EDITORIAL: Let the wild animals live in peace

KATHMANDU (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) - Night-time safari in Chitwan National Park is a terrible idea and it must be corrected immediately.

 
From rhinos destroying crops to elephants raiding villages, instances of human-wildlife conflict are all too common in Nepal. And such instances are likely to increase given the rate at which wild animal habitats are being fragmented by human settlements. Already, Nepal has a thriving safari business that takes tourists into protected areas to view wildlife. But as if that was not enough, local hoteliers and safari service providers have floated a proposal to operate nighttime jeep safari in the buffer zone areas of Chitwan National Park. This move is aimed at the Visit Nepal 2020 in order to increase the number of tourists. No doubt this is an absurd idea and will pose more threat to the well-being of the wild animals who are already distressed owing to increased human-animal contact.

In June, the government planned to introduce tourism activities inside protected parks of the country for revenue generation. The new plan will mean that interested entrepreneurs can enter the conservation areas where they will provide jungle safari, ultra-running, cycling, rock climbing, hiking, boating, canopy walk and paragliding, among other adventure sports and activities to attract tourists.

As per the plan, the nighttime jeep safari will start from Sauraha, one of the tourist hubs of the country, and end at Lothar, after passing via Kumjor Buffer Zone Community Forest. Putting safari ownership in the hands of local guides and communities is usually a good thing. But not when service operators and local community forest user groups are readying to start nighttime vehicular expedition along the 34-km stretch of the park buffer zone. The buffer zone is known across the world as a hotspot for valuable wild animals.

Tourists usually visit the Chitwan National Park for its safaris—whether they be on elephant-back, in vehicles or on foot. Among a variety of flora and fauna, the park is home to the majestic Bengal tiger the iconic one-horned rhinoceros. Human-wildlife conflict is a major threat to the survival of many animals, according to the World Wildlife Fund. A lack of adequate measures to address the conflict will lead to a decline in local support for conservation programmes. This should be a matter of concern for Nepal whose animal conservation efforts have been hailed globally. Given this, operate nighttime jeep safari in the buffer zone areas of Chitwan National Park will do more harm than good.

As Nepal makes great strides in wildlife conservation, the increase in the number of wild animals and the concomitant decrease in their habitat coverage will make more human-wild encounters inevitable. As it is, the wildlife is exposed to a lot of vehicular movement and human intrusions during the day time. Now, this may be important to provide employment raise revenue, which ultimately can flow back into conservation efforts as well. However, the animals should at least be given the night time free of intrusion. Attracting tourists is one thing, but doing so at the cost of the safety and longevity of the animals is unwarranted and wrong.

The nighttime jeep safari in Sauraha, Chitwan is a terrible idea; it must be corrected before it is too late. The idea is to make tourism and wildlife conservation sustainable. It cannot be treated as a one-time event, because this will have long-term repercussions.

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