Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve – Nepal

ZSL is working in Nepal to conserve the fragile grassland ecosystem and wildlife of Suklaphanta, while supporting the livelihoods of local communities to improve their well-being.

Suklaphanta National Park located in far west Nepal covers an area of 305 square kilometres. This protected area of sub-tropical lowland lies in the fertile Gangetic plain and is among the most highly biodiverse areas of Nepal. It is home to threatened species of global importance, including the Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris), greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), Bengal florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis) and Hodgson’s bushchat (Saxicola insignis). It also holds the world’s largest herd of swamp deer (Rucervus duvaucelii).

Lowland Nepal is also among the most densely populated areas of the country. Over the past few decades there has been an influx of people migrating from hilly areas for better livelihood opportunities. Local people rear a large number of livestock, mostly Buffalo, for milk production. Selling milk and milk products in the nearby market centres is the key source of income for this community. 

Greater one-horned rhinos, Chitwan National Park, Nepal. Image (c) ZSL/NTNC/DNPWC
Greater one-horned rhinos in Nepal

Despite the rich natural resources, poverty is widespread in the Terai Arc landscape and, therefore, a sizeable section of society is heavily dependent on the forests for fuelwood, fodder, timber, non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and grazing grounds for the large numbers of livestock.

Overgrazing in core and peripheral areas has been identified as a major cause of decline of grassland habitat and animals in Suklaphanta. Nearly 10,000 cattle, constituting 85% of the buffer zone population, graze freely within the core and peripheral area of Suklaphanta every day. The frequent and unregulated sharing of grazing land not only results in overgrazing, but also increases the risk of disease transmission between domestic ruminants and wild animals. 

Cattle, however, play a significant role in the local economy. Over 22,000 households (143,395 people) reside in the buffer zone and are dependent on livestock for their income and nutritional needs. Cattle management is still based on traditional herding practices leading to low milk yields. There are inadequate veterinary facilities to address livestock health concerns, which often leads to severe economic losses. Women, typically responsible for fodder collection, sometimes suffer severe injuries from falls from trees while collecting fodder in and around Suklaphanta. These concerns have been highlighted by communities and Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation during meetings with ZSL and its partner the National Trust for Nature Conservation.

Why we are there 

ZSL has been supporting the Government of Nepal in conservation for more than two decades. Among many of its successes in-country, the veterinary clinics supported by ZSL in Chitwan National Park in early 2000 are still providing services to community members. ZSL - in partnership with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, the National Trust for Nature Conservation and Himalayan Nature - developed a project to replicate the success achieved in Chitwan in supporting local communities’ livelihoods by providing services through veterinary clinics in Suklaphanta. 

The aim of the project is to find solutions to conserve the fragile grassland ecosystem and wildlife of Suklaphanta, while supporting the livelihoods of local communities to improve their well-being.

With funding from the Darwin Initiative, and working in close collaboration with our partners in Nepal, ZSL is: supporting farmers to raise productive breeds of cattle; improving access to veterinary services; and encouraging improved grazing practices. Together, this will result in reduced grazing pressure on grasslands and a mitigated risk of disease transmission between wildlife and domestic animals. The formulation of a grassland management plan with proven methods will also support populations of several globally threatened species.

Bengal tiger camera trapped in Nepal
Bengal tiger camera trapped in Nepal

Key goals and achievements 

The major objectives of the programme are to:

  • Set up and operate two fully functional veterinary clinics within the Suklaphanta buffer zone;
  • Strengthen women-run dairy cooperatives facilitating more productive cattle farms within the Suklaphanta buffer zone;
  • Provide support for easier access to fodder for local communities and initiate community managed grasslands;
  • Prepare grassland management guidelines for Suklaphanta and other grassland Protected Areas; and 
  • Support the government of Nepal and management of Suklaphanta National Park in an annual biodiversity monitoring programme in Suklaphanta.

The three-year project has already made significant progress toward achieving its goals. The project has completed the setup of two veterinary clinics providing services to local farmers. Similarly, two women-led cooperatives have been formed to support poor families to obtain improved breed of livestock. The cooperatives provide financial support through soft loans, where the interest rate is minimal and set by the community itself. This ensures that the cooperatives can support more members in future. Similarly the project has also supported Suklaphanta National Park in biodiversity monitoring and grassland management work. 

Project information

Key species 

  • Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris), endangered  
  • Greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), vulnerable 
  • Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), endangered 
  • Bengal florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis), critically endangered 
  • Hodgson’s bushchat (Saxicola insignis), vulnerable 
  • Swamp deer (Rucervus duvaucelii), vulnerable 

People involved

  • Dr Gitanjali Bhattacharya, Project Adviser and Programme Manager- South and Central Asia
  • Dr Hem Sagar Baral, Project Leader and Nepal Country Manager
  • Dr Bhagawan Raj Dahal, Trans-boundary Tiger project Manager
  • Tek Raj Bhatt, Programme Officer
  • Suraj Baral, Field Biologist
  • Pradeep Raj Joshi, Field Biologist
  • Sandip Maharjan, Finance and Admin Assistant

Partners and sponsors 

  • The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation
  • The National Trust for Nature Conservation
  • Himalayan Nature
  • The project is funded by the Darwin Initiative

Darwin Initiative