Nepal: Farmers slash-burning last forests in National Parks

Nasa’s satellite imagery showed most of the big fires were in and around the national parks along the country’s northern areas bordering Tibet. Active fires were recorded in renowned conservation success stories like the Annapurna, Kanchanjunga, Langtang and Makalu Barun National Parks. The extent of the loss of flora and fauna is not yet known.

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Forest fires in Nepal’s jungles and protected areas are not uncommon
during the dry season between October and January. Most of the fires
come about as a consequence of the “slash and burn” practice that
farmers employ for better vegetation and agricultural yields.

But this time the fires remained out of control even in the national parks in
the Himalayan region where the slash and burn practice is uncommon. Trans-Himalayan parks host rare species such as snow leopards, red pandas and several endangered birds.

More than the loss of plants and animals, the carbon dioxide emitted by the fires was a matter of concern, according to Ghanashyam Gurung, a director at WWF’s Nepal office. Some of the national parks in the plains bordering India were also on fire, but those caused less concern among conservationists and forest officials.

“Fires in the protected areas in the plain lands can be controlled easily because we have logistics and manpower ready for that – and that is what we did this time,” said Laxmi Manandhar, spokesman for Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.

“But in the national parks in the Himalayan region, we could hardly do anything because of the difficult geography. Nor do we have facilities of pouring water using planes and helicopters.” In some of the protected areas, the fires flared up even after locals and officials tried to put them out for several days.

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