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Creating a corridor for human-wildlife harmony

 

I’m in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, sitting on the roof top garden of my hotel. It’s eight o’clock in the evening. It’s already night time. There’s a slight breeze but I’m feeling very comfortable sitting in a t-shirt. But this easy life is quite a contrast to the way I’ve been living for the past few days.

I’ve been staying in mud huts, washing from a hand pump in a farmyard, eating snails and praying that my stomach would not reject them. But equally, eating some delicious homemade curries made from products harvested that same day.

I spent four days in a wildlife corridor which links Bardia National Park in the West of Nepal to the Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in India. The government of Nepal, WWF and the people living in the corridor have all spent a lot of time and effort over the past 10 years making what was once a degraded landscape into a functioning wildlife corridor. Their hard work is allowing wildlife to move between the two parks, increasing breeding opportunities for populations of globally threatened species like tigers, rhinos and elephants.

Huge efforts have also been put towards working with the people living within the corridor to create sustainable livelihoods. The initiatives that have been taking place are as varied as creating micro-financing institutions, supporting the cultivation of alternative crops, setting up anti-poaching operations and human wildlife conflict mitigation, sustaining green enterprises and ecotourism. The people of the corridor are very poor in an economic sense and poorly educated; they get most of what they need to live directly from their land. But that land is rich and fertile.

The good news is that nature is back, the corridor looks lush and the same individual tigers have been spotted in both parks – a sign that they’re moving between the two. Apparently, they have spotted seven different tigers making those trips. These wild animals have so few havens these days that this corridor is such an exciting achievement.

The other good news is that people’s livelihoods are also improving. Some groups have set up home-stay villages which now host over 12,000 – mainly Nepalese – tourists per year. Others now benefit from environmentally sound energy sources such as biogas and alternative income generating activities, which support local people while also maintaining habitat for threatened species.

Having spoken to the people who live there I found that – as a whole – they support this initiative. But there’s a flipside to this good news. With the regeneration of this landscape, they’re also finding themselves fighting off an increasing amount of leopard attacks on their livestock (one goat was taken from a neighbouring village while I was there). Some elephants are also raiding their crops and sometimes even destroying their houses. One village had all but two of its houses destroyed by elephants. This is in spite of the already established human-wildlife initiatives.

Elephant watchtower on farmland, Kathmandu, NepalMy conversations with local people made me realize that, if this corridor is to continue to be a success and continue to encourage landowners and land users to be involved in nature conservation – we need to put in place further effective human-wildlife cohabitation strategies before the relationship between people and wildlife deteriorates. A big part of me would understand why it might. I think about how I would feel if the livestock I depended on was killed by a leopard? How would I feel if wild pigs came to eat and destroy my crops? Or if my kids got chased on their way to school by a threatening elephant, making them too scared to make that trip again? But I remind myself that we can’t afford to let this relationship weaken, because nature is under such threat globally. And I’m a huge believer in working as hard as it takes to ensure that the balance between the advantages and disadvantages of living next to such charismatic fauna is positive.

Currently, from what I’ve heard, the people of the Khata corridor want to have wildlife on their door step. And they’re excited by the alternative livelihood strategies developed under this programme too. These are all positive and reassuring signs because conservation is a quest for the hearts and minds of people and a good human-wildlife relationship is needed for this corridor to be a success for generations to come. It’s our job to make sure that the relationship stays positive.

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