Nepal’s first bird sanctuary takes flight, raising hope for conservation

March 17, 2022
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Conservationists have welcomed the declaration of Nepal’s first official bird sanctuary as a big boost for more than a dozen globally threatened species.

The Ghodaghodi complex, a wetland in western Nepal’s Sudurpashchim province, was recently declared a bird sanctuary by the provincial and the Ghodaghodi municipal governments. More than 360 bird species, some of them native and some migratory, have been recorded in the complex, which covers 2,563 hectares (6,330 acres).

“Mere declaration of the area as a bird sanctuary is not enough,” said Trilochan Bhatta, Sudurpashchim’s chief minister. “It’s everyone’s duty to conserve the natural, religious and historical importance of this site.”

Populations of around a dozen bird species, such as the great hornbill (Buceros bicornis), lesser adjuant stork (Leptoptilos javanicus) and the Indian spotted eagle (Clanga hastata), are in global decline.

“The launch of the first bird sanctuary in the country sends a message that local governments are equally committed to conserving biodiversity,” ornithologist Hem Sagar Baral told Mongabay. “This comes at a time when there are growing concerns that as conservation and protected areas fall under the ambit of the federal government, local governments would not take ownership of conservation efforts,” added Baral, who is also the Nepal country representative for the Zoological Society of London.

The Ghodaghodi complex, inscribed on the list of globally important wetlands under the Ramsar Convention, comprises a series of lakes, marshes and forest. It is situated on the lower slopes of Siwalik, the youngest hills in the Himalayan region. The complex provides a critical wildlife corridor between the southern plains and the Siwalik hills, and falls within the habitat of threatened species such as the Bengal tiger (Panther tigris), the red-crowned roofed turtle (Batagur kachuga) and the Aerides odorata orchid. The religiously significant Indian lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) and rare wild rice (Hygrohiza aristata) have also been reported in the area.

Nepal’s federal laws don’t have provisions for declaring an area a bird sanctuary, but the Sudurpashchim provincial government has prepared separate legislation to allow Ghodaghodi to be declared the first such site.

“However, detailed procedures on how the site is to be managed from now on is still to be prepared,” Baral said.

Threats to the site include intensive traditional fishing and agriculture, highway traffic on its southern edge, construction of unplanned new temples, overgrazing, poaching and hunting, as well as illegal tree felling, according to Ramsar Sites Information Service.

“Let’s hope the new initiative will help deal with the threats and conserve the crucial site,” Baral said.

As the site is close to the border with India, Baral said he believes that it could be promoted as a great destination to draw more Indian tourists, who already visit the area.

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