CNP takes fish off menu to increase gharial population

April 16, 2018

Chandan Kumar Mandal, The Kathmandu Post, 16 April 2018

Chitwan National Park (CNP) has rung a major change to diets of park officials and security forces deployed inside the protected area in a desperate bid to shore up gharial population. 

Beginning March 14, which also marked the beginning of Nepali New Year 2075, the park authorities have imposed ban on serving of fish items at the park mess. 

According to Bed Kumar Dhakal, chief conservation officer with the CNP, the move aims at conserving the gharial population in the park. 

“We have taken this measure to cut down on consumption of fish--the main food for gharials. This decision means fish will not be cooked in the park kitchen nor in the army camps,” said Dhakal. 

The CNP has been struggling to maintain the number of gharials, a fish eating crocodile species, in its natural habitat. For conservation of gharials, the park has take a number of steps like ban on fishing in rivers flowing through the park. 

No one will be allowed to eat fish--both from the rivers inside the park and those brought in from outside--inside the park, said Dhakal. 

With this move, the park has sent out a message that it was committed to gharial conservation, ruling out suggestions that its own staff were involved in fishing. 

“Rumours were doing rounds that park officials were encouraging local communities to fish in these rivers and supply fish back to them. But they are without foundation,” said Dhakal, adding that the decision has also given the park officials moral authority to encourage others not to do fishing in the rivers. “When we wouldn’t fish and eat fish, only then can we ask others to follow suit.” 

According to experts, human activities have posed threats to gharials by causing fragmentation of their habitat, leading to pollution in the rivers and depletion in fish numbers. In Nepal, gharials have been enlisted as the protected species. Washing down of gharials from Nepali rivers to India has further affected gharial conservation.  There have been instances when gharials have died falling into a net in the Narayani river. In May last year, a male gharial had died, leading to a crisis for breeding in the Narayani and Rapti rivers for months.  

The CNP has also held consultations with stakeholders for the effective implementation of the decision. It has written to all the 50 security posts in and around the park. 

Besides, the park has held an internal meeting to inform all of its staff members to abide by the decision, according to Dhakal. 

A total of 166 gharials were counted in the two rivers during the last gharial census in 2016. Together with 32 in Bardiya National Park, the country’s gharial population stands at 198. 

(With inputs from our correspondent in Chitwan)