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RIEL alumnus

Dr Manoj Bhatta

Dr Manoj Bhatta head and shoulders, wearing CDU / RIEL shirt

Research project title

Conservation Governance of Ecosystem Goods and Services obtained from Red Panda Habitats in Western Nepal

Abstract

Mountain ecosystems in north-western Nepal provide habitats for the endangered red panda (Ailurus fulgens fulgens) as well as satisfying the daily livelihood requirements of local communities. This research explored how panda conservation could be advanced by managing sustainably the ecosystem goods and services derived from their habitat. The research used a mix-methods research approach to (i) identify the ecosystem goods and services provided by the panda’s habitats (ii) assess trends in their use, availability, and condition (iii) determine whether local people would agree to be compensated for reduced use of the habitat and (iv) explore ways of habitat governance could be improved.

The most important of the 51 provisioning and cultural ecosystem goods and services villagers obtain from red panda habitats were seasonal grazing in upland pastures, plant materials for medicines and food, wild plants for energy, transhumance culture, and religious interactions with nature. Of these, use of medicinal plants had increased but their availability had declined; bamboo use had remained steady although was becoming harder to obtain; there was less traditional transhumant pastoralism to upland pastures than previously but pasture availability had also declined; use of sacred religious sites had declined inside but not outside the park but the reverse was true for recreational tourism. The choice experiment indicated that a large majority of respondents were willing to accept compensation in return for reducing forest resource use, preferably receiving a mix of communal and personal payments. Best-worst scaling revealed that villagers prioritized participation in decision-making over other aspects of governance, which is probably the most effective means of reducing the impact of systemic corruption that currently prevents effective delivery of environmental policy in the region.

The research provides the basis for introducing incentive-based governance approaches (designing payment for ecosystem services (PES) or PES-like schemes) in red panda habitats in Nepal which will strengthen existing governance regimes, conserve the panda and support local communities. However, the work also uncovered a widespread belief that existing forest management is impeded by corruption and rapid changes in the ways in which the habitat is used that may benefit the panda.

Research interests

Biodiversity management and conservation, socio-ecological research, community-based conservation, participatory sustainable natural resources management, incentive-based conservation schemes, and climate change and impacts.