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Nepal court blocks road construction in rhino stronghold of Chitwan Park

A greater one-horned rhino in Chitwan National Park, where more than 600 rhinos now roam. Photo by Steve Hicks via Flickr.

  • Chitwan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to the second-largest population of greater one-horned rhinos, as well as Bengal tigers and hundreds of other species.
  • Plans to construct road and rail links through the park alarmed conservationists and landed Nepal with a formal warning from UNESCO.
  • On Feb. 13, Nepal’s Supreme Court ordered the government not to build new roads inside Chitwan without approval from UNESCO, the park management and other stakeholders.

KATHMANDU — Nepal’s Supreme Court has ordered the government not to construct any new roads inside Chitwan National Park without approval from UNESCO, park authorities and other stakeholders.

Chitwan National Park is home the world’s second-largest population of greater one-horned rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis) as well as a significant population of Bengal tigers (Panthera tigris tigris), 54 other mammal species and more than 550 varieties of birds. Chitwan’s extraordinary biodiversity led to its inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

Chitwan National Park is one of the last strongholds of the Bengal tiger. Considered a conservation success story, the park sustains 125 of the endangered big cats, up from about 50 tigers in 1998. Image by Paul Mannix via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

However, plans to construct road and rail links passing through the park alarmed conservationists, and in 2017 landed Nepal with a formal warning from UNESCO that moving forward with the proposed projects could put Chitwan on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Following the UNESCO warning, plans to develop the proposed East-West Electric Railway and Terai-Hulaki Highway were put on hold. The court’s verdict, issued following a Feb. 13 hearing, means that the government now has no choice but to accept the terms UNESCO puts forward for these projects.

According to the details of the court order, released Feb. 14, the judges held that building a road through the park without UNESCO approval would violate international treaties and agreements to which Nepal is party. The court said the planned projects can be built only after their environmental impact assessments are approved by Chitwan National Park, UNESCO and other stakeholders.

The court also noted that its attention had been drawn to another warning issued by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in October 2018, via a letter not made publicly available, detailing the committee’s requirements for an environmental impact assessment.

The verdict came in response to a petition originally filed in 2012 by lawyer Ramchandra Simkhada, who had requested a court order to halt the construction of the 30-kilometer (19-mile) East-West Highway because it would pass through the habitat of endangered animals and plants.

Nepal’s Chitwan Valley. Image by Bas Wallet via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0).

Banner image of a greater one-horned rhino in Chitwan National Park by Steve Hicks via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

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