By Indira Aryal, Kathmandu, Apr. 19: As Nepal is under a month-long lockdown to limit the spread of COVID-19, wild animals are spotted on the highways near conservation areas and national parks.
Conservationists have witnessed a number of wild animals moving on the national highways and streets near human settlements, thanks to the shut down and almost no human and vehicular movement.
Wild animals have been spotted on highways that cross conservation areas like Bardiya, Banke and Parsa. They are moving freely from one habitat to another without harming human beings, wildlife experts have said.
Pramod Bhattarai, chief at Banke National Park (BaNP), said that the movement of animals like elephants, wild boars, leopards and tigers was increasing on the highway and sometimes they are found sleeping on the road as there is no movement of vehicles.
Such sights are also observed in the vicinity of Parsa National Park. According to the chief of the Parsa National Park (PNA) Amir Maharjan, animals have moved around freely as human movement has stopped for weeks.
As vehicular movements have stopped, accidental deaths of wild animals have also been reduced in the wake of lockdown. Every year, around 40 wild animals from PNA die in road accidents, but this year only one wild boar died in an accident on Thursday, reported Maharjan.
With the movement of animals on highways and nearby human settlements, the threat of animal poaching and smuggling of wood has increased too. But security has been beefed up in the protected areas.
“There is a fear that illegal activities could increase during this time. So, security has been tightened with the active involvement of the staff,” said Bishnu Prasad Shrestha, information officer at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.
Security was tightened because in the first week of lockdown, a group of 11 smugglers had entered the PNA, who faced an encounter from Nepal Army guards. One smuggler died in the encounter while one security personnel sustained injuries.
Apart from that, animal smuggling has not been recorded so far, said Maharjan. But cases of wood and grass smuggling were recorded in PNA. “Around 30 people have been charged with smuggling wood and grass during this time,” he said.
Even at BaNP, the security forces and the conservation staff have been patrolling the conservation area to stop any illegal activities. Few illegal acts were recorded at the beginning of the lockdown, but now there are not such activities, said Bhattarai.
“We have mobilized 60 per cent staff to patrol around the National Park every day to monitor the situation of wild animals and intrusions, but there has been no illegal work lately,” Bhattarai informed.
Apart from patrolling, seven cameras have been installed on the highway to watch the movement of wild animals during the lockdown which will be compared with normal time movement later. This will also help track illegal activities in the forest.
Senior Manager at Wildlife Trade Monitor at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Madhav Khadka said that illegal trade might increase during this lockdown period. To protect wildlife from illegal trading, conservation staff should be allowed to move freely like health professionals and they should also be provided with Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE) to shield them from virus transmission.
The surroundings of the conservation sites are the places for human settlements and they might enter the sites any time during this period and harm domestic animals, he added. “A large number of security forces should be mobilized during this period with PPE to protect wild animals from illegal trafficking,” Khadka said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Forest and Soil Conservation has sent PPE to all the security personnel and staff working in all the conservation sites to protect them from virus transmission. There are 12 national parks and one wildlife reserve in the country.