Across the world, human societies are suffering a growing nature deficit. The march of consumerism and economic globalisation has come at an enormous cost to the local and global environment. Much of the change is irreversible on a civilisational timescale: rivers destroyed by dams, landscapes mutilated, a cascade of extinctions and climate collapse.
Nature is valueless, it cannot have a price tag. Our culture and religion regards nature as sacred. Nature matters to us because of its emotional value, and the health benefits of being amidst it cannot be measured in dollars and cents.
But modern economics puts a monetary value to nature. It can be bought and sold without factoring in its intrinsic value. We are not required to calculate the cost of its destruction when evaluating its worth. An Environmental Impact Assessment of a project tries to calculate the impact to nature of infrastructure or development projects. There are attempts to post a cash value to ‘natural capital’ and ‘ecosystem services’, but these are narrow attempts to measure something immeasurable and priceless.
The crisis of the anthropocene is rooted in governments, businesses and sections of the public regarding nature as free and limitless. This is why native forests have been logged until there is nothing left, smoke and emissions are pumped into the air and filled with toxins, river beds are mined, and the earth is warming because we are burning all this fossil carbon.
This issue of Nepali Times carries a Special Package on nature conservation in the Tarai national parks. The results of the tiger census this year showed the encouraging result that Nepal was the first country to attain the target of doubling its tiger population four years ahead of schedule. The number of tigers has jumped from 200 four years ago to 235, with most of the increase in Bardia National Park.
It’s a jungle out there, Kunda Dixit
Nature without borders, Sewa Bhattarai
Tigers had nearly disappeared in Bardia after the Nepal Army was pulled out of anti-poaching duty during the conflict. But numbers there have soared from 18 ten years ago to 87 today. This is a phenomenal achievement.
The reason tigers are important is because they are at the top of the food chain and protecting them protects everything else in the ecosystem. But as our stories on page 14-15 indicate, predator-prey imbalance can throw nature off kilter.
The problem in Bardia is that while the tiger population has increased, there has been a serious decline in prey density and this presents a danger to the new tigers. Predators then venture outside the park to attack livestock, thus weakening the villagers’ support for nature conservation.
Nepal’s tiger range spans the open border with India, which means wildlife moves freely back and forth. The resurgence of tiger numbers in nature reserves on both sides of the border have increased the problem of human-wildlife conflict as well as attracted cross border poachers.
Crying wolf, Ryan Davy
Nepal’s year of the leopard, Shahani Singh
The success of tiger conservation was achieved through India-Nepal cooperation, and the new challenges must also be addressed jointly. Grass palatable to deer species are not so common because of the water table going down because of the flow of the Karnali River being diverted by boulder mining upstream. This has benefited trees, but not grass.
Climate change has also made monsoon rains erratic. Large herbivores used to trample on the tall grass and allow deer to get to the tender shoots underneath, but Bardia’s once thriving populations of arna, gaur and nilgai have disappeared. Tiger numbers can be increased further if there is enough of the right type of grass.
Tigers need prey, prey need grasslands, grass needs moisture, but humans have tampered with the water. The web of life links everything in an ecosystem together, and we need to understand this for nature conservation.
Nature has intrinsic value, even though governments may try to give it economic value. For Nepal, nature must be valued also because biodiversity represents our national identity and our sense of self-worth. Nature should not just be protected in national parks. Our urban deserts need to be rewilded as well.
Preying on the predator, Priya Joshi
Once there was a leopard, Nirmal Ghosh