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India, Nepal to ink agreement for biodiversity conservation
The MoU is expected to emphasise cooperation for conservation and protection of tiger. Photo by Stefan van den Akker/Wikimedia Commons.

India, Nepal to ink agreement for biodiversity conservation

India and Nepal are all set to ink an agreement to cooperate on biodiversity conservation, including transboundary landscape management and focus on conservation of species like tigers, elephants and rhinos. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is expected to be signed before India’s upcoming parliamentary elections starts.

India and Nepal allow free movement of their people across borders. The shared India-Nepal border of over 1,850 kilometres touches five Indian States – Sikkim, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

The joint border includes several transboundary wildlife habitats. For instance, the Valmiki tiger reserve in Bihar connects with Nepal’s Chitwan national park and Parsa wildlife reserve. Similarly, the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve in Uttar Pradesh shares its border with the Shukla Phanta national park in Nepal. Thus, among other things, the MoU is expected to have a significant focus on the management of the transboundary landscape.

S.P. Yadav, who is member secretary of the Uttar Pradesh’s State Biodiversity Board, explained that at present there is no formal MoU between the two nations.

“The MoU will lead to jointly-agreed actions in the transboundary landscape with reciprocal commitments. It will lead to better conservation of tigers, elephants and rhinos. It can also help immensely in tackling illegal trafficking due to improved information sharing,” said Yadav, who worked for several years in India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority and the Global Tiger Forum.

“Close cooperation between the two nations will go a long way in biodiversity conservation in the two nations. MoU will be a formal instrument that will lead to better trans-border cooperation” he said.

Nakul Chettri, who is a senior biodiversity specialist with the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), an intergovernmental regional knowledge and enabling centre based in Kathmandu (Nepal), said it would be a welcome step.

“It is better late than never. It is very much needed in terms of facilitating transboundary cooperation for conservation work. India and Nepal are already collaborating on a number of wildlife related issues, but this will cement the bilateral cooperation and strengthen the management of important transboundary wildlife habitat. It will be a win-win for both,” Chettri told Mongabay-India.

Man Bahadur Khadka, who is the director general of the department of national parks and wildlife conservation in Nepal government’s Ministry of Forests and Environment, recounted numerous examples of close cooperation between the two nations wherein wild animals that strayed into each other’s territories were safely sent back. “Nepalese and Indian authorities are already working in close coordination including sending the animals that stray to the other side. The MoU will only improve this work,” Khadka said.

The two neighbouring nations are trying to sign the MoU before India’s parliamentary elections are announced otherwise it will be delayed till elections are over.

“We are looking at signing the MoU soon – this month or early next month. All work regarding that is complete. The effort is to find a suitable time for officials of both countries. The idea is to do it before India’s elections are announced because otherwise it will be delayed by several months,” Khadka told Mongabay-India.

He stressed that the MoU would focus on biodiversity conservation, wildlife habitat management, tiger conservation and protection.

A senior official of India’s environment ministry, who wished to remain anonymous, said the MoU has been in the works for past several months now and is ready for signing from both the sides. “We hope that it is signed soon – before elections. A suitable date is being worked out,” the official noted.

Significant focus on tiger conservation

The MoU is expected to put an emphasis on cooperation for conservation and protection of the tiger, India’s national animal. As per the 2014 tiger population estimation, there are 2,226 tigers in India while the number of tigers in Nepal is estimated to be around 235. India’s latest tiger estimation is expected to be released later this year.

The cooperation of the two nations on the issue of tiger conservation is important as both have seen a steady rise in the tiger population in the last 10-12 years. For instance, as per the estimates, the number of tigers in India in 2006 was 1,411 and in Nepal in 2009 were 120. But the tiger (Panthera tigris), which is an endangered animal, continues to be under threat from poaching and human-wildlife conflict. Khadka stressed that the MoU would have a significant focus on tiger conservation. “As per the 2018 estimate, which was done using scientific methods, our tiger population is 235. But we are planning to cross check with the Indian authorities about the population of tigers moving across the border to get a clear estimate,” said Khadka.

S.P. Yadav explained that tiger corridors are vital for the survival of species.“For the survival of tigers, corridor connectivity is very important and for many of the tiger reserves in northern and eastern India, that can only happen via Nepal through the Terai landscape. So from both India’s and Nepal’s point of view, this agreement will be critical in maintaining the tiger corridor,” said Yadav.

India and its neighbours including Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh are already looking at the possibility of a sub-continent level tiger estimation report. Meanwhile, Khadka also stated that they are also looking at the possibility of developing transboundary tourism circuits.

recent report regarding sustainable tourism in the Indian Himalayan region by India’s federal think tank, NITI Aayog, had also batted for transboundary tourism circuits.

“In other parts of the world, such transboundary tourism circuits have become a symbol of inter-country cooperation for cross-border socioeconomic development as well as for long term peace and stability,” the report had said.