Community Conservation of Chitwan National Park’s Freshwater Ecosystems and Gharials

Freshwater ecosystems have suffered catastrophic declines in biodiversity. Habitat loss, overexploitation and infectious diseases are recognized drivers of aquatic biodiversity decline. Nepal is typical in this, having over the last 50 years, lost almost twice as many freshwater species as terrestrial species.

In Narayani and Rapti rivers of Chitwan National Park, land-use change, river bank disturbance, and harmful and unsustainable fishing methods, have caused dramatic declines in water quality and fish stocks, significantly impacting the health, income and food security of local communities, and near extinction of a critically endangered gharial ranked 15th out of 100 reptiles in the EDGE of Existence classification. With only 150 individuals in Nepal, this fragile population is under threat from egg collection, poaching, deteriorating fish stocks and the decreasing health of the river ecosystems.

This project being implemented by Himalayan Nature in collaboration with ZSL Nepal and funded by Darwin Initiative (DI), UK target threats that implicitly connect the fate of gharials, to the health of the river and those communities heavily reliant on freshwater resources. The interventions planned in this project were highlighted in the gharial action plan 2012-2016, and the Narayani and Rapti River Conservation Plan 2016-2020.

The main objective of this project is to safeguard the future of the critically endangered gharial population and the vital Narayani and Rapti river ecosystems, harnessing community engagement and support. Through these conservation efforts, local communities’ access to clean water, food security, sustainable fisheries, agro-biodiversity and other livelihoods will be secured.

Major activities carried out by Himalayan Nature included surveys for estimating Population and Distribution of Gharial in the major rivers of Chitwan National Park. The survey was conducted in Rapti (lothar to Golaghat) and Narayani rivers (Devghat to Triveni). Further, Himalayan Nature has funded 5 community based fish ponds in Chitwan National Park. Over this period, more than 112 households of indigenous community got an opportunity to participate in fish farming orientation and training program. Income generation activities such as community based fish farming have contributed a lot to minimize park-people conflict for resource capture. The local indigenous communities involving in community based fish farming were encouraged in monthly saving for the sustainability of the project.

Activities carried out in the first year of the project include:

1. Conduct surveys for estimating Population and Distribution of Gharial in the major rivers of Chitwan National Park.

2. Meeting with park managers and buffer zone committees to identify indigenous fish dependent communities and households.

3. Conduct socioeconomic survey in fish dependent communities.

4. Identify areas suitable for the establishment of community managed fish ponds and support 5 women-led committees to operate fish ponds.