In its latest Living Planet Report 2020 released on Thursday, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has revealed that there has been a two-thirds decline in the global populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish in the past 50 years.
WWF warns in its annual report that this environmental destruction is responsible for the emergence of zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19 and future vulnerability to pandemics.
Shocking as the news is, Nepal has been praised internationally as a model for nature conservation and its ability to manage people and parks relatively well despite problems of poverty, population growth and pressure on land.
“We have a lot to be optimistic about in Nepal because of our past achievements, but we cannot be complacent,” says WWF Nepal director Ghana Gurung. “Because of our smaller area, things can go wrong very quickly. We have to keep being vigilant.”
The warning comes amidst reports of an upsurge in poaching since the Covid-19 lockdowns began nearly six months ago. Six musk deer were found killed in traps in Sagarmatha National Park in April. There was a seizure of tiger and leopard pelts as well as bones this week in western Nepal from poachers who were taking them to China.
And on Tuesday, officials at the Chitwan National Park confirmed that a dead rhino found there had a bullet hole in its head. They said the rhino was probably shot and wounded by poachers and jumped into the river before they could remove its horn. Nepal had marked its fourth year with zero rhino poaching recently.
“The Living Planet Report shows how even a vast continent like South America can be threatened with serious biodiversity loss. Nepal has a rich genetic pool in a much smaller area, so we have to invest even more in its protection, especially in the post-pandemic era,” Gurung added.
Nepal’s biodiversity faces a threat from land cover changes, destruction of natural habitats from infrastructure and settlements which have been exacerbated by the impact of the climate crisis. On top of that, the post Covid-19 economic crisis means budgets for nature protection are tighter at a time when it is needed even more.
Forest loss in Nepal’s Tarai has also impacted on increasing the danger of flooding, and reducing the ground water recharge. Felling trees for new infrastructure projects in the future will be a challenge to nature conservation.