The team would like to acknowledge the following experts and contributors: Jiwan Acharya,Mahesh Kumar Adhikari, Firoz Ahmed, Imtienla Ao, Tariq Aziz, Bidur Baidya, Sujit P. Bairagi, Hiten Kr. Baishya, Mahesh Banskota, Hem Sagar Baral, S. K. Barik, Bhupendra Basnet, B.B Bhat, P.C. Bhattacharjee, Shivaraj Bhattari, Ram Bhujel, Dipen Ch. Borah, Jake Brunner, Milendu Chakraborty, Sudipto Chatterjee, A.S. Chauhan, Nakul Chettri, D. B. Chhetri, Anwaruddin Choudhury, Dhrupad Choudhury, Dekila Chungyalpa, Cathryn Cooke, Rohin Souza, V.T. Darlong, A.P. Das, Arundhati Das, Panna Deb, Aum Sangay Dema, Ashish Dey, Bablu Dey, Soumen Dey, Janardhan Dhakal, Lam Dorji, Tshering Dorji, Soumyadeep Dutta, Lies Erkhoff, Asif Faiz, Tracy Frish, Soumitra Ghosh, Anil Goswami, D. C. Goswami, Abhik Gupta, Chandra P. Gurung, D.B.Gurung, Ghana Shyam Gurung, Santa Raj Jnawali, A. C. Jonunmawia, J. Kalita, Sameer Karki, Rahul Kaul, K. T. Thomas Kent, Sarala Khaling, B. Kharbuli, Keyiekhrie Kire, Echay Kumar, Chezung Lachungpa, Usha Lachungpa, Sunetra Lala, Lalhmachhuana, Penny Langhammer, H. D. Lekhak, Pakimu Lepcha, Renzino Lepcha, C. Loma, Tambor Lyngdoh, Maksha Ram Maharjan, Samar Bahadur Malla, Anil Manandhar, T.T.C. Marak, C.C.S. Maunglang, Jon Miceler, D. B. Mongar, Vijay Mukthan, Kuenzang Namgay, Goutam Narayan, Hari Saran Nepali, Carmo Noronha, Jigme Peldon, Brian Peniston, John Pilgrim, Narayan Poudel, Miraj Pradhan, Prabhat Pradhan, Rebecca Pradhan, G. K. Pradhan, Meena Raghunathan, Asad Rahmani, D.S. Rai, N.S.Rai, Keshab Rajbhandari, Komkar Riba, Arun Rijal, D. Dutta Roy, Pankaj Sarmah, Karan B. Shah, Amit Sharma, Chandrakala Sharma, G. P. Sharma, Ghaneshyam Sharma, Uday Raj Sharma, Vivek Sharma, Mingma Norbu Sherpa, Khekiho Shohe, Binod Shrestha, Jay Pal Shrestha, Jiwan Shrestha, Tej Kumar Shrestha, Tirtha B.Shrestha, Yusuf Simick, Lisa Simrique Singh, Tombi Singh, Hilloljyoti Sinha, Sunil Subba, Rajendra Suwal, Bibhab Kr. Talukdar, Jamuna K. Tamrakar, Tandin, Tawnensa, Raju Teron, Diwakar Thapa, Gokarna Jung Thapa, Ishana Thapa, Kishore Thapa, V. K. Thapa, B. K. Tiwari, Andrew Tordoff, Dago Tshering, Rinchen Tshering, Bunu Vaidya, Karma Wangchuk, Sangay Wangchuk, Sherub Wangchuk, Sonam Wangchuk, Tashi Wangchuk, Pema Wangda, Mincha Wangdi, Tandin Wangdi, Voto Whiso, Eric Wikramanayake, P. S Yadava, DekiYonten, and Zafar-ul-islam.
A fundamental purpose of CEPF is to engage civil society, such as community groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), academic institutions and private enterprises, in biodiversity conservation in the hotspots. To guarantee their success, these efforts must complement existing strategies and programs of national governments and multilateral and bilateral donors. CEPF promotes working alliances among diverse groups, combining unique capacities and reducing duplication of efforts for a comprehensive, coordinated approach to conservation. CEPF focuses on biological areas rather than political boundaries and examines conservation threats on a hotspot-level basis. CEPF targets transboundary cooperation, in areas of high importance for biodiversity conservation that straddle national borders, or in areas where a regional approach will be more effective than a national approach. CEPF aims to provide civil society with an agile and flexible funding mechanism complementing funding available to government institutions.
This document represents the ecosystem profile for the Eastern Himalayas Region, which comprises Bhutan, northeastern India and southern, central and eastern Nepal. At the time this document was prepared, the Eastern Himalayas Region was part of the Indo-Burma Hotspot. Subsequently, a new hotspots appraisal released in 2005 now classifies this region as part of two hotspots: Indo-Burma and Himalaya, with the latter being a newly classified hotspot. This profile and subsequent CEPF investments focus strictly on the Eastern Himalayas Region as defined in this document.
The Ecosystem Profile
The Purpose of the Profile
The profile also provides an overview of the socioeconomic and political issues that will impinge on and influence biodiversity conservation, with a focus on the major threats to biodiversity and underlying causes. Although the Eastern Himalayas Region spans only three countries, it includes a multitude of ethnic groups and tribes, several religions, languages, and dialects. Because of the extension of ecosystems and protected areas networks across international and state boundaries, close cooperation between countries and state governments will be essential for effective conservation.
Based on these parameters, as well as current investments in conservation and funding gaps, the profile defines an investment niche for CEPF to support biodiversity conservation in this biologically important region. In keeping with CEPF’s mandate, the profile includes recommendations on strategic ways to involve civil society in biodiversity conservation and to build partnerships to increase the breadth of conservation effort.
The profile is not intended to provide or propose specific projects and actions. Instead it includes a series of “Strategic Directions” or themes and their related “Investment Priorities.” Civil society groups applying for CEPF grants then prepare and submit detailed proposals for specific projects, describing the interventions and performance indicators to measure success, consistent with these funding directions and investment criteria.
BirdLife International organized the regional expert roundtables in collaboration with WWF, the Centre for Environmental Education (CEE) and the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE). These roundtables, held in Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Assam, were attended by 147 participants from Nepal, Bhutan, India and outside the region representing various institutions that included a range of local, regional, and international civil society organizations and scientific and government institutions. Consultants were also hired to collect, collate and prepare background reports on socioeconomic factors, the institutional context and conservation efforts in Nepal, Bhutan and northeast India.
WWF used this suite of conservation outcomes in an analysis to identify priorities for CEPF investments, as detailed in this ecosystem profile. The analysis took into account input from additional expert consultations, literature, and donor portfolio reviews, and results from previous conservation priority-setting exercises for the Eastern Himalayas Region (Basnet et al. 2000, Dorji 2000, Joshi 2000, Khaling et al. 2000, Myint et al. 2000, Pradhan and Bhujel 2000, Rastogi 2000, Shrestha and Joshi 1997,UNDP 1998, Wikramanayake et al. 1998a, WWF and ICIMOD 2001, Yonzon 2000a).
This ecosystem profile includes a commitment and emphasis on using conservation outcomes—targets against which the success of conservation investments can be measured—as the scientific underpinning for determining CEPF’s geographic and thematic focus for investment. CEPF recognizes that it cannot achieve all of the outcomes identified for a region on its own; thus, it places emphasis on forging partnerships for conservation investments to create a synergy when working to prevent biodiversity loss.
The Himalayas are geologically young (Xu 1993). More than 200 million years ago, Proto-India detached from the southeastern margin of Africa and began to drift slowly northward until it was intercepted by Eurasia. The Himalayas mountain range rose out of the geologic faulting during this massive collision, which occurred during the latter part of the Tertiary Period as indicated by the fossil record that shows an invasion of India by Eurasian fauna (Molnar 1986). The energy dissipated by this collision was widespread and accounts for some of Asia’s most distinctive geographical features, including the compression of the Tibetan Plateau, the massive distortion of Asia’s southern margin and even the Annamite mountain range in Indochina. Because the Deccan Plate is still inexorably moving northward, both Tibet and the Inner Himalayas continue to be pushed upward even today.
The rugged, and largely inaccessible, landscape makes biological surveys in the Himalayas extremely difficult. Vast areas of intact forests are little or entirely unexplored. Thus, many floral and faunal taxonomic groups are understudied and the true extent of the biodiversity is undoubtedly underestimated. Undescribed species, including some from the higher taxonomic groups such as mammals, reptiles and amphibians are very likely to occur in the more remote, heavily forested regions. But, despite the scant knowledge, what we know of the biodiversity indicates that the Eastern Himalayas Region is amongst the biologically richest areas on Earth.
Several factors contribute to the exceptional biological diversity of the eastern Himalayas. First, the eastern Himalayas has multiple biogeographic origins. Its location at the juncture of two continental plates places it in an ecotone represented by flora and fauna from both. The Indo-Malayan Realm of Southeast Asia contributes many tropical taxa to the eastern Himalayas biota, including trees such as dipterocarpus, shorea and terminalia, and climbing figs, epiphytic orchids, and arums. The monsoon forests below 1,000 meters have a close affinity with the monsoon forests of Indochina, and include dominant trees from the Family Dipterocarpaceae, woody climbers, Phoenix palms, a closed groundcover of grasses and sedges, and laterized red soils infested with termite colonies. Vertebrates include many Indomalayan species such as Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), wild water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), gaur (Bos gaurus), hornbills, pittas, cobras, and geckoes.
The Palearctic Realm to the north contributes plant species in the higher elevation forests, including conifers such as spruce (Piceae), fir (Abies), and larch (Larix), as well as deciduous broadleaf taxa such as birch (Betula), alder (Alnus), willow (Salix) and numerous alpine forbs such as Potentilla and Pedicularis. The temperate and subtropical East Asian or Sino-Japanese region contributes an ancient biota with high endemism and high biodiversity represented by members of the Fagaceae, Theaceae and Ericaceae. Palearctic mammals include the snow leopard (Uncia uncia), brown bear (Ursus arctos), wolf (Canis lupus) and a diverse assemblage of alpine ungulates.
Second, there is considerable climatic variability associated with the topography and vast reach of the mountains. The moisture-laden monsoon winds that originate from the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea are funneled inland along the Ganges River valley, and forced up the south-facing mountain slopes. As the winds strike and rise upslope, adiabatic cooling condenses the large volumes of water that fall as rain to flow back into the Indian Ocean along the rivers that drain the mountain range. These monsoon rains deluge the eastern extent of the mountain range, which bears the brunt of the wind. The western extent receives little rainfall by comparison. Consequently, the moister eastern extent of the mountain range is more biodiverse than the western reaches.
Third, because of the complex and steep topography there is large-scale climatic variability across the north-south axis. By acting as a barrier to the monsoon, the southern slopes intercept and receive much more moisture—exceeding 2,000 millimeters per year in many areas—than the northern slopes that face Tibet and Central Asia, which are subject to strong rainshadow and föhn effects. And the topographic complexity also results in meso-scale climatic variability because of localized pockets of high precipitation. Conversely, dry valleys occur where prevailing air movement is catabatic (i.e., downhill), such as in the Kali Gandaki valley of Central Nepal, and Punaka Valley in Bhutan.
Fourth, the scale and complexity of the mountains in the Eastern Himalayas Region contribute to high biological diversity in several ways. The beta (a comparison of of diversity between ecosystems) and gamma (overall diversity across a large region) diversity across the vast landscape increases overall biodiversity, and the extreme vertical relief enhances biological diversity along the north-south axis. The extreme height and steepness of the Himalayas mountain range confers considerable variation to its ecosystems, which are layered along the longitudinal axis as long, narrow ecoregions (WWF and ICIMOD 2001).
The topographic complexity also isolates islands of habitat. Antecedent rivers and streams separated by mountain massifs may support reproductively isolated populations of low-elevation species. And high ridges separated by valleys may isolate high-elevation species. This can contribute to genetic differences among populations, a step toward the evolution of endemic species. On a shorter time scale, historical vicariant events isolate populations by influencing local immigration and extinction. Because the Himalayas are relatively young, levels of endemism are low. However, the stage has been set for speciation.
The alluvial grasslands and savannas along the foothill valleys are among the tallest in the world. Characteristic species in these highly productive grasslands include Saccharum spontaneum, Phragmitis kharka, Arundo donax, Imperata cylindrica, Erianthus ravennae, Andropogon spp., and Aristida ascensionis (Shrestha and Joshi 1997). Annual silt deposition during monsoon floods rejuvenates these grasslands and promotes rapid regeneration. As the floodwaters recede, grasses such as Saccharum spontaneum and pioneer trees such as Trewia nudiflora and Ehretia laevis begin to colonize the area, and support high densities of a diverse herbivore community.
The grasslands transition into the sal forests that flank the hillsides along the lower reaches of the river valleys, below 1,000 m. The lower hill slopes above 1,000 meters are cooler and less drought-stressed during the spring pre-monsoon season. Here, the subtropical evergreen broadleaf forests are dominated by tree taxa such as Castanopsis and Schima from subtropical East Asia.
The eastern Himalayas temperate forests that grow at elevations where moisture tends to condense and remain in the air during the warm, moist growing season are among the most species-rich temperate forests in the world. They are dominated by evergreen broadleaf trees (e.g. Quercus, Lauraceae) in the lower reaches, from about 2,000-2,500 meters, and mixed conifers (e.g. Tsuga, Taxus) and winter-deciduous broadleaf species (e.g. Acer, Betula, Magnolia) in the upper reaches, from 2,500-3,000 meters. The drier, south-facing slopes support extensive stands of arboreal Rhododendron species that may co-occur with oak (Quercus semecarpifolia) or other ericaceous species such as Lyonia ovalifolia. These temperate forests support a rich epiphytic community, consisting of a variety of dicots, orchids, ferns and mosses. Bamboo (Arundinaria spp.) is dominant in the understory in places, especially where it provides early-successional ground cover following fire.
Further upslope, subalpine conifer forests begin from about 3,000 meters and extend to 4,000 meters. In the eastern Himalayas, Tsuga, Picea or Larix dominate these forests between 3,000 meters to 3,500 meters and Abies dominates above 3,500 meters. Juniperus is widespread along the timberline, and may form dwarf krummoltz formations above 4,700 meters. The dry slopes and inner valleys support Pinus and Cupressus on basic limestone soils.
Above the treeline the vegetation is a moist alpine scrub community of dense juniper and Rhododendron shrubberies that extend to about 4,500 meters. Plant richness in these alpine shrub and meadows is very high, especially on the shady north-facing slopes that are protected from extreme winter cold by an insulating layer of snow. South-facing slopes tend to be dominated by Kobresia sedge and forbs with scattered shrub species of Berberis, Rosa, Lonicera, and <Cotoneaster to about 4,500 meters. From 4,500 to 4,700 meters the vegetation consists of alpine meadows with a diverse assemblage of alpine herbs and smaller-statured woody shrubs, such as a variety of dwarf rhododendrons, and numerous alpine herbs such as Potentilla, Ranunculus and the alpine Saussure.
Periglacial and subnival communities occur in the high alpine areas above 4,700 meters, where the short growing season, high winds, and unstable soils allow only specialized plants to survive. Some of these include Androsace, Arenaria and Saxifraga, Meconopsis and Primula. The latter two have their global centers of diversity in the eastern Himalayas. By about 5,500 to 6,000 meters, the nival zone, or permanent ice and bare rock, begins. Even here, at the highest elevations on Earth, microclimates may support small cushion-forming vascular plants, such as Arenaria bryophylla, which was recorded at 6,180 meters by A.F.R. Wollaston (Wollaston 1921, in Polunin and Stainton 1997).
Overall, more than 175 species of mammals and in excess of 500 species of birds are known from the region (WWF and ICIMOD 2001). The mammalian fauna in the lowlands is typically Indo-Malayan, consisting of langurs (Semenopithicus spp.), wild dogs (Cuon alpinus), sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), gaur, and several species of deer, such as muntjacs (Muntiacus muntjak) and sambar (Cervus unicolor). Further up the mountains, the Indo-Malayan fauna transitions into a Palearctic fauna, consisting of snow leopards, Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetinus) and a diverse ungulate assemblage that includes the blue sheep (Pseudois nayur), takin (Budorcas taxicolor) and Himalayas thar (Hemitragus jemlahicus). The red panda (Ailurus fulgens) is a Himalayan species that lives in old growth subalpine conifer and mixed forests with a bamboo understory.
Because the Himalayas have a relatively recent origin, endemism is low, especially among the better-known higher taxonomic groups. The golden langur (Trachypithecus geei) is restricted to the patch of semi-evergreen and temperate forest on the north bank of the Brahmaputra River, between the Sankosh and Manas rivers that flow south from the mountains. The pygmy hog (Sus salvinus) and hispid hare (Caprolagus hispidus) are restricted to the alluvial grasslands and the Namdapha flying squirrel (Biswamoyopterus biswasi) is restricted to the temperate broadleaf forests of the Eastern Himalayas Region.
Endemism among birds in the region is higher than among mammals. Some species restricted to the region include the Manipur bush quail (Perdicula manipurensis), chestnut-breasted partridge (Arborophila mandelli), Blyth’s tragopan (Tragopan blythii), Temminck’s tragopan (Tragopan temminckii), Sclater’s monal (Lophophorus sclateri), Tibetan eared pheasant (Crossoptilon harmani) and rusty-bellied shortwing (Brachypteryx hyperythra).
But, despite the low overall endemicity, the region harbors several species that are represented by globally significant populations. The foothill grasslands and broadleaf forests harbor important populations of the largest carnivore and herbivores in Asia, notable the tiger (Panthera tigris), Asian elephant, greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) and wild water buffalo. The alluvial grasslands, delineated as the Terai-Duar Savanna and Grassland ecoregion (Wikramanayake et al. 2001), support some of the highest densities of tigers in the world (Karanth and Nichols 1998). And the elephant population in the remaining habitat patches along the north bank of the Brahmaputra River in Assam is one of India's glargest and most important (Sukumar 1992). The greater one-horned rhinoceros, one of three species found in Asia, is restricted to several small, isolated populations contained within protected areas (Dinerstein 2003). The Eastern Himalayas Region is the last bastion for this charismatic mega-herbivore, which once ranged along the length of the Himalayas foothills, from Pakistan to Myanmar. Many other refuge populations of large herbivores—wild water buffalo, swamp deer (Cervus duvaucelii)—restricted to protected areas in southern Nepal and northeastern India—also represent some of the last remaining in the world, and are considered to be of global significance. The Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers that flow along the Himalayas foothills also support globally important populations of the Gangetic dolphin (Platanista gangetica).
Although the snow leopard has a wide distribution across the Himalayas range, and into the trans-Himalaya, the populations in the Eastern Himalayas Region are important because this high-altitude predator occues at low densities. The populations of vultures, greater and lesser adjutants—some of Asia’s largest birds—in the foothill grasslands and broadleaf forests are globally significant, as are the populations of several of the hornbill species and pheasants, white-winged duck (Cairina scutulata), white-bellied heron (Ardea insignis), black-necked stork (Grus nigricollis) and the Bengal florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis).
Important Ecological Phenomenon
In Assam, Manas and Sonai Rupai were first established as wildlife sanctuaries in 1928 and 1934, respectively, and are among the earliest contemporary protected areas in Asia (IUCN 1990). Several other protected areas were established or extended in northeast India in the 1970s and 1980s to create networks that represent the biodiversity in the region, following recommendations from a comprehensive assessment by Rogers and Panwar (1988). There are more than 70 formally protected areas in the seven northeastern Indian states within the Eastern Himalayas Region, covering more than 15,000 square kilometers. Two of these, Manas Tiger Reserve and Kaziranga National Park in Assam, have been declared World Heritage sites. These harbor globally important populations of large flagship mammals and birds that showcase the region’s fauna, and can also serve as indicators of conservation success.
The protected areas system in Nepal is more recent. Chitwan was established as a national park in 1973—prior to that it was a hunting preserve for the royal family. The park, located in the highly productive Terai, supports an important tiger population and the second largest greater one-horned rhinoceros population. During the same year, Sagarmatha, which includes the world’s tallest mountain, Everest, was established as a national park. Within a decade, the protected areas system had grown from 4,500 square kilometers to more than 13,000 square kilometers with the establishment of three additional reserves along the south and two that covered the northern, montane habitats. By the year 2000, 10 more protected areas had been added to the network, doubling the total area within the protected areas system. Two of these are large conservation areas—Annapurna and Makalu Barun—which have become models for community-based biodiversity management. Both Sagarmatha National Park and Chitwan National Park have since been declared World Heritage sites.
Until 1995, Bhutan’s protected areas system was dominated by the vast Jigme Dorji National Park that effectively protected rock, ice and snow along the inaccessible northern border with China, but did not contribute much to biodiversity conservation. In 1995, a radical revamping of the protected areas system added three protected areas that include the biologically rich temperate forests in the mid-hills. The large Jigme Dorji National Park was also reduced in size and extended southwards to capture biologically important alpine meadows. This new system, which covers about 26 percent of Bhutan, is more representative of the county’s ecosystems and the biodiversity contained in them. In 1999, another significant addition occurred, when a system of corridors that linked the protected areas was recognized to create a conservation landscape that extends across the length and breadth of the country. This landscape, now known as the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex (B2C2), covers almost 35 percent of the country and consists of five national parks, two wildlife sanctuaries, one strict nature reserve and 12 corridors that cover almost 16,000 square kilometers. In 1999, the system was bequeathed as a Gift to the Earth from the People of Bhutan.
A notable feature of the protected areas systems of Bhutan, Nepal and northeastern India is that several lie adjacent to each other across the national borders and provide opportunities for transboundary conservation. The Kanchandzonga National Park in Sikkim and Kangchenjunga Conservation Area in eastern Nepal, and Manas National Park in Bhutan and Manas Tiger Reserve in Assam are two such complexes. However, there are other opportunities to link protected areas across international boundaries by creating corridors and habitat linkages. Examples of these include Bardia in Nepal and Katerniaghat in India; Sukla Phanta in Nepal and Dudwa in India; and Sakteng in Bhutan and Eagle’s Nest and Sessa Orchid Reserve in India. Some of the priority sites such as Namdapha in Arunachal Pradesh provide opportunities for transboundary conservation with Myanmar and China. These transboundary conservation options are compatible with CEPF goals of partnerships and corridor outcomes.
The three levels of targets for achieving conservation outcomes interlock geographically through the presence of species in sites and of sites within landscapes. They are also linked ecologically; if species are to be conserved the sites in which they live must be protected, and the landscapes provide for ecological linkages between sites, so that ecological processes and dynamics associated with the species, and the natural communities of which they are a part, are maintained.
This process of defining conservation outcomes requires knowledge on the global conservation status of individual species and accurate data on the distribution of threatened species across sites and landscapes in the region. Because of its focus on the global biodiversity hotspots, it is crucial that the process used to derive conservation targets for CEPF is based on a global standard. Thus, the principal basis for defining species outcomes is the global threat assessments contained within The 2002 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN 2002), which is based on quantitative, globally applicable criteria under which the probability of extinction is estimated for each species. The species outcomes for the eastern Himalayas consist of those species that are globally threatened (i.e. Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable). Avoiding extinctions means conserving globally threatened species to make sure that their Red List status improves or at least stabilizes.
One of the shortcomings of this selection process is that global threat assessments and reliable population trend data are incomplete or unavailable for most species, especially the taxonomic groups that comprise the small, yet abundant species. However, the majority of the species outcomes are still represented by the larger vertebrates. Since these species are more easily monitored, and because many act as umbrella species for overall biodiversity, use of the prominent, larger vertebrates as conservation outcomes, especially as measures of conservation successes, is justifiable.
Given that many species are best conserved through the protection of a network of sites at which they occur, sites holding populations of globally threatened species were identified. These sites are considered "key biodiversity areas" or site outcomes. Thus, the site outcomes represent discrete land areas that harbor populations of at least one globally threatened species and should be protected from ecological transformation to conserve the target species that live within them. Sites are scale-independent, and the defining characteristic is that it is an area that can be managed as a single unit. Otherwise, a site can be any category of protected area, governmental land or privately owned property. The main objective of defining important sites for conservation of threatened species is to identify areas where investments can be made to prevent species extinctions and biodiversity loss.
In the Eastern Himalayas Region, the starting point for defining key biodiversity areas, or site-scale conservation outcomes, was the suite of protected areas and Important Bird Areas (IBAs). IBAs are by definition key biodiversity areas because they have been identified for bird species of global conservation concern. A second data source of information on sites was obtained from the World Conservation Monitoring Centre protected areas database. BirdLife International and its affiliates, the Bombay Natural History Society, and Bird Conservation Nepal, identified the IBAs (Baral and Inskipp 2001, M. Crosby in litt. 2003, Z. ul-Islam in litt. 2003). Each globally threatened species in the other taxonomic groups was evaluated as to the sites in which it occurs, which included both the IBAs (many of which are protected areas) but also required identification of additional sites. Much of this work was done during the expert consultations.
Corridor outcomes focus on the need for conservation at a landscape-scale to capture ecological and evolutionary processes that maintain biodiversity, especially over the long term. Corridors preserve ecological and evolutionary processes, and species that cannot be conserved at the site scale alone, by maintaining connectivity between important sites. Corridor outcomes are particularly important to conserve the large vertebrate species that occur at naturally low densities, have large home ranges or territories, or exhibit dispersal or migratory behavior as part of their natural history that make their effective and long-term conservation unlikely in sites alone. These species were considered to be "landscape species" (sensu Sanderson et al. 2001). Corridor outcomes were also selected on the need to maintain ecological processes, such as the need to maintain habitat connectivity to allow for seasonal altitudinal migrations and hydrology that are not directly associated with species outcomes.
In the Eastern Himalayas Region, several large vertebrate species qualify for landscape species status. Notable among these are the tiger, snow leopard, Asian elephant, clouded leopard and some of the larger birds, such as the vultures, adjutants and hornbills. The ecological processes critical to the Eastern Himalayas Region that have to be captured by corridor outcomes include the altitudinal seasonal migrations by several birds and mammals (and presumably by fishes), and maintenance of hydrological processes along the steep Himalayas watersheds.
Anchored on key biodiversity areas, corridor outcomes were defined on the basis of existing linkages of natural habitat across environmental gradients and between site outcomes. These habitat linkages provide for area and movement requirements of wide-ranging species that cannot be conserved at the site scale alone. The definition was assisted by consultations with and opinions of local experts in each country, complemented by analysis of spatial data on land-cover, elevation and human population distribution. The results of ecoregion-based conservation assessments conducted in the region by WWF (Wikramanayake et al. 1998a, Dorjee 2000, Myint et al. 2000) were also included in the analysis of corridor outcomes.
The species outcomes for the eastern Himalayas consists of 163 species, comprising 45 mammals, 50 birds, 17 reptiles, 12 amphibians, 3 invertebrates, and 36 plant species (Appendix 1). Since there are no globally threatened fish species listed from the Eastern Himalayas Region, outcomes for this taxon were not defined. We note that comprehensive global threat assessments of invertebrates, fish and, to a lesser extent, plants, are needed and should be considered a high priority to compile a complete list of species outcomes.
Fourteen of the species outcomes are Critically Endangered, 46 are Endangered and 102 are Vulnerable (Table 1). One species, the black softshell turtle (Aspideretes nigricans) is considered to be extinct in the wild by IUCN (2002), but a population was recently rediscovered in Assam Valley, northeastern India (Praschag and Gamel 2002), and should occur in several sites, including Kaziranga National Park, D'Ering Wildlife Sanctuary, Pakke Wildlife Sanctuary, Namdapha National Park, Dibru Saikhowa National Park, Manas Tiger Reserve, Orang National Park, Nameri National Park and Majuli (F. Ahmed, Aaranyak, pers. comm.).
Of the 163 species outcomes: 146 (90 percent) occur in northeastern India, including 70 species that are endemic to the Eastern Himalayas Region; 75 (46 percent) occur in Nepal; and 49 (29 percent) occur in Bhutan.
Among the important globally threatened mammals are Asia’s three largest herbivores, namely the Asian elephant, greater one-horned rhinoceros and the wild water buffalo; largest carnivore, the tiger; and several large birds such as vultures, adjutant storks, and hornbills. All these species have extensive habitat requirements and cannot be conserved within small, protected areas without compromising their ecology, behavior, and demographics. A full list of all globally threatened species is provided in Appendix 1.
A total of 175 key biodiversity areas were identified for the Eastern Himalayas Region (Table 2, Figure 2a,b and c). Of these, 101 sites (58 percent) harbor populations of globally threatened mammal species, 164 (94 percent) have globally threatened, restricted-range or congregatory bird species, 45 (26 percent) have globally threatened reptile species, and 17 (10 percent) support populations of threatened amphibian species (Appendix 2).
Detailed data on the distribution of globally threatened plant species in sites are unavailable, and a comprehensive global threat assessment reflecting true global conservation priorities within most plant groups is lacking. Eight sites (Singalila, Neora Valley, Mahananda, Senchal, Maenum, Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary, Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary, Pangolokha Wildlife Sanctuary) and one conservation corridor (Kangchenjunga-Singalila, including the connection to Mahananda) were identified as being important for plants during the Gangtok roundtable based on IUCN Red-Listed plants. Another 52 sites across the region were assessed as being important for conservation of nationally threatened plant species, especially those endemic to the Eastern Himalayas Region. The full list of site outcomes in the Eastern Himalayas Region is presented in Appendix 2.
Site outcomes could not be identified for several species. These are listed as follows:
The Indian eyed turtle (Morenia petersi) was only assigned to Gainda Tal in Nepal, but its known distribution is also widespread, across the Ganges river basin in eastern India and Bangladesh (http://emys.geo.orst.edu/collection/species/Moreniapetersi/Moreniapetersi.html), and should be included within the Terai Arc, North Bank and Kaziranga-Karbi Anlong landscapes.
Of the 175 site outcomes in the Eastern Himalayas Region, only 84 (48 percent) are completely or partly included within nationally gazetted protected areas.
Many site outcomes support numerous globally threatened species. In particular, Koshi Tappu, Bardia, Chitwan and Sukla Phanta in Nepal and Dibru-Saikhowa, Kaziranga, Nameri and Buxa in northeastern India support at least 20 globally threatened vertebrate species each.
Some site outcomes are considered irreplaceable because they support globally threatened species that only occur in those sites, or are one of few sites that are known to contain globally important populations of globally threatened species. These include Namdapha National Park in Arunachal Pradesh, which is the only site in the world known to support Namdapha flying squirrel and one of only two sites known to support the snowy-throated babbler (Stachyris oglei). Orang Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam is the only site known to have the Orang sticky frog (Kalophrynus orangensis). Rongrengiri Wildlife Sanctuary and Siju Caves in Meghalaya are the only sites in the region known to harbor the Kashmir Cave bat (Myotis longipes). The irreplaceability of various sites informed the prioritization of outcomes for CEPF investment.
Because survey effort in the region is uneven—there are large areas that are still biologically unexplored—the available data on the distribution of globally threatened species in the Eastern Himalayas Region vary substantially across the region and among taxonomic groups in terms of comprehensiveness. Consequently, site outcomes identified as being important for conservation based on one taxonomic group, or even a species, may also be important for other groups for which data are not yet available. On the other hand, there could also be other sites that harbor globally threatened species, or even unidentified species that should qualify for globally threatened status but have been missed in this analysis.
Thirteen landscapes were defined where corridor outcomes need to be achieved in the Eastern Himalayas Region (Table 3; Figure 3), covering 132,482 square kilometers, equivalent to more than 32 percent of the total area of the region. These landscapes range in size from 492 square kilometers (Neora Valley-Toorsa corridor) to in excess of 19,000 square kilometers (Dibang-Dihang Landscape).
Overall, the landscapes include 97 (76 percent) of the faunal species outcomes and 89 (51 percent) of the site outcomes. The faunal outcomes included in the landscapes comprise of 36 (80 percent) mammals, 42 (84 percent) birds, 16 (94 percent) reptiles, 3 (25 percent) amphibians, and all three invertebrates. The number of sites contained in the landscapes range from 2 to 17 (Table 3).
The Eastern Himalayas Region contains 17 Tiger Conservation Units (TCUs), landscapes that have been identified to conserve metapopulations of tigers. Four of these are Level 1 TCUs or high priority tiger conservation landscapes (Wikramanayake et al. 1998b). All four of these Level 1 TCUs overlap with the landscapes; thus the tiger conservation priorities in the region are captured within the landscapes identified during this exercise, especially within the Terai Arc Landscape, Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex and the North Bank Landscape.
Several corridor outcomes were also identified to ensure that important ecological and evolutionary processes in the region are maintained. In this region, altitudinal migration, especially by birds, is an important process that depends on altitudinal continuums of natural habitat. Hydrologic processes are also significant ecological targets.
Priority Outcomes for CEPF Investment
Priority Species Outcomes
Several species that can usually be conserved at site level but require special management regimes were also identified. These include species such as the globally threatened bat colonies in caves, which require strict protection. The red panda requires a specific habitat type consisting of mature mixed and subalpine conifer forests with Arundinaria bamboo undergrowth, which has to be included and managed within protected areas. The assemblage of Terai grassland birds and the endemic hispid hare and pygmy hog require specific management regimes to maintain suitable grassland conditions.
Priority Site Outcomes
A total of 60 sites (from the overall 175) were identified as priority site outcomes (Table 5, Figure 3). These included 12 from Bhutan, 38 from northeastern India and 10 from Nepal. Seven sites—Mouling National Park, Namdapha National Park and Kamlang Wildlife Sanctuary, Upper Renging, Upper Rottung, Cherapunjee cliffs, gorges and sacred groves [including Mawsmai], Khasi Hills [including Shillong Peak National Park], Tura-Nokrek range—were identified to include known populations of amphibian species considered threatened by the Global Amphibian Assessment (IUCN-SSC and CI-CABS 2003). Since the amphibians are a poorly surveyed and studied group, it is strongly suggested that dedicated amphibian surveys be supported in the region since the taxon represents a good bioindicator of ecosystem integrity. The sites that harbor amphibians should then be updated on the basis of survey results.
Similarly, several priority sites were identified for globally threatened turtles. Almost all these sites are protected areas (the exception being Gainda Tal in Nepal which was identified as the only site for the Indian eyed turtle). Although many of these turtles are killed for food, their status and current distribution of populations is also poorly known. Given their wide distribution across the region, surveys of these species are recommended to ascertain whether they can be conserved in other sites.
The eight sites identified as being important for plants during the Gantok expert roundtable were considered in prioritizing of site and corridor outcomes. Because sites were not identified for globally threatened plants in the other expert workshops, these could not be factored into the prioritization of the sites.
Appendix 3 provides a separate listing of the priority site outcomes, including the criteria by which they were selected.
Forty-three of the 60 priority site outcomes are formally protected areas, the exceptions being Popjika and Khatekha valleys, Ada Lake, and the Sarbhang-Gelephu foothills in Bhutan; Upper Renging, Upper Rottung, East Karbi Anlong & North Karbi Anlong, Jatinga, Lumding, Ripu-Chirang, Upper Dihing (East) and Kakojan, Jamjing and Sengagan, Dzuko, Siroi, Cherapunjee cliffs, and Teesta-Rangit Valley in northeastern India; and the Gainda Tal, and Dang Deukhuri foothills in southern Nepal. Fifty-six of the sites are IBAs. Very few sites other than protected areas or IBAs were identified because of a lack of knowledge about most taxonomic groups and the distribution of biodiversity of the region in general, even among the regional scientists and conservationists.
Priority Corridor Outcomes
Five of the 13 landscapes were chosen as priorities for corridor outcomes. These five landscapes were prioritized because: a) each of these harbors the highest number of representative landscape species from the respective ecosystems; b) together, these landscapes contain all the landscape species in the Eastern Himalayas Region; c) each also includes the most number of other species outcomes; and d) as a suite, these five landscapes contain the most number of species outcomes from the region (Appendix 4). These are the Terai Arc Landscape, the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex, the Kangchenjunga-Singalila Complex, the Kaziranga-Karbi Anlong Landscape and the North Bank Landscape (Figure 4, Table 5). Habitat linkages forming biological corridors between the sites are important outcomes in these five landscapes. While habitat linkages for the Terai Arc Landscape have been identified, based on field surveys and GIS analyses, biological corridors for the other landscapes have not yet been defined.
The five priority corridors—Terai Arc Landscape, the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex, the Kangchenjunga-Singalila Complex, the Kaziranga-Karbi Anlong Landscape, and the North Bank Landscape—are described in detail below. It is worth highlighting why a couple of corridors were not selected as priorities. The Manas-Buxa Landscape was identified as extremely important during the regional roundtables because it contains a large number of landscape and other species outcomes. However, this long, narrow landscape also represents a tenuous link between the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex and the North Bank Landscape. An analysis of the existing habitat connectivity indicates that the Manas Tiger Reserve, which is the western anchor of the Manas-Buxa Landscape has better, more intact links with Royal Manas National Park, whereas the eastern extent of the Manas-Buxa Landscape has better habitat links with the North-Bank Landscape (Figure 4), and has been considered as part of the latter in WWF India’s conservation portfolio. Delineation of the Manas Buxa Landscape as distinct from the Bhutan Biological Conservation Comlex is more an artifact of national boundaries, than ecological boundaries. Secondly, the Upper Lohit-Changlang Landscape was identified as important for its populations of snow leopard, clouded leopard and takin. This region, which is contiguous with the Northern Forest Complex corridor in Myanmar, was also identified as a priority in previous WWF analyses. However, the area is unstable politically and it was considered that CEPF could not make an impact there in the next five years. However, as the area is poorly known biologically, it should be considered an important landscape for additional surveys and its status reassessed based on the surveys.
Thirty-six of the 60 priority site outcomes (from the overall 175) are in the five priority landscapes, and harbor important populations of all the landscape species amongst them (Table 5; Figure 4). Overall, the sites within the five landscapes include 34 of the 45 mammal species outcomes, 37 of 50 bird species outcomes, 14 of the 16 species of reptile species outcomes, one amphibian. It is also likely that several sites within the Terai Arc Landscape and the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex harbor the Himalaya dragonfly and Ludlow's Bhutan swallowtail butterfly, respectively. The lowland sites in the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex and North Bank Landscape that harbor the pygmy hog will, of course, be suitable areas to protect the pygmy hog sucking louse.
There were a few species outcomes that were not represented in priority landscapes because they do not have globally significant populations in the Eastern Himalayas Region. These include:
In addition to the five priority landscapes overlapping with the Level 1 TCUs in the region, two of the landscapes—the Terai Arc Landscape and the Kaziranga-Karbi Anlong Landscape—include four World Heritage sites amongst them, namely Chitwan National Park, Lumbini and Corbett National Park in the Terai Arc and Kaziranga National Park in the Kaziranga-Karbi Anlong Landscape.
Although the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex, as defined by the roundtable participants, excludes Manas Tiger Reserve in India, the two are ecologically linked because the Tiger Reserve is contiguous with Bhutan’s Royal Manas National Park. Thus, ecologically and functionally the Manas Tiger Reserve can be considered to be part of the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex. Manas Tiger Reserve is also a World Heritage Site.
The priority landscapes are described in detail below.
The 14 mammal, 20 bird and seven reptile species outcomes in this landscape include a globally significant tiger metapopulation (Wikramanayake et al. 1999) and four important populations of the greater one-horned rhinoceros. The rhinoceros population in Chitwan National Park is the second largest in the world. The two populations in Bardia National Park and Sukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve are being augmented through successful translocations of rhinoceros from Chitwan. Although the rhinoceros is now more-or-less confined to protected areas across its range, in the Terai Arc Landscape, some animals have begun to wander out of the confines of these core refuges and live in buffer zones — the emergence of conservation program of the rhinoceros as a landscape species.
The Terai Arc Landscape also harbors several elephant populations that still seem to undertake seasonal migrations. The elephant population in the western extent of the landscape was identified as a rangewide conservation priority (WWF 1998). The Terai Arc overlaps with Level 1 TCUs and its tiger population is globally important.
Other priority species outcomes include the swamp deer in Sukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve in Nepal and in Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary, India (which lies outside of the region of analysis for this assessment, but has habitat linkages with Sukla Phanta). Several sites within the landscape have populations of hispid hare, and the rivers that flow within Chitwan and Bardia National Parks in Nepal harbor populations of the Gangetic dolphin.
Among the priority bird species in this landscape are several grassland specialist birds, including the globally threatened Bengal florican and the smaller bristled grass warbler, Finn’s weaver (Ploceus megarhynchus), slender-billed babbler (Turdoides longirostris), Jerdon’s babbler (Chrysomma altirostre) and white-throated bushchat (Saxicola insignis). Wetlands, especially near the Lumbini World Heritage Site—the birthplace of Lord Buddha— support a population of saurus crane (Grus antigone). There are also several priority reptile species—three-striped roof turtle (Kachuga dhongoka), red-crowned roof turtle (Kachuga dhongoka), Indian eyed turtle, three-keeled land tortoise (Melanochelys tricarinata), elongated tortoise, gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), marsh crocodile (Crocodylus palustris)—in the landscape, with the gharial being an aquatic flagship species.
The landscape in Nepal provides both north-south and east-west connectivity and includes some of the last remaining areas of relatively intact subtropical and temperate forests that have become highly fragmented and degraded throughout the Himalaya. One of the most outstanding features of this landscape in Nepal is the altitudinal gradient, from the tropical broadleaf forests of Jhapa district to the eastern subtropical and lower temperate forests of Illam and Panchthar districts and the diverse forest types of KCA. These subtropical and temperate forests and the small patches of tropical evergreen forests are important for bird conservation (Yonzon 2000a). There are also several floral hotspots, (especially in Kangchenjunga), in this landscape, which also contains large expanses of Endangered Himalayas larch forest.
The 17 mammal species outcomes in the landscape include red panda, tiger, clouded leopard and snow leopard. Elephants migrate into the southern forests in Jhapa from West Bengal, but with forest fragmentation the numbers have dwindled and human-elephant conflicts have increased as the remaining animals are pocketed in small patches of habitat (Yonzon 2000a). Recently takin has been documented from this region (reported during the expert roundtable in Gangtok). The Mandelli’s short-eared bat is probably found in this landscape.
Thirteen bird species outcomes are present in this landscape. The birds include the chestnut-breasted partridge and the rusty-bellied shortwing. In addition, to these species, in the Nepal portion of the landscape, there is a high diversity of birds which includes 34-35 species of birds considered at risk in Nepal including 14 categorized as Endangered (Yonzon 2000a)
The southernmost protected area in the landscape, Royal Manas National Park, is directly linked with the Manas Tiger Reserve in Assam, India, which is immediately across the international border between India and Bhutan. Thus, Manas Tiger Reserve is included within this landscape.
The landscape supports 17 mammal, 10 bird, 4 reptile, and likely one globally threatened invertebrate species. Recent surveys have shown that tigers occur in this landscape at elevations over 3,000 m (Yonzon 2000b) Thus, the habitat linkages between the protected areas were designed to allow an important landscape species, the tiger to disperse between, and even reside outside the core protected areas, in temperate broadleaf forests.
The temperate forests also support several priority bird species outcomes, including important populations of the globally threatened rufous-necked hornbill (Aceros nipalensis), white-bellied heron, dark-rumped swift (Apus acuticauda), chestnut-breasted partridge (Arborophila mandellii), grey-crowned prinia (Prinia cinereocapilla) and the beautiful nuthatch (Sitta formosa). It also includes two wintering sites for the globally threatened black-necked crane.
The corridors also provide altitudinal habitat connectivity between the range of ecoregions represented in Bhutan (WWF and ICIMOD 2001), from the lowland grassland and savannas to the alpine meadows, and the subtropical and temperate broadleaf forests, mixed conifer and subalpine conifer forests in-between. The mid-montane temperate broadleaf forests that have been cleared throughout the eastern Himalayas are still relatively intact in Bhutan. Many of the birds in these forests are not found at comparable elevations in Nepal, where the broadleaf forests are highly fragmented; most likely a result of fragmentation that prevents movements and distribution (Carol Inskipp, pers comm).
The Manas reserve complex—Royal Manas National Park and Manas Tiger Reserve/World Heritage Site—also harbors elephants. It used to support an important population of the greater one-horned rhinoceros, which has now been extirpated by poachers who have taken advantage of an ongoing, two-decade insurgency. But there is good potential to re-establish the species if poaching can be brought under control. Manas also harbor important populations of the pygmy hog and hispid hare, and a small, nevertheless important population of wild water buffalo. The Manas reserve complex and the surrounding forests harbor important populations of capped langurs (Trachypithecus pileatus) and the endemic golden langur.
In the north, Jigme Dorji National Park and Bumdaling provide large areas of snow leopard habitat. These northern reserves also support takin and the charismatic Himalayas endemic, the red panda, both of which are priority species outcomes. The Mandelli’s short-eared bat may occur in the middle areas of this landscape.
The sites within the landscape harbor several other priority species outcomes, comprising nine mammal, 26 bird and seven reptile species outcomes. Notable among these is the world’s largest population of greater one-horned rhinoceros, secured in Kaziranga National Park. The park also harbors globally important populations of wild water buffalo, swamp deer and tiger.
Among the bird species outcomes represented in this landscape are the white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis), slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuirostris) and the greater and lesser adjutant storks. The large spatial areas associated with landscapes are more conducive to conservation of these big birds than the smaller site outcomes. Another landscape bird species in this landscape is the rufous-necked hornbill, which inhabits the forested areas, especially in Intanki, Maratlongi and Dhansiri. Important populations of the white-winged duck are known to occur in several site outcomes—Garampani, Nambor, Intanki, Maratlongi and Dhansiri—within the landscape, although its distribution may be more widespread across the landscape. Kaziranga itself is rich in globally threatened bird species, with several grassland specialists such as the bristled grass warbler (Chaetomis striatus), slender-billed babbler, Jerdon’s babbler, Bengal florican, Finn’s weaver and white-throated bush chat, and several birds associated with wetlands, especially the white-bellied heron, swamp francolin (Francolinus gularis) and Marsh babbler (Pellomeum palustre).
Because the landscape includes a variety of ecosystems, from the wetlands and riverine habitat along the Brahmaputra River, and alluvial grasslands and subtropical broadleaf forests in Assam, to temperate broadleaf forests, mixed conifer forests, and even alpine habitats in Arunachal Pradesh, species diversity is high. The landscape species include elephants and tigers in the lowlands to snow leopards and takin in the montane areas. Overall, the landscape includes 22 mammal species outcomes. Bird species diversity is also high. The low elevation species include the grassland and wetland birds, such as the Bengal florican, slender-billed babbler, Finn's weaver, bristled grass-warbler, grey-crowned prinia, Jerdon's babbler and Sarus crane (Grus antigone), white-bellied heron, marsh babbler, black-breasted parrotbill (Paradoxomis flavirostris), swamp francolin, spot-billed pelican (Pelecanus philippensis), white-winged duck and Pallas's fish eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus). The lowlands also harbor wide-ranging large birds such as the slender-billed vulture, white-rumped vulture, and greater and lesser adjutants. In the forested submontane areas, birds such as the rufous-necked hornbill, wood snipe (Gallinago nemoricola), rusty-bellied shortwing, Blyth's tragopan, chestnut-breasted partridge, beautiful nuthatch are identified as important conservation outcomes. The landscape also includes sites with 10 reptile species outcomes and one amphibian species outcome.
People use most of the corridors and even some of the smaller sites that are identified as outcomes; thus the anthropogenic changes also impact and influence the region’s biological richness at intensities never before experienced in the region. These threats to biodiversity are issues that have to be addressed to achieve the conservation targets in the region. Since many areas within the corridor outcomes will never become fully protected areas the solutions will have to involve a wide range of civil society.
Bhutan’s Institutional Framework: In Bhutan, all conservation and related activities are mandated with the Department of Forestry Services in the Ministry of Agriculture, better known as the RNR sector (Renewable Natural Resources Sector), and encompasses agriculture, animal husbandry, and forestry. The Department of Forestry Services fulfills its responsibilities through four functional divisions: the Forest Protection and Utilization Division, Nature Conservation Division, Forest Resources Development Division, and the Social Forestry Division. Field activities are implemented at the regional level through 11 Territorial Divisions and five national park/sanctuary offices.
The Nature Conservation Division is responsible for all management and other activities within the protected areas. Although its focus is the protected areas system, its ambit extends to biodiversity conservation issues outside the protected areas, especially in the buffer zones and corridors. The Forest Protection and Utilization Division is responsible for protecting and managing all government forests outside the protected areas system, and the Forest Resources Development Division for developing management plans for sustainable utilization of governmental Forest Management Units.
The National Environmental Commission (NEC) is an independent institution that is the national focal point for environmental policies and responsibilities outlined in the Convention on Biodiversity. Together with a Biodiversity Management Board (BMB) comprising of a 13 member cross-sectoral panel, the NEC oversees the implementation of the National Biodiversity Action Plan. The BMB is also responsible for advising, reviewing or reforming national policies, projects, and actions that pertain to the nation’s biological resources, including conservation and sustainable use. The Natural Resources Training Institute trains mid-level civil servants in forest, livestock, and agricultural extension services.
The nongovernmental conservation sector in Bhutan is represented by two major conservation NGOs operating in Bhutan—WWF Bhutan Program and the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN). Other relevant institutions include the National Women’s Association of Bhutan, the Youth Development Fund, and gewogs (village level development agencies). WWF has been active in Bhutan since 1977, engaged in training and capacity building, biological surveys, assisting with protected area management, helping to develop forestry legislation, and supporting conservation monitoring. WWF was also closely involved with the revision of Bhutan’s protected areas system and in designing the system of corridors that now constitute the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex.
RSPN was founded in 1987, and remains Bhutan’s only national conservation NGO. Its focus is to promote conservation through environmental education in schools, integrated conservation and development programs, and advocacy. RSPN is now in the process of developing an endowment fund to ensure sustainable funds for financial security.
The Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation (BTEF) is another parastatal conservation organization that was established in 1991 as one of the world’s first conservation trust funds to provide a sustainable source of revenue for conservation. This innovative program now contributes more than $1 million annually toward conservation, funding projects such as graduate training for conservation biologists, providing seed money for the RSPN endowment, support for protected areas management and development, and capacity building by providing scholarships.
Nepal’s Insitutional Framework: In Nepal, the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (MFSC), its departments and parastatals are the main policy-making agencies for forest and wildlife management. The MFSC is organized into three policy divisions and four implementing departments, the latter being the Department of Forests, Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, Department of Watershed Management and Soil Conservation, Department of Forest Survey and Research.
The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) is mandated with conserving the country’s major representative ecosystems, unique natural and cultural heritage, wildlife protection, and research. While the earlier emphasis was on species protection, the DNPWC now stresses a participatory approach to biodiversity conservation and management. The Department of Forests (DoF) is responsible for managing, demarcating, controlling, and conserving all national forests outside the protected areas. The Community and Private Forestry Division of the DoF carries out forest development and management, and oversees utilization programs in community and private forests, while the Planning and Training Division formulates management plans and programs for the conservation and promotion of Nepal's forests and its rational use.
Under the 1990 Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal, there is provision to establish a Natural Resources and Environment Committee in the House of Representatives. This committee has the powers and functions to evaluate the policies and programs pertaining to conservation and natural resource management, in collaboration with the Ministries of Forest and Soil Conservation; Water Resources; Land Reform and Management; and Population and Environment, and relevant departments and agencies under these ministries. Therefore, these other ministries are also relevant to conservation activities in Nepal. For instance, the scope of the Ministry of Population and Environment extends to oversight of the National Conservation Strategy and the Nepal Environmental Policy and Action Plan. This ministry is also responsible to ensure compliance of various international conventions.
The Environment Protection Council, established in 1992, provided the guidance and impetus for the government to ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on Climate Change, the Vienna Convention on the Protection of the Ozone Layer, and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Nepal has also developed its institutional capacity for biodiversity protection and conservation management through national and overseas training, and recently produced the National Biodiversity Strategy.
The nongovernmental conservation community in Nepal is much larger than in Bhutan. Some of the major institutions include WWF Nepal Program, the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation, UNDP, IUCN-Nepal and The Mountain Institute. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is a regional organization based in Kathmandu.
IUCN began work in Nepal in the 1960s, assisting early government efforts to protect environmentally sensitive areas and wildlife. Nepal became a State Member of IUCN in 1973 with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) as the active link. In the 1980s, IUCN supported the Nepal government in formulating a National Conservation Strategy (NCS). IUCN’s current focus in Nepal is wetland conservation and environmental education.
WWF has been involved in conservation efforts in Nepal since 1967, and is considered one of the key organizations involved in conservation in Nepal. Over the years, WWF’s initial focus of species conservation has expanded to involve local communities in natural resource management, capacity building within nongovernmental and governmental institutions, conservation education and institutional support for a landscape approach to conservation based on ecoregional scale planning. WWF Nepal has also played an important role in imparting technical support to the government in biodiversity-related policymaking, planning and implementation issues, and issues related to transboundary conservation. Currently, WWF Nepal supports four major projects: Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) Program, Kangchenjunga Conservation Area Project, Sagarmatha Community Agro-Forestry Project (SCAFP) and Northern Mountains Conservation Project (NMCP) on medicinal plants.
The King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation (KMTNC) was established in 1982. For nearly two decades now, KMTNC has successfully undertaken over 100 small and large projects on nature conservation, from Chitwan and Bardia in the lowlands to the Annapurna and Manaslu regions of the high Himalayas and Trans-Himalayas regions of Upper Mustang and Manang.
The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICMOD) is a regional program based in Katmandu with the mandate to promote the development of an economically and environmentally sound mountain ecosystem and to improve the living standards of mountain populations in the Hindu Kush Himalayas Region. ICIMOD works mainly at the interface between research and development and acts as a facilitator to generate new mountain-specific knowledge to further conservation and development in the mountains. ICIMOD also facilitates sharing of new knowledge among relevant institutions, organizations, and individuals in the region, and thus functions as a multidisciplinary documentation and information center on integrated mountain development. It is also a focal point for mobilizing and coordinating applied and problem-solving research activities, and for training in integrated mountain development.
In addition to the above NGOs, there are more than 100 local and national level NGOs and community-based organizations (CBOs). Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists, Bird Conservation Nepal, Environmental Camp for Conservation Action, The Mountain Institute, and Mountain Spirit among others are active in raising awareness of conservation issues in Nepal.
Northeastern India’s Institutional Framework: In India, the forests and wildlife are constitutionally vested as state subjects. Thus, the respective state Forest Departments are primarily accountable for managing forests and the Wildlife Wings of the Forest Departments manage the protected areas. The Chief Wildlife Warden is responsible for the implementation of Wildlife Act, and has to report to the central Ministry on select wildlife matters. The Ministry of Environment and Forests has overall responsibility for forests and protected areas in India.
But, unlike in the rest of India, about 54 percent of the forests in the northeast hill states are categorized as unclassed state forests. These are largely under the control of private individuals, clans, village councils, district councils and other traditional community institutions. In Assam, two district councils manage 3,589 square kilometers (1 percent) of Reserve Forests and Proposed Reserve Forests, the rest being under the state Forest Department. In comparison, the neighboring hill states Meghalaya (97 percent), Nagaland (97 percent) and Tripura (84 percent) have much greater proportions of their forests managed by autonomous district councils as well as clans, village councils and individual families. Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram have about 63 percent, 52 percent and 46 percent, respectively of community managed and controlled forests (Down to Earth 2002). Utilization of unclassed state forests includes traditional usufruct rights.
Thus, in these hill states the District Councils are an important part of the governance structure, and forest management comes under the purview of the Council Forest Departments. Despite the devolution of management rights to the states and districts, the central Ministry of Environment and Forests, in Delhi, retains responsibility for sourcing funds to the state departments, formulating legislation and amendments, and providing direction to state Forest Departments on major policy decisions in forest and biodiversity protection. Acceptance of central-level directives by the state departments is, however, discretionary.
Even at the village level, there are institutions such as the village durbars and Village Development Councils that play a very important role in conservation of biodiversity and ecological services. These councils run the day-to-day village administration, including the management of village or community forests where fuelwood extraction, thatch grass collection, and gathering materials for house construction are permitted and regulated. Certain village durbars are also the custodians of sacred groves and community forests.
Like the rest of the country, Assam, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh in northeast follow the Panchayati Raj system, which governs a substantial portion of the common property resources, and is also an important decentralized institution in biodiversity conservation. In Arunachal Pradesh, the Anchal Samitis are the panchayat equivalents, and comprise of village clusters. A substantial portion of undisturbed natural community forests in Arunachal Pradesh is under the control of Anchal Samitis, which makes them important stakeholders of biodiversity conservation and management.
There are more than 150 conservation-related nongovernmental organizations in northeast India. Most are organized at local and grassroots level, but several are regional, national, and international NGOs that have been working in the region for more than two decades. The activities of the grassroots NGOs vary from poverty alleviation through community development, education and awareness, community mobilization, advocacy and action projects, to ex situ and in situ conservation and biological inventory and surveys. Many were established by dedicated groups of individuals motivated to conserve species, biodiversity, or the environment where they live. For example, the Green Guards and Green Manas are two local NGOs based in Assam engaged in small-scale ex situ conservation projects; the former rescues, rehabilitates, and releases greater and lesser adjutant storks, and the latter has a captive breeding program for Pygmy hogs. In Sikkim, the local NGO, Ecotourism & Conservation Society of Sikkim (ECOSS) is involved in developing and promoting good ecotourism practices. In Assam, Nature’s Beckon is a small activist group striving to save the last few patches diverse rainforest in the remote Jaipur, Upper Dihing and Dirak districts of eastern Assam from industrialization.
Some of the regional and national NGOs active in northeast India include ATREE, a NGO that promotes biodiversity conservation and sustainable resource use in the eastern Himalayas and the Western Ghats. Aaranyak is a regional NGO dedicated to biodiversity conservation and other environmental issues in Northeast India and coordinates activities of smaller, grassroots NGOS such as Nature’s Foster, Green Heart Nature Club, Green Forest Conservation, New Horizon, Green Manas, and Green Guard. Because many of these grassroots NGOs are unable to receive and convert foreign-currency grants from international donors, the larger NGOs function as “nodal agencies” to receive, disburse and coordinate activities of the former.
CEE is a national NGO active in northeastern India. CEE is primarily engaged in environmental education programs, and is also the National Host Institution for the UNDP Small Grant Programme in India. The northeast regional cell of CEE in Guwahati (CEE NE) facilitates the program in the eight northeastern states where it implements 11 ongoing projects, of which five are in Assam, three in Manipur, and one each in one in Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim. Other national NGOs active in the region include Wildlife Trust, India and the Bombay Natural History Society. Another major, national NGO active in the region is, WWF India, which has a regional office in West Bengal with sub-regional offices in Kolkotta, Sikkim, Darjeeling, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. WWF undertakes diverse activities from helping to protect sacred groves, environmental education and tiger conservation to large, landscape-level projects, such as the ambitious North Bank Landscape project. Other NGOs include Inner Asia Foundation in Arunachal Pradesh, which is striving to create a reserve to the north of, and contiguous to, Kamlamg Wildlife Sanctuary and Namdapha National Park, and the World Pheasant Association which is active in Sikkim, Darjeeling, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram.
The ‘NGO Landscape’ in context: As evident, the civil society groups active in conservation vary widely in the different countries. For instance, in Nepal the national and international conservation NGOs as well as CBOs can undertake conservation activities with relatively few constraints. In Bhutan, the civil society groups in conservation are more limited, with one international NGO and one national NGO that is incorporated under the Companies Act. However, the village-level government authorities (gewogs) are essentially quasi-NGOs, since they have a certain amount of independence and authority from the central government. Northeastern India has hundreds of grassroots-level conservation NGOs and CBOs, but most cannot receive foreign exchange grants due to exchange control regulations. However, funds can be disbursed through local or regional “nodal” NGOs that have exchange control permits. NGOs, such as CEE and Aaranyak are already perfoming this role.
Because many of the grants are expected to be in small amounts, it is best to identify a recognized NGO, or consortia of NGOs in each country to help the smaller NGOs, CBOs and other civil society groups develop and submit proposals. These “nodal” agencies would also be tasked with project monitoring and ensuring that reports and other outputs are submitted in time.
Nature Conservation Legislation and Agreements
The Forest Act, 1969 governs Bhutan’s forestry and conservation sector. This Act guides development of forestry operations, and establishes central control over use of forest resources. The 1995 Forest and Nature Conservation Act provides the legal basis for protection and sustainable use of forests, wildlife, and other natural resources in the country, including protected areas management, wildlife conservation, social and community forestry, trade of forest produce, and soil and water conservation (from DoF 2002).
Other relevant legislative instruments, especially with regard to landscape conservation include: the 1974 National Forest Policy which sets the policy for maintaining at least 60 percent forest cover; the Land Act of 1988 which deals with procedures of land registration and allotment to reduce forest encroachment, and land use regulations in forest lands; and the Environmental Assessment Act of 2000 which establishes the procedures for assessing and mitigating potential environmental threats from projects.
In Nepal the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (NPWC) Act (amended 1974) establishes regulations for protected areas, and recognizes species for protection. The Himalayas National Park Regulations (1979) provide for people living in national parks to collect natural resources for subsistence. The Buffer Zone Management Regulations (1996) and Buffer Zone Management Guidelines (1999) are meant to design programs compatible with National Park management and facilitate public participation in conservation, design and management of buffer zones. These regulations, under the NPWC Act provide for 30-50 percent of the park revenues to be retained for community development activities in the buffer zone. The Master Plan for the Forestry Sector (1988) recognizes ecosystem and genetic resource conservation as a long-term objective, and states that a pre-requisite to reduce park people conflict is meeting the basic needs of the people through the forestry sector. Significantly for landscape conservation, it also emphasizes the need for a policy of wildlife conservation outside the protected areas through an ecosystem-based approach. This policy is reiterated in the government’s Tenth Five Year Plan (2059/60 – 2063/64). The Forest Act (1993) provides the government with the power to delineate any part of a national forest that has a 'special environmental, scientific or cultural importance' as a protected forest, which is relevant to landscape conservation.
In India, the forested areas are governed under the National Forest Policy of 1988. Central legislation such as the Indian Forest Act, 1927, the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1972 apply in the northeastern region. But several state-based legislation, District Council Acts, and community customary laws also apply in each state to regulate forest management and extraction from forests broadly classified as Unclassed State Forests. These forests, under private and community ownership and management, are mostly unsurveyed (both in terms of area, biodiversity value) in the hill states. With 80 percent of the northeast region’s forests under private and community control, the customary laws are widely applicable. But the District Council Acts are too weakly enforced; thus, with the concurrent weakening of the influence of the traditional institutions over the land and people, access to these forests is now almost unrestricted.
Many of the existing laws and policies require amendments to make them compatible with current biodiversity conservation goals. Traditional and customary laws also have to be documented and analyzed so adequate legal back up to appropriate customary and traditional laws could be extended. Biodiversity could be integrated into development sectors, making biodiversity conservation an integral part of all the development activities and to ensure that ecosystem services are valued.
Cognizant of the economic dependence of an intact environment, Bhutan has persisted with a cautious approach to development. The government’s economic policy is underlain with an emphasis and need for conservation of its natural resources (MoA 1998). Thus, there is a deliberate attempt to control the pace of the transition from subsistence to a modern economy to ensure sustainability.
The economy of Nepal is also closely bound to its natural resources—arable land, water, forested areas, and protected areas. Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, providing a livelihood for over 80 percent of the population and accounting for 41 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In general, agriculture contributes more than 50 percent of household income (HMGN/MFSC 2002). Tourism is the second most important source of foreign exchange for Nepal, after agriculture. About 45 percent of tourists coming to Nepal visit protected areas, generating substantial revenue. Tourism revenues from Chitwan and Annapurna contribute substantially to the national and local economies. But there is more scope for increasing tourism revenue further, and nature-based tourism will be a significant component.
The economy in northeastern India is primarily forestry and agrarian-based. The plains are dominated by settled cultivation, whereas jhum (slash and burn) is practiced in the hills. Forestry contributes between 40-55 percent to local economies (Rahul Kaul World Pheasant Association, pers comm). Development in the region has not been commensurate with its rich resource base. The CMIE (Centre for Monitoring India’s Economy) index of relative development of infrastructure (1966-67 to 1992-93) position shows that, with the exception of Assam (ranked 13), the remaining seven states rank below 15 among the 25 states of the country.
However, the conventional parameters of development are not the best measures for understanding the social and economic status of the Hill communities. The prevalence of traditional lifestyles, barter trade, and common property dissociates tend to hide the level of poverty or prosperity of the highland people. The spread of market economy and policy interventions, and accompanying infrastructure, have impacted the socio-economic dynamics of the hill communities and the rate of exploitation of natural resources in the region. During the past few decades, economic development has been characterized by forest clearing, increased exports of medicinal plants, development of hydro power projects, construction of water resource works, increased tourism, exploration and extraction of minerals, conversion of forested lands to orchards and tea gardens, commercial horticulture, and establishment of cantonments and hill stations. The growth of industrial activity has been largely limited to the foothills. To this is added large scale of migration of people in search of better job opportunities. Overall, these developments are detrimental to the agrarian economic base of the region.
Infrastructure and Regional Development
Nepal offers its citizens one of the poorest levels of infrastructure services in the world (Nepal Country Paper 2001). Only 45 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water, 6 percent to sanitation (39 percent in urban areas) and about 21 percent of households have electricity. Road density is low, with coverage of about 6 kilometers per 100 square kilometers. Most of the existing and planned infrastructure is concentrated in the Kathmandu Valley and in the Terai—a response to the migration of people from the mountains to the Terai zones and to cities, Kathmandu in particular. However, providing infrastructure to the more remote areas is also a government priority.
Several large hydropower projects are underway, which will substantially increase power generation. Road networks are seen as an urgent need, especially to connect villages with market and administration centers. All these projects will have environmental and biodiversity related consequences, in terms of habitat loss, fragmentation, improved access and settlement, human-wildlife conflicts.
Most of the development in northeast India is urban-centric, with the regional governments lacking proper policy on developing villages and suburban areas. The rapid and unplanned urbanization leading to loss of forest cover, unsustainable resource utilization, lack of drinking water (underground as well as run off), poverty and slums in and around the urban areas. The population increased in the region is about 6.94 million between 1991 and 2001 .
Roads are a necessity to connect interior villages and to improve communications, but roads also result in forest fragmentation, and lead to anthropogenic activities that are detrimental to the ecosystem. The Government of India has a priority to establish road communication to all the villages by 2020. Being a long border with China, Myanmar and Bangladesh the Department of Defense also has a priority to develop the roads along the border areas, most of which are fragile ecosystems and wildlife habitat, leading further fragmentation of habitat. Environmental impact assessments are not necessary for defense-related projects.
Large numbers of hydroelectric dams have been proposed in the region, and some are being implemented. The hydroelectricity generating potential in the region is 34,920 MW, or 41.50 percent of all the hydropower in India, according to an assessment by the Central Electric Authority (CEA)2. The dams will inundate important ecosystem areas and increase settlement in forest areas. Further, installing transmission cables will destroy more forest areas.
Agroforestry has a tremendous potential in the region, and may succeed in replacing the traditional slash and burn cultivation (jhum) practiced by the hill tribes. Input of resources from governments and international agencies like World Bank for development of this sector is increasing. However, unplanned and unscientific agroforestry may lead to potential threat to the existing ecosystems as well as monoculture.
The tea industry in Assam is very old, and was started in 1837. Until 1997 there were 947 tea gardens covering over 230,000 hectares in northeast India. Since 1998-99, however, the tea industry has grown sharply, and now covers almost 280,000 hectares. This records a rapid growth of tea gardens in the region and corresponds to the loss of forest cover in the foothills and uplands in the valleys.
There are an estimated 864 million tons of coal reserve in the region. Meghalaya State has the largest reserve of coal in the region particularly in ecologically sensitive area like Garo Hills. Several open cast and rat-hole mining operations extract these deposits, with scant heed for environmental impacts.
Demography and Social Trends
Nepal’s human population is estimated at 23.2 million people and growing at 2.4 percent annually. At these rates, the population will double in 25 years. The distribution of the population is biased toward the lowlands. Since the eradication of malaria in the fertile Terai lowlands in the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of immigrants moved from the hills of Nepal (and also into Nepal from India) into the Terai. Between 1981 and 1991, the average net gain in the human population in the Terai due to immigration was 94.3 percent in eight out of 14 districts in the Terai (Khatri-Chhetri and Devkota 2001). The consequence of this high population growth rate is unsustainable forest resource use in the Terai. Approximately 80 percent of the households now hold less than 2 hectares of land, which is inadequate to support a family (Khatri-Chhetri & Devkota 2001). Therefore, the people have to depend on forests for their daily requirements of firewood and supplement their food with forest products. If the current trends continue, the Terai forests will be unable to support the resource demands from the increasing human population unless sustainable natural resource use and management regimes are instituted—quickly.
In the mountains, the population as a whole is culturally and ethnically diverse, but the demographics in the mountains reflect the consequences of migration to the lowlands. In the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area, for instance, the population density is only about 3 persons per square kilometer. Emigration to the lowlands and to nearby towns has depleted the population.
Because of its location in the geographic periphery of India, the northeastern region has evolved its own distinct cultural and socioeconomic identities. Covering 255,083 square kilometers—7.7 percent of India’s total area (NEC 2000) —the region supports a population of just over 38 million people, or just about 4 percent of the country’s population that exceeds a billion people (2001 Census). The population density of 151 persons per square kilometer is one of the lowest in the country. More than 85 percent of the northeast region’s population lives in rural areas (Census of India 2001). However, there is a marked difference in the spatial distribution of the population among the constituent states; the more hospitable plains and valleys are much more populous than the difficult mountain regions.
The mountain areas are dominated by a number of indigenous tribal communities who have evolved their economic activities and resource management strategies to exist and exploit the steep topographies, and contend with the inaccessibility and isolation. The indigenous knowledge and practices generally emphasized low intensity resource use, compared to modern commercial lifestyles. But in recent years, increased accessibility and political and economic integration of the mountain communities have impacted the traditional lifestyles and cultures. Economic amalgamation has reduced the autonomy of the local communities, with the risk of marginalization because of their inability to compete with the formal markets and modernized economics of the rest of the country. Socially, the migrant-urban encounters, tourism and exposure to urban life have raised economic aspirations of the local hill communities, and new values and modes of behavior have penetrated traditional norms (ATREE 2003). These changing values, resource-use patterns and demographies will be of consequence to biodiversity conservation in the region. As the traditional sustainable resource-use practices and protectionist values—such as sacred forests—give way to market economy-influenced values, the threats to biodiversity will surely increase.
Synopsis of Current Threats
For instance, until the 1960s the highly productive Terai ecosystem in Nepal was rife with malaria and thus sparsely settled, except by the indigenous Tharu people. But since eradication programs significantly reduced the prevalence of malaria, there has been a massive influx of people into the Terai from the less productive hills, resulting in extensive clearing of forests and grasslands along the foothills and low valleys.
But in northeast India, the migration patterns are reversed. Since political and economic integration of the resource-rich northeastern hill states, there has been an in-migration of people from other parts of India into the natural resource-rich hills, with consequent marginalization of the tribal groups.
Other threats, such as grazing by domestic livestock are common across the different ecosystems. The lowland ecosystems are heavily grazed by large herds of cattle. In the Nepal Terai, free-grazed, “unproductive” cattle have essentially reduced forests to lawns with a few standing trees. The less productive and more inaccessible alpine meadows are becoming degraded because of intense grazing by increasingly larger herds of domestic yak. Although yaks have been grazed in these montane grasslands for centuries, the herds, usually owned by absentee owners, have increased in size. These sensitive ecosystems are placed under added stress by unsustainable harvesting of alpine plants for a lucrative traditional medicine trade. Chronic threats from non-timber forest product collection, cutting and lopping of trees in natural forests for fuel, fodder and timber for house building and agricultural implements also contribute to ecosystem degradation throughout the Himalayas, especially where the human population density is high. Thus, in places like the mid-hills of Nepal and the lowland forests across the Himalayas foothills, the biologically rich subtropical and temperate broadleaf forests have been widely cleared or, at the very least, highly fragmented. Large extents of intact subtropical and temperate forests still remain in Bhutan and northeastern India where human population densities are relatively lower, but changes in shifting cultivation regimes have resulted in more forests being cleared with inadequate fallow periods for regeneration, especially in the latter region.
Timber is widely sought for building. With the depletion of forests elsewhere in the region, the remaining forests in the mid-hills have become attractive commodities. The demand, and economic rewards, has fuelled illegal logging practices in these forests. Because the majority of the remaining forests are on slopes too steep for well-managed, sanctioned forestry practices, the illegal timber harvest—or in some cases legal, but unsuitable practices—pose serious threats to the forests, environment and biodiversity, as well as the socioeconomic dimensions.
Unsustainable and illegal wildlife trade is another major threat in this region. The great demand for wildlife products, especially from the large charismatic species such as tigers, rhinoceros, snow leopards and elephants has driven these populations to the brink of extinction and they now require considerable protection to ensure long-term survival.
The unplanned growth of tourism in this exotic reach of the world has led to environmental and ecosystem deterioration. Despite the socioeconomic returns from tourism as an industry, unless regulated it can affect the ecological integrity and by extension, the industry itself which depends on a sound and attractive environment.
The unstable Himalayas slopes have always been prone to erosion. But the exposure of bare soil and reduced compactness because the ground cover is removed through logging, unsustainable non-timber forest product harvest, intense grazing by domestic livestock, and badly planned infrastructure, has resulted in erosion being more widespread. Consequently landslides are becoming more common with accompanying environmental degradation and economic, livelihood, and human losses.
A consequence of the widespread habitat loss and fragmentation is that the large, wide-ranging species are now virtually confined to remaining scattered habitat patches, mostly within the protected areas. But most of these refuges are small and unable to support ecologically and demographically viable populations over the long term. Therefore, the species are considered to be globally threatened and have been recognized as priority conservation outcomes.
While there is a tendency to be preoccupied with conservation of the larger, charismatic species and threats to these species, many other smaller species go unnoticed. Because large areas of the region are biologically unexplored, it is very likely that there are many species that are as yet unknown and unrecorded. Therefore, a focus on the ecological parameters for conservation of the larger species that require corridor outcomes for effective conservation can serve as umbrellas for many of the smaller species, including those that are, as yet undocumented.
The participants at the expert roundtables identified several of these major sources of threats and underlying causes of these threats across the region (Table 6). The resource documents that were commissioned provide additional information on the regional and local threats to biodiversity. Several of these threats are overarching, but there are others that are specific to certain areas. A more detailed exposition of the overarching threats with underlying causes based on the expert roundtables and resource documents is presented below.
Habitat Loss, Degradation, and Fragmentation
Conversion of forests and grasslands to agriculture and settlements is most intense in Nepal, and in the Indian States of Sikkim, Darjeeling and Assam. The mountain areas of Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh, Megalaya, and the other northeastern Indian states have not experienced as much conversion although, in general, shifting cultivation has been a widespread practice in northeast Indian hill states. The Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex is the least impacted by forest conversion from among the corridor outcomes, whereas the foothill landscapes, notably the Terai Arc and North Bank, are highly fragmented.
The northeastern Indian states have the highest forest cover in the country, but are also experiencing losses as high as 31,700 hectares of dense forests annually (Down to Earth 2002). Here, shifting cultivation was, and still remains, the main source of livelihood for most hill tribal communities. On average, 3,869 square kilometers is put under shifting cultivation annually, and an estimated 443,336 households earn their livelihood from this practice. But, while in the past, a 10-30 year fallow period allowed for forest regeneration, the fallow period has now reduced to two years in some areas, making the practice unsustainable. As a result, the landscape has undergone tremendous changes, with extensive bamboo brakes that prevent succession to broadleaf forest. Because of uncertain land-tenure issues and usufruct rights, the incentives for maintaining the traditional sustainable practices are also disappearing.
Extensive grazing by domestic livestock is another pervasive source of biodiversity loss throughout the Eastern Himalayas Region, from the lowlands to the alpine areas. The species-rich alpine meadows, when overgrazed by large herds of domesticated yak, become dominated by a few species of unpalatable shrubs like Berberis, Rosa, Caragana, or forbs like Euphorbia, Primula and Pedicularis. Severe overgrazing creates bare patches that are susceptible to wind erosion, but a more common pattern is for the rangelands to be cropped into lawn-like grasslands. In the lowlands and mid-hills, the forests grazed by herds of cattle have lost all undergrowth, and no longer possess or support the natural ecosystems and associated biodiversity.
The biodiversity and ecological integrity of the alpine meadows, already subject to high grazing pressure, are also threatened by commercial collection of plants used in the traditional medicine trade. Some of these important plants include Fritillaria cirrhosa, Sausuria spp. and Cordyceps sinensis, the latter a species of caterpillar that becomes infected by a fungus and is highly prized by Chinese and Tibetans as a powerful tonic. Although some plants are collected for local use, large quantities are collected for export. Often entire plants are uprooted and removed even though only parts are used; thus regeneration and recovery is retarded (Lama et al. 2001). Despite efforts to regulate this trade, and in some instances to even prohibit it, the remoteness of the region, open borders in the north, and lack of human resources make enforcement of regulations difficult at best.
Lopping and pruning trees for fuelwood and fodder for livestock have inflicted severe damage on forests, including changes in species compositions. The lowland forests are more productive than the montane forests and can withstand greater levels of extraction, but the human populations exploiting the lowland forests are also much greater. Thus, forests with trees lacking branches and sans undergrowth are common sights throughout the mid-hills and lowlands of India and Nepal.
Many of the tribal groups across the eastern Himalaya also practice traditional and customary forms of hunting, especially in the northeastern Indian states where animal pelts, feathers, and bird bills are used as adornments. Small projects are now underway to mitigate customary hunting of Endangered species; an example being the project to exchange beaks of Endangered hornbill species for models made of fiberglass.
Wildlife killing also takes place as a result of conflict with humans. Retaliation against tigers and snow leopards for livestock depredation, and against elephants and rhinoceros for crop depredation is prevalent and continue to intensify as humans and wildlife compete for land and other resources. The North Bank Landscape is a prime example of intense human-elephant conflict with fatalities on both sides brought about by extensive and ad hoc land clearing and encroachment of forestlands.
Because of the threats to wildlife from hunting, relevant authorities have imposed prohibitions. Yet, hunting and killing of wildlife continues. While subsistence hunting is largely restricted to the vicinity of settlements or travel routes, commercial hunting takes place in remote areas because of patrolling and policing close to travel routes (Rastogi 2000). The economic incentives from wildlife products are lucrative enough that poachers will suffer the hardships and risks of venturing far from easily accessible areas.
In the eastern Himalayas the road network is most dense in the lowlands, where the human population is greatest, and road construction is easier. In the mid-hills regions, the network is relatively denser in Nepal than in Bhutan and the farthest northeastern Indian states.
Large dams built for hydroelectric power generation is another source of threats to biodiversity, especially for the corridor outcomes. In some respects the dams have a positive effect on the eastern Himalayas ecosystems since the availability of hydropower can ease some dependence on fuelwood. However, because of the rugged and difficult terrain, it is unlikely that electricity can be supplied in a cost-effective manner and with minimal environmental costs to all remote villages spread across the Himalayas Mountains. Thus, many people would still depend on fuelwood for energy, and in all likelihood the excess power would be diverted to large cities far from the region.
Dams also take up space. In Nepal, for instance, if all the proposed hydro-projects were actually built, more than 2,000 square kilometers of arable land would become submerged (Zurick and Karan 1999). The reservoirs usually submerge the fertile and arable valleys and displace the people into marginal lands, usually upslope. The generation of surplus energy drives industrial expansion in both surrounding mountainous lands as well as in the lower hills and plains. The seismic activity of the eastern Himalaya is such that a large earthquake could cause the dam to breach, wreaking havoc on the downstream watershed and communities in the densely settled lowlands. Moreover, building dams often require construction of new roads into previously inaccessible areas, opening the areas to settlement by outsiders who are likely to be more interested in higher levels of natural resource extraction than traditional and sustainable modes of existence.
The effect of dams on fisheries and fish ecology is also of concern. Although little is known about the seasonal migration patterns of aquatic species in the Himalayas rivers, there is evidence to suggest that some species of fish and the Gangetic River dolphin move upstream during the monsoon season. Preliminary research at the Kali Gandaki Dam suggests that the fish ladders—designed along the line of ladders built for salmon in North America—do not work. Thus, alternative methods or techniques are required. Along the Karnali River, the dolphin population above the barrage in India is in decline. Dolphins from below the dam barrage cannot negotiate the dam to replenish the upriver population. The barrage also prevents fish migrations; thus, the prey base for the upriver dolphin population is also likely becoming depleted.
The Nepali government has included 18 dam projects in its Ninth Plan. Bhutan tends to favor small, run-of-the-river projects for local energy production, but there is a large 60 MW hydro project—Kurichu Hydro Project—currently under construction close to Thrumsing La National Park. The relevant state governments in northeastern India also look favorably on hydroelectric power development. Sikkim has the potential to produce 8,000 MW of power, but has tapped only 33 MW thus far. The Teesta and the Rangit rivers are recognized as having the most potential for project development. Currently, various micro, small, and medium-sized projects are under construction. Although micro projects cannot provide large amounts of energy for export that large dams would, they would provide electricity for rural villages. Thus, the optimal solution for these areas would be micro hydro plants in villages that can be built and cared for locally, which would also create less damage, and cost relatively little. Further east, the proposed Lower Subansiri hydroelectric project in Arunachal Pradesh with an installed capacity of 4520 MW will flood 4,039 ha of forestlands in Arunachal and Assam, including critical elephant corridors in the North Bank Landscape (Ecologist Asia 2003a). Because the economic interests of the State government officials and policy-makers overrule the ecological impacts, the environmental impact assessments and recommendations have become mere formalities that are often overlooked or ignored, rather than be considered for mitigation that can better inform the project plan. The impact of Loktak hydro scheme in Manipur, started in 1983 is now apparent with the absence of migratory water birds (because of higher water levels) and occurrences of flash floods (Ecologist Asia 2003b), and should serve as an example for development in the region.
In Nepal, low-grade iron ore, scattered copper deposits, zinc, limestone are mined in some places (Zurick and Karan 1999). Bhutan has significant deposits of dolomite coal, limestone, and gypsum but extraction is currently negligible. In Sikkim, the Rangpo Copper Mine has potential for further development. Open cast mining and oil exploration are, however, major threats in the other northeastern states of India (Goswami 2000), where deforestation, soil erosion and air and water pollution (pH value as low as 2.7) are obvious manifestations.
Forest and Grassland Fires
The current use of fire as a management tool in protected areas can also be a threat to some species outcomes. Many of the grasslands in protected areas are maintained by annual burning to provide suitable habitat for large ungulates, especially for rhinoceros and wild water buffalo. However, this management regime is detrimental to smaller, grassland habitat specialists such as the hispid hare, pygmy hog and several grassland birds, which are also Critically Endangered and require conservation management. Thus, the use of fire in these protected areas should be reviewed and appropriate measures taken to use it more judiciously, with due consideration for overall biodiversity characteristics of the grassland communities, rather than a few select species. This is especially important in the sites and corridors identified as outcomes in the Terai and Duar savannas and grasslands.
Lack of Information
Synopsis of Current Investment
In Nepal, the Terai Arc Landscape receives funding from several bilateral and multilateral donors. One of the largest investments is the $12.8 million GEF Nepal Biodiversity Landscape Project to be implemented from 2004-2011 for landscape conservation in the western complex of the Terai Arc Landscape within Nepal. The government’s contribution to this project will be $3.7 million, while $9.1 million will be sought from UNDP/GEF, WWF, the Netherlands Development Organization (SNV) and GEF. The British Aid Agency (DFID) will implement the 10-year, GBP 8.2 million Livelihoods and Forestry Program in three Terai districts and 11 other hill districts. The three districts in the Terai and one hill district (Dang) are within the Terai Arc Landscape. The program’s focus is to increase benefits to the poor by assisting them move from passive to active community forest management. The program also seeks to move government and donors involved in forestry toward a sector-wide approach including supporting policy developments. USAID will invest $8.7 million between 2002-2006 to improve local control over conservation, management, and sustainable natural resource use, and to increase advocacy capacity of selected civil society organizations. From 2001-2006, SNV will invest $2.2 million under the BISEP project for forest management in the inner Terai and Siwalik Hills for biodiversity conservation and equitable economic development. SNV, KFW (German Bank) and HMG Biogas Support Program will fund 200,000 biogas plants between 2003 and 2010. Since 1997, Action Aid/DiFD has been implementing a 1.5 million GBP project to eradicate poverty through community empowerment of the poorest and most marginalized sectors by enhancing their capacities to have access and control resources, advocating in their favor, and strengthening local government involvement in poverty alleviation. The Save The Tiger Fund has invested more than $1 million in tiger conservation the Terai Arc Landscape. WWF Nepal has committed $800,000 per year over the next five years under the Critical Area Restoration Project (CARP) to restore degraded corridors. A comprehensive strategic plan is being prepared for the Terai Arc that may show large gaps in real biodiversity conservation.
In the Kanchenjunga-Singalila Complex, the secured and anticipated budget for three years is roughly $500,000. Most of the secured funds are from the MacArthur Foundation. The Kangchenjunga Conservation Area Project has more than $20,000 from WWF-UK mostly on a snow leopard project and another $20,000 is expected from the ADB to develop ecotourism within the conservation area. The Kadoorie microhydro project is expected to receive about $75,000 in funding.
In Bhutan, several bilateral donors have been investing in conservation of the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex. Between 1998 and 2003, the government of Denmark (DANIDA) invested $13.3 million in capacity building and training to establish an institutional framework of professionals to carry out environmental management and awareness. The European Union ($13.8 million for watershed management in western Bhutan, Germany/GTZ ($5.6 million), Helvetas/SDC ($3 million) and Canada/IDRC ($238,000) have been supporting projects to promote sustainable natural resource use and improve livelihoods of rural people. SNV has also been supporting protected areas management and community development, the latter with a $2.1 million investment, with $125,000 support for protected areas management. The Dutch government has also allocated $12 million over five years to establish an ex-situ plant conservation facility and information database. Since 1995, the Save The Tiger Fund has provided roughly $150,000 for tiger conservation within the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex. Since 1998, the Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation has invested $4.3 million in capacity building within the nature conservation and forestry sector through overseas and in-country training; staff recruitment to government institutions; management of protected areas, forests, and wildlife; and environmental education. Within the NGO sector, WWF has, and is supporting various activities such as anti-poaching, environmental education, database and information, capacity building, and protected areas management with an ongoing investment that has now exceeded $1.6 million. Much of this represents complementary support to large projects. However, WWF has also made significant investments through non-monetary support to the Nature Conservation Division in conservation and by promoting the creation of the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex. There are also several GEF-funded projects in Bhutan implemented by UNDP.
Detailed investment portfolios are difficult to obtain from the northeast India states. Many small national NGOs cannot receive funds directly from foreign organizations, and central government and state funds are entrenched within a complex bureaucracy. Within the NGO sector, there are a few larger organizations that serve as overall coordinators for smaller grassroots projects. These NGOs are able to serve as ‘nodes’ to receive foreign exchange grants, and disburse grants to support work by the numerous grassroots NGOs and CBOs.
Aaranyak is one of these nodal NGOs that have supported a range of projects, from education and outreach to research, surveys, and ex-situ conservation of Endangered species, to legal, advocacy issues and community-based conservation with investments ranging from $500 to $35,000. Aaranyak implemented these projects through collaborations with a number of grassroots NGOs such as Green Guard, Nature’s Foster, Green Heart Nature Club, Green Forest Conservation and New Horizon, and with larger regional institutions such as CEE and the Bombay Natural History Society. Several of these projects address conservation of priority species outcomes (greater one-horned rhinoceros, Asian elephant, golden langur, pygmy hog, adjutants and dark-rumped swift) and site outcomes (Manas National Park, Namdapha National Park, Kaziranga National Park), which are within the priority corridor outcomes in the northeast region of India. Financial support for these projects has come from a variety of organizations, such as the International Centre for Conservation Education, U.K., Primate Conservation Inc., Conservation International, The American Society of Primatology, Community Conservation Inc., USA, the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
CEE administers a UNDP small grant program on environmental protection in the eight northeastern states. Currently there are 11 ongoing projects in the region. Over the last two years, WWF has invested about $70,000 to initiate conservation activities in the North Bank landscape with a focus on elephants, and will spend $120,000 this year. WWF offices in Guwahati (Assam), Ithanagar (Arunachal Pradesh), Sikkim and Darjeeling (W. Bengal) implement many small projects with local NGOs and CBOs. The MacArthur Foundation has supported projects in the northeast Indian states of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh through various NGOs, as well as in Nepal and Bhutan (2002 to 2004, $2.5 million). Among the bilateral donors, the India-Canada Environment Facility (ICEF) has funded several projects that focus on developing natural resources and improving environmental management capacity within the government and NGO/CBO sector to address natural resource, water, and energy issues. Some of the projects funded by ICEF include: the Nagaland Environment Protection and Economic Development Project to regulate and improve productivity in traditional jhum by Naga farmers; a project to empower Village Development Boards to support and promote development through agro-forestry in Nagaland; to restore the ecology of Loktak Lake (a priority site outcome); and education and capacity building to promote nature conservation and environment among students and teachers in Arunachal Pradesh. The International Fund for Agriculture Development is implementing a FAO-funded project in six upland districts of Manipur, Assam, and Meghalaya to enable community institutions and self-help groups to manage natural resources. The project sites include the Kaziranga-Karbi-Anlong Landscape.
CEPF Niche for Investment
CEPF’s geographic focus for investments should be the 60 priority site outcomes and the corridor outcomes in the five priority landscapes (Figure 4, Table 5), which capture important populations of all the priority species (Table 4). While the 24 priority sites outside of the priority corridors (Table 5) capture species outcomes that can be conserved within sites, the landscapes are necessary to conserve the region’s wide-ranging megafauna. Landscape conservation requires maintaining landscape matrices that are compatible with conservation objectives. Most of these matrices and unprotected sites are—or were—managed under traditional systems that are now being eroded by external economic forces, introduction of new technology that can undermine the emphasis traditional systems placed on biodiversity and unsustainable use of land in attempts to increase productivity or support larger, denser human populations. Thus, CEPF should take up the challenge of building strategic alliances and coalitions among civil society groups to enable them to address key conservation issues in landscape conservation and seize opportunities for conservation presented by major national policy changes in favor of biodiversity.
CEPF resources will make the greatest incremental impact in the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex, the Kangchenjunga-Singalila Complex, and the North Bank Landscape. These three corridors have traditionally received less funding for conservation than the Terai Arc and Kaziranga-Karbi Anlong Landscape. While all five priority corridors are eligible for CEPF support and are important for global significant biodiversity, particular emphasis will be placed on the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex, Kangchenjunga-Singalila Complex, and North Bank Landscape. CEPF support in the Terai Arc and Kaziranga-Karbi Anlong Landscape will be used for very targeted and strategic activities that leverages, maximizes and complements the existing funding already going to these landscapes. CEPF will therefore invest the majority of its resources for the Eastern Himalayas toward building momentum in the lesser-funded landscapes in the region.
National governments, bilateral and multilateral aid agencies, and several international organizations are already infusing substantial financial support to environment-related programs in the priority landscapes. But, as evident from the current investment analysis, many of these focus on natural resource management and lack adequate biodiversity conservation components. Thus, even with the relatively modest funds available, CEPF has a good opportunity to leverage matching funds and catalyze larger conservation programs. By collaborating with larger initiatives in the region, CEPF can provide momentum for a long-term regional conservation initiative in the eastern Himalayas.
CEPF should also seek to build partnership approaches with grassroots NGOs capable of conducting species-specific conservation actions (e.g., Green Guards, Green Manas).
Therefore, CEPF’s niche in the region should be to:
CEPF Investment Strategy and Priorities
Government institutions and civil society are active in conservation in the region, but often lack coordinated action and capacity to implement biodiversity programs. CEPF can build on existing programs to strengthen the role of communities in biodiversity conservation. This includes empowering local and national NGOs and local communities to participate in natural resource management and to promote customary and usufruct rights to land managed under traditional, sustainable regimes that support important biodiversity. Civil society can play an active role in restoring degraded corridors with such traditional and contemporary land management to link existing protected areas and create reserve networks.
Although protected areas are the cornerstones of biodiversity conservation, the current investments for protection and species management have been meager, relative to investments in community development in buffer zones and other areas within corridor outcomes. CEPF can strengthen protected areas in priority landscapes by supporting these sites. CEPF can also support field research and biological surveys through civil society—preferably through civil society-government partnerships—to enable more effective conservation planning and decisionmaking.
Table 7. Strategic Directions and Investment Priorities for CEPF in the Eastern Himalayas Region
|Strategic Directions||Investment Priorities|
|1. Build on existing landscape conservation initiatives to maintain and restore connectivity and to protect wide-ranging threatened species in priority corridors with a particular emphasis on the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex, Kangchenjunga-Singalila Complex, and North Bank Landscape||1.1 Identify important habitat linkages between site outcomes in the priority corridors.|
|1.2 Engage civil society in developing and implementing management plans for key habitat linkages.|
|1.3 Support targeted conservation education and awareness programs among communities, schools, journalists and decisionmakers in priority corridors.|
|1.4 Promote forest management practices that benefit biodiversity conservation in the priority corridors.|
|2. Secure the conservation of priority site outcomes (key biodiversity areas) in the eastern Himalayas with a particular emphasis on the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex, Kangchenjunga-Singalila Complex, and North Bank Landscape||2.1 Support targeted efforts to manage, protect and monitor site outcomes (key biodiversity areas).|
|2.2 Provide incremental support to effective, ongoing alternative livelihood projects with local communities that ease threats to and enhance conservation of priority sites.|
|2.3 Support traditional land- and resource-use practices in projects that will ensure effective conservation of priority sites.|
|3. Leverage partnerships among donor agencies, civil society and government institutions to achieve priority biodiversity conservation outcomes over the long term.||3.1 Strengthen and support government and civil society partnerships that result in new funding for achieving conservation outcomes in the eastern Himalayas.|
|3.2 Support training programs to protect, manage and monitor species, sites and corridor outcomes.|
|3.3 Develop and strengthen capacity among grassroots civil society organizations to manage, monitor, and mitigate threats to biodiversity.|
|3.4 Support transboundary initiatives for conservation of wide-ranging species that require collaboration across international borders.|
|4. Develop a small grants program to safeguard globally threatened species in the eastern Himalayas||4.1 Support targeted, high-impact projects to conserve Critically Endangered and endemic species.|
|4.2 Support action-oriented research to enable or improve the conservation of priority species outcomes.|
|4.3 Implement a monitoring program for priority species outcomes.|
|4.4 Support conservation assessments of lesser-known taxonomic groups (plants, invertebrates, fish) for inclusion into the IUCN Red List.|