Mitigating human-wildlife conflict in Nepal: a case study of fences around Chitwan National Park

Mitigating human-wildlife conflict in Nepal: a case study of fences around Chitwan National Park

Introduction
Finding solutions to human-wildlife conflict (HWC) is one of the complex challenges conservationists and local communities have to contend with for an enduring period. Biodiversity is crucial for enriching the forests including the existing flora and fauna species residing in the forest, which is a key element of the GIZ/ICIMOD REDD+ Himalaya Initiative. The Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) has been selected by the Government of Nepal for developing the REDD+ programme. This area harbours numerous wildlife corridors, and with the enhancement of habitats through REDD+ conservation activities, the wildlife population will increase. This will further exacerbate existing human-wildlife conflict. Therefore, to ensure and address such challenges, REDD+ mechanisms need to incorporate human-wildlife mitigation measures.
Measures employed to mitigate HWC in the buffer zones and adjoining areas of the Chitwan National Park (CNP) have ranged from traditional methods of shouting and watch towers to modern barriers such as electric fencing. Several kilometres of these electric fences have been constructed along the boundaries of the park and community forests in the buffer zones and adjoining areas of the CNP to mitigate conflicts from megafauna such as the elephant and rhino. Studies have found the electric fencing to be the most effective mitigation measure against the rhino and elephant, which cause a lot of property and crop depredation in the area, and there have been recommendations from studies and requests from local communities to expand the electric fencing. However, there have not been many empirical studies to assess the sustainability of the electric fences installed in the area. Thus, this study assesses the sustainability of the electric fencing as a HWC mitigation measure in the buffer zones and adjoining areas of the CNP.
The study employed various methods including mapping of the fences, observation, focus group discussions, and key informant and official interviews with conservationists in the CNP and NTNC-BCC to collect data. A total of 57 fences were visited and mapped in 54 community forests which are made up of buffer zone community forests and community forests under the district forest office.

Major findings
The study reveals the following:

  • Only twenty-six percent of the electric fences installed in the area are in good condition and operating effectively, while the rest are out of operation due to technical faults, poor maintenance, and natural disasters such as flooding.
  • The factors imperilling the sustainability of the electric fences are socio-political, economic, and technical:
  1. Socio-political factors include poor maintenance culture, institutional/ structural inefficiencies, lack of awareness among the local populace, conflicting personal interests and societal objectives, and antagonism among management committee members.
  2. Economic factors include limited and unsustainable financing mechanisms, and poverty and livelihood patterns.
    Technical factors include improper design and construction materials of fences, a dearth of technical expertise for fence maintenance, placement/location, and erratic power supply.
  3. Technical factors include improper design and construction materials of fences, a dearth of technical expertise for fence maintenance, placement/location, and erratic power supply.

Recommendations
For the sustainability of the electric fences in the buffer zones and adjoining areas of the CNP, the study makes the
following recommendations:

  • A sustainable financing mechanism for fence maintenance is needed. It is recommended that a human-wildlife conflict management fund be established in each community forest with specific allocation of funds from the CNP which can be used for the routine and general maintenance and construction of electric fences. There should be capacity building for the various management committees on sustainable revenue generation mechanisms, such as ecotourism development.
  • Institutional restructuring is needed. Efficient management structures would oversee the efficient and transparent management and use of the resources to maintain the fences routinely. This could be done by forming a subcommittee within each community forest management committee to be known as a human-wildlife management committee. These committees will be responsible for maintaining and managing the electric fences.
  • Committees should receive technical training on the sustainable management and maintenance of the electric fences.
  • Design and materials must be reconsidered before fences are installed at various locations. A comprehensive study on the local ecology and movement of destructive wildlife in the area must be carried out before the installation.
  • Supplementary measures such as mesh fencing, reinforced cement concrete walls, and trenches should be implemented alongside the electrical fences to prevent crop damages from smaller species like the wild boar and deer.
  • Well-structured and efficient management committees should be supported with financial and other incentives to organise sensitization and awareness campaigns for the local communities on the fences and HWC mitigation.
  • Proper land use planning and cropping patterns based on the ecology and movement of wildlife in the area can help reduce pressure on the electric fence and frequency of HWC.
  • Diversification and improvement in the livelihoods of local communities through policy option at local, national and international levels could help bring a sustainable solution to HWC.
  • Alternative human-wildlife conflict mitigation measures such chilli fencing and beehive fencing which have been found to deter the African elephant, should be tested in Nepal to ascertain their efficacy against the Asian elephant.