Choki Wangmo | Guwahati
Beginning next year, a large-scale transborder conservation of biodiversity will be strengthened through community involvement in the Manas and Kangchenjunga landscapes within Bhutan, India, and Nepal.
The transboundary landscapes in these countries contain rich biodiversity of global significance, which requires cross-country conservation.
The five-year project, developed and funded by UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in collaboration with ICIMOD and SAARC development fund is currently in its consultation phase.
The project is expected to strengthen biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services while providing livelihood opportunities to five western districts in western Bhutan and parts of communities in India and Nepal within the landscapes.
Through regional cooperation and connectivity, it is expected that communities will be able to develop resilience to environmental changes, while maintaining ecological balance.
Asia and Pacific regional information officer with UNEP, Adam Hodge, said that the project was a comprehensive effort to look at all the stakeholders involved and how it can contribute to the achievement of sustainable development goals and the biodiversity targets.
“There is a need for connectivity and international cooperation because it does not exist in the region on a larger scale,” Adam Hodge said.
In the past, indigenous communities in these areas were treated as illegal encroachers. However, the project will involve traditional community knowledge in conservation to enhance resilience by improving living standards.
In turn, it is expected to foster biodiversity conservation, particularly the trans-boundary species such as tigers and elephants.
The project is also deemed necessary to address the challenges of climate risk and socio-economic and cultural upheavals in the region, which is making conservation efforts void in the area.
Despite unique biodiversity and fertile vegetation in Manas, people in these landscapes are found to be economically, socially and physically vulnerable.
In the long run, the communities will benefit from livelihood skills like sustainable farming practices, and off-farm income opportunities—ecotourism. It is also expected to reduce incidence of human-wildlife conflict.
The project would address human-elephant conflicts through introduction of elephant-repellant and environmentally friendly bio-fences, while financially supporting traditional village guarding systems, which were found to be the most effective.
Out of 19 protected areas in the Kangchenjunga landscape, nine are transboundary in nature. The Manas-Kangchenjunga landscapes are connected by seven conservation corridors, which are important for gene flow across the landscape.
The Manas transboundary landscape, which consists of Manas National park in Assam and Royal Manas park in Bhutan is a biosphere reserve, an elephant reserve and an important bird area besides being declared a natural world heritage site.
However, Manas is still recovering from the destruction caused by civil unrest of the late 90s where it lost all rhinos, swamp deer and wild buffalos, elephants and tigers.
Manas boundary landscape supports over 10 million people in India and Bhutan.
With a total fund of USD 1.5 million, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forest will implement the activities in the country.
The project is worth USD 7.5 million.