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New standard brings best practices to bear in Nepal’s red panda conservation

A red panda.

A red panda. Image by Tambako The Jaguar via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).

  • The Red Panda Governance Standard has been introduced into Nepal to strengthen efforts to conserve the endangered species.
  • Developed by the Red Panda Network in collaboration with one Nepali and two Australian universities, it aims to allow communities to adopt best practices for red panda conservation.
  • Proponents say they hope that successful conservation initiatives being carried out in the country’s east can be translated to the more fragmented habitats in the central and western regions of Nepal.

KATHMANDU — Conservationists in Nepal have introduced a new standard for efforts to protect the red panda, in the hope of translating successful initiatives in the country’s east to threatened habitats in the central and western hilly regions.

The voluntary Red Panda Governance Standard, developed with the help of two Australian universities, looks at best practices for conserving the endangered species, Ailurus fulgens, and suggesting ways in which communities living with red pandas can implement them.

“The governance standard shall help communities conserve red pandas in a participatory way by identifying priorities,” said Sonam Tashi Lama, program coordinator at the Red Panda Network.

Communities can use the standard informally for a broad evaluation of their efforts to save the species or more thoroughly to assess compliance of forest management where red pandas live and programs and projects related to red panda conservation, Lama said.

According to the Red Panda Network, an NGO working in eastern Nepal to help communities conserve the species, habitats in the western part of the country have been fragmented into many small patches. This restricts the movement of red pandas and negatively impacts the viability of the animal’s populations there.

Red pandas are found in India, Nepal, Bhutan and China, and face threats ranging from habitat loss to illegal trapping and poaching, to accidental snaring in traps set for other animals. The species is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List and on Appendix I of CITES, making its trade illegal.

It’s estimated that of the fewer than 15,000 individuals that remain in the wild, around 500 roam in Nepal’s hills, where they thrive in bamboo forests.

A red panda in a tree.
A red panda in Sagarmatha National Park in eastern Nepal. The new standard for efforts to protect the red panda hopes to translate successful initiatives in the country’s east to threatened habitats in the central and western hilly regions. Image by Peter Prokosch/GRID-Arendal via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

“After working with several governments around the world in the natural resources governance sector for more than a decade, we came to realize that there are key things that need to be addressed,” said Tek Maraseni, a professor at University of Southern Queensland in Australia. “All stakeholders need to feel ownership, a bottom-up approach should be adopted and specific governance standards should be designed for specific purposes such as red panda conservation.”

The Red Panda Governance Standard was developed by USQ in collaboration with Griffith University, Kathmandu Forestry College, the Red Panda Network, and local communities, following through rigorous consultation and deliberation between stakeholders.

The standard is based on two key principles: Meaningful participation, and productive deliberation. In this case, meaningful participation is divided into interest representation (inclusiveness, equality and resources) and organizational responsibility (accountability and transparency). Productive deliberation is divided into two indicators: decision-making (democracy, agreement and dispute settlement) and implementation (behavioral change, problem solving and durability).

“We hope that the new governance standard will help conserve red pandas throughout its range in the country,” said Pem Narayan Kandel, secretary at the Ministry of Forest and Environment. “This standard comes as the global community faces a biodiversity and climate crisis.”

Lama from the Red Panda Network said he’s optimistic that more community forests in the country can now work toward conservation of red pandas. With the new governance standard in place, he said, they can assess the effectiveness of their work.

Banner image of a red panda by Tambako The Jaguar via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).

Related reading:

Q&A with Whitley Award winner Sonam Tashi Lama

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