Does the rise in wildlife protection threaten the rights of locals?

The establishment of buffer zones has become integral to wildlife protection strategies, aiming to mitigate harmful interactions between protected areas and their surrounding environments. These zones, ranging from upland buffers to several-mile-wide areas, serve as intermediary spaces safeguarding sensitive landscapes like wetlands and wildlife reserves. However, the implementation of buffer zones raises questions about their impact on local communities, particularly Indigenous populations. As nations worldwide adopt conservation laws, including buffer zone management, there's a growing concern about whether these measures adequately balance conservation objectives with the rights and livelihoods of locals.

How do the establishment and enforcement of wildlife protection laws impact the traditional livelihoods and cultural practices of indigenous and local communities? What measures are in place to ensure that conservation efforts respect and uphold the rights of these communities, particularly in terms of access to natural resources and traditional lands? What mechanisms exist for meaningful consultation and participation of local communities in decision-making processes regarding wildlife conservation initiatives? How do conservation policies address the potential socio-economic disparities that may arise from restrictions on land use and resource access for local communities?

Wildlife Protection Mechanisms

Defined as intermediary spaces separating distinct areas, buffer zones play a pivotal role in safeguarding sensitive landscapes, such as wetlands and wildlife reserves, from external pressures. These zones are meticulously planned to fulfil ecological functions and mitigate negative impacts, with recommendations ranging from upland buffers of a few hundred feet to several miles wide for wildlife reserves or parks. Stemming from conservation principles, the concept has evolved over time to address diverse challenges, including geopolitical conflicts, veterinary issues, and disease control, emphasising the multifaceted nature of its application.

The establishment and management of buffer zones hold numerous benefits across biological, social, economic, and institutional realms. Biologically, buffer zones act as filters against undesirable human activities and invasive species while extending habitats for diverse wildlife populations. Socially, they offer mechanisms for conflict resolution, enhance local livelihoods, and foster support for conservation efforts. Economically, buffer zones generate income opportunities, boost tourism, and enhance the value of protected areas. Institutionally and policy-wise, they promote participatory planning, raise awareness among stakeholders, and strengthen local governance in conservation initiatives. However, careful consideration is needed to mitigate potential negative impacts, ensuring that buffer zones effectively balance conservation objectives with local community needs and aspirations.

Conservation Laws around the World

Around the world, buffer zones have emerged as crucial components of conservation efforts, with various countries adopting policies and strategies to manage these areas effectively. The Netherlands, for instance, actively participates in biodiversity conservation initiatives and provides financial support for forest and biodiversity conservation projects. Their policies on development cooperation, as outlined in documents such as those addressing Biological Diversity and Forests and Forestry, often guide the management of buffer zones. Over time, the conceptualization of buffer zone management has evolved through different stages, from initially serving as a means to protect human settlements and crops from wildlife to addressing socio-economic needs alongside minimising human impacts on conservation areas. 

The evolution of buffer zone management can be traced back to the seventies when global awareness of biological values heightened due to escalating pressure on natural resources. Stakeholder engagement and recognition of traditional user rights have given buffer zone strategies a more socio-economic dimension. UNESCO's Man and Biosphere Programme has played a significant role in structurally applying the concept of buffer zones. While there are no international treaties specifically dedicated to buffer zones, they are often utilised as tools to implement broader conventions such as the Convention on Biological Diversity. Additionally, conventions like Convention 107 of the International Labour Organisation recognize the rights of tribal and indigenous peoples to their traditional lands, underscoring the importance of considering indigenous perspectives in buffer zone management.

Status in Nepal

The status of buffer zones in Nepal stands out as a significant aspect of wildlife conservation and indigenous rights within the country. Established under the Buffer Zone Management Regulations 2052 (1996), buffer zones serve as peripheral areas surrounding national parks and reserves, as defined by the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, 2029 (1973). The regulations outline key components such as demarcation, management, and prohibited acts within these buffer zones, emphasising the involvement of local communities in conservation efforts. Notably, buffer zones were formally announced in prominent national parks like Chitwan and Bardiya, signifying the government's commitment to balancing conservation goals with the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.

Despite Nepal's commendable achievements in wildlife conservation, highlighted by successes such as doubling the tiger population and increasing forest coverage, the implementation of conservation policies has had adverse effects on indigenous communities like the Chepang, Tharu, Bote, and Majhi peoples. Amnesty International and the Community Self-Reliance Centre's 2021 report shed light on the human rights abuses endured by indigenous communities due to oppressive conservation policies spanning decades. The restrictive measures imposed by the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act (1973), including limitations on hunting, grazing, and land use, have significantly altered the traditional way of life for indigenous peoples living in buffer zones.

Moreover, indigenous communities resettled outside buffer zones face additional challenges, such as restricted access to national parks and wildlife reserves. This displacement has led to financial hardship and food insecurity, forcing many to resort to sharecropping as a means of survival. The situation is compounded by arbitrary arrests, detentions, and instances of ill-treatment faced by indigenous individuals attempting to access protected areas. Tragic incidents, including the death of Raj Kumar Chepang in July 2020, underscore the urgent need for reforms in wildlife conservation policies to safeguard the rights and well-being of indigenous peoples in Nepal.

Shikharam Chaudhary's tragic death at the hands of park rangers in Nepal's Chitwan National Park sheds light on a broader issue of abuse and torture faced by indigenous communities living near conservation areas. Despite Nepal's success in combating poaching, reports reveal a dark reality of human rights violations, with locals being harassed, detained, and even killed under the pretext of conservation efforts. The involvement of organisations like WWF, accused of supporting and shielding perpetrators, adds complexity to the situation, highlighting the need for greater transparency and accountability in conservation practices. The plight of indigenous groups, denied their traditional livelihoods and subjected to intimidation and violence, underscores the urgent need for inclusive conservation strategies that prioritise community rights and well-being.


While buffer zones offer numerous benefits across biological, social, economic, and institutional realms, the involvement of the army in detention and eviction processes within conservation areas poses significant risks to local communities, especially indigenous peoples. These practices often lead to human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, and the use of excessive force, resulting in trauma and psychological distress. Evictions disrupt traditional livelihoods dependent on forest resources, leading to economic hardship and food insecurity, while also severing cultural ties to ancestral lands and sacred sites. Lack of transparency and adherence to legal procedures exacerbate injustices, denying affected individuals due process and adequate compensation. Social displacement further compounds the impact, fragmenting communities and increasing vulnerability to exploitation. Addressing these harmful practices requires prioritising the rights and needs of affected communities while promoting sustainable and inclusive conservation strategies.