Asia
6 Aug 2019

Local people protect Nepal lake by welcoming visitors into their homes

How are the Tharu community helping to protect their lake and the rare birds that live there? Why not visit them and find out! Thanks to an innovative homestay programme, wildlife lovers the world over are flocking to the area, helping wildlife and people as they do.

White-rumped Vulture © Vickey Chauhan / Shutterstock
White-rumped Vulture © Vickey Chauhan / Shutterstock
By Ishana Thapa, Chief Executive, Bird Conservation Nepal

Ghodaghodi Lake in western Nepal is a haven for wildlife, and especially birds. Large and shallow, the lake is surrounded by marshes, meadows and tropical deciduous forest, and is home to an incredible number of diverse bird species including the White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis (Critically Endangered), Lesser Adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus and Indian Spotted Eagle Clanga hastata (both Vulnerable).

In 2003, the lake was protected under the Ramsar Convention, the first step in conserving this vital wetland habitat, which also acts as a corridor between the Churia Hills and the terai plains. But despite its Ramsar status, Ghodaghodi Lake is still under threat from high grazing pressure, hunting and draining for irrigation.

To help address this, BirdLife Partners the Norwegian Ornithological Society and Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN – BirdLife Partner) have joined forces to engage the local Maghi Community and Forest User Group in conserving the area. We began by setting up a homestay programme in the village of Tharu (where visitors sleep at the residences of local people) in order to attract wildlife lovers to the area. The homestay has proved a resounding success, attracting nature and culture lovers alike and providing a new source of income for the local community. A community hall and information centre was created to complement the Maghi homestay and school children and visitors are now able to learn more about the birds in the area through beautifully-painted displays.

Locals who were once poachers are now helping to prevent poaching and support conservation

We have also begun working with the local Community Forest User Group to protect birds and biodiversity by setting up an anti-poaching unit within their forest protection system. These forest guards from the local community (voluntary and paid) have traditionally monitored illegal activities related to the harvesting of forest vegetation, but now, with the help of a small trust fund, the guards have been given the tools they need to protect birds and biodiversity. Staff from the anti-poaching units are also trained as nature guides and use their bird identification skills to support BCN in obtaining information on bird species. This unit has proved a great success, with many locals who were once poachers now helping to prevent poaching and support conservation.  

The total number of bird species recorded from the Important Bird & Biodiveristy Area is now 299 with some important breeding records for the Great Hornbill Buceros bicornis (Vulnerable), Indian Spot-billed Duck Anas poecilorhyncha, Cotton Pygmy-goose Nettapus coromandelianus and Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus among others. Futhermore, the local community has expressed a strong interest in declaring the site a Bird Sanctuary. They are already engaging directly with the local government to move this forward.

To find out more about how to work with local communities to support nature conservation, please reach out to our colleagues at Bird Conservation Nepal.