Although the establishment of buffer zones, revenue sharing, and limited access to resources are steps forward in meeting the needs of local communities that live around the area, they still fall short of providing indigenous people with decision making power.
The Buffer Zone Act only legally recognises fishing rights of traditional communities like the Bote. While informal agreements between park authorities and indigenous communities for use of resources within certain areas exist, not accepting this access as a legal right leaves room for conflict between the Tharu, Bote and Musahar communities and park authorities.
There are also cases of ‘elite capture’ within the Buffer Zone Committees which have marginalised indigenous communities who are the rightful owners and stewards of these protected areas.
Nepal is a signatory to various international treaties and conventions related to the rights of indigenous people, including ILO169, UNDRIP, and article 8j of the CBD — all of which highlight the need for conservation interventions to respect, preserve, and leverage traditional knowledge and practices while also ensuring equitable benefit mechanisms.
However, much work needs to be done to translate the spirit of these treaties on the ground. While there are examples of successful conservation models led by indigenous peoples — the handover of Kanchenjunga Conservation Area being one — a lot more could be done to respond to these examples of conservation co-ownership with legislative agency.
Nepal’s path to TX2 must better recognise the role and contributions of indigenous peoples in doubling the country’s tiger population. Recognition begins with addressing the requirements of indigenous peoples, and expanding a rights-based approach to conservation.
Indigenous people need to be allowed full co-management of the resources in a manner that does not undermine the objective with which the protected areas were established. Sustainable conservation is achieved only when there is a balance between protecting wildlife and safeguarding the rights of indigenous peoples.
Smriti Dahal, PhD, serves as the Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Specialist at WWF Nepal.