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

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. Ghodaghodi Lake and its watershed area is rich in biodiversity and supports significant populations of Fishing Cat (VU), Mugger Crocodile (VU), Cotton Pygmy Goose (LC) - a national biodiversity indicator and 299 bird and 29 fish species. 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. Its restoration is vital for trans-boundary, landscape-scale tiger recovery and viable elephant populations.

Lacking any protected status beyond its Ramsar designation, a situation analysis and series of community consultations determined that GLA’s ecosystem is imperiled: 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 pesticide (e.g. endosulfan) and fertilizer pollution, drives eutrophication, poisoning wildlife, livestock and people. Deforestation along the catchment or upstream area 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 fish and livestock-dependent households; and undermining social and cultural values for indigenous people.

This project aims at mitigating these threats by capitalizing on time-sensitive opportunities: a local government seeking to protect GLA; realization that culturally-appropriate tourism benefits local green economic growth and prosperity; and communities requesting external support to restore their ecosystem. 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); and funded by Darwin Initiative, UK.