forest."
The Kumrose Community Forest started out 15 years ago as a Panchayat-protected forest, but in 1995 it was registered as a community forest and has been functioning according to the government's forestry regulations, which hand over decision-making on protection and management to the forest user groups set up by the village development committees.
The Kumrose Community Forest is shortly completing its terms under the jurisdiction of the district forest authority, and is in the process of being registered as a buffer zone of the Royal Chitwan National Park. Once it is declared a buffer, it will benefit from the park's conservation efforts, and in turn contribute grassroots support for the park.
This is a vital part of the modern approach to conservation, and will be the strategy behind the Tarai Arc Landscape (TAL), a new conservation approach being designed by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) to join conservation efforts in the Nepal tarai and India.
TAL aims to connect community forests, protected forests, eleven protected areas and national parks in Nepal and India to facilitate migration of large mammals such as tigers, rhinos and Asian elephants. This would ensure their natural roaming patterns along jungle corridors and ensure their long-term survival.