Ghodaghodi's Guardians: Communities Restoring a Ramsar Wetland at Watershed Level

The Ghodaghodi Lake Area (GLA) is a Ramsar site and Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) in the far-western Nepal. The largest standing freshwater system in lowland Nepal, with high natural capital, it provides ecosystem services and livelihoods for ca. 5,000 households. GLA is highly rich in faunal and floral diversity and supports more than 30 species of mammals, 299 species of birds, 10 species of reptiles and 29 species of fish including significant populations of Fishing Cat (VU), Mugger Crocodile (VU), Cotton Pygmy Goose (LC) – a national biodiversity indicator species. Additionally more than 470 species of plants have been recorded here. As a critical ecological stepping-stone within the degraded Basanta Forest Corridor, it enables movement from the Siwalik range into the heart of the Western Terai Complex: Bardia and Shuklaphanta National Parks of Nepal, and Dudhwa Tiger Reserve of India.

Despite the immense possibility for restoring the population of key threatened species such as Bengal Tiger and Asian Elephant at the landscape level, the area has been rapidly degraded due to anthropogenic activities. Analysis of the existing baseline scenarios and community consultations determined that GLA’s ecosystem is imperilled: over-exploitation of aquatic resources and over-grazing is eroding this wetland’s natural capital. Over 35,000 domestic tourists visit annually, generating waste and straining resources. Across the watershed, rampant use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers drives eutrophication while poisoning wildlife, livestock and people; upstream, cumulative deforestation disrupts hydrology, increasing flood and drought risks. Ghodaghodi municipality’s population is growing rapidly due to migration from hilly areas, enabled by highway expansion, further threatening this KBA. The degradation of this vital ecosystem and services, severely negatively impacts wildlife and communities; eroding the livelihoods of around 5,000 vulnerable fish and livestock-dependent households; and undermining religio-cultural values for indigenous Tharu indigenous community (36% of local population), as this site is a major shrine.

 

Project Ghodaghodi’s Guardians mitigates above threats by capitalising on time-sensitive opportunities: a local government seeking to protect GLA; realisation that culturally-appropriate tourism benefits local green economic growth and prosperity; and communities requesting external support to restore their ecosystem. Together these offer a substantial opportunity and potential to secure GLA’s future. 

This is a collaborative project between Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (MoFSC), Ghodaghodi Municipality (GM), Comprehensive Ghodaghodi Lake and Tourism Development Board (CGLTDB) and Himalayan Nature (HN); jointly funded by UKaid and Darwin Initiative, UK.