Wetlands of Nepal: Vital for Biodiversity

Supported by 168 contracting parties, including Nepal, the Ramsar Convention is an international treaty promoting the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands around the world. Nepal currently has eight Ramsar sites – Beeshazar Tal, Ghodaghodi Tal, Gokyo Lakes, Gosaikunda, Jagdishpur Reservoir, Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, Mai Pokhari and Phoksundo Lake – and the Himalayan Nature Conservation and Research Institute, together with the government-funded Conservation and Sustainable Use of Wetlands in Nepal (CSUWN) is involved in overseeing these sites to help them meet the standards and goals of the Ramsar Convention.

Covering more than six percent of Nepal’s surface area, wetlands are vital to a significant number of flora and fauna species, but are considered to be the most vulnerable ecosystems in Nepal. Areas incorporated in the term ‘wetlands’ include rivers that originate in Nepal’s midhills; high altitude glacial lakes; floodplains created by melting snow via Himalayan rivers; hot springs; ox-bow lakes; ponds; swamps and marshes. Many of these wetland areas are not only important to local flora and fauna, but are important for the people living near them.

Located in central Nepal, Beeshazar Tal is an oxbow lake system offering a corridor of forested wetland habitat alongside Chitwan National Park. A number of vulnerable and critically endangered species are found in this area, including Bengal tigers, one-horned rhinoceros, marsh crocodiles, white-rumped vultures, Pallas’s fish-eagles and lesser adjutant stork.

The Ramsar site of Ghodaghodi Tal is located on the lower slopes of Siwalik Hills in Nepal’s Kailali District. It features a series of large oxbow lakes and ponds with marshes and meadows serving as a corridor for wildlife linking the Terai lowland and Siwalik Hills. In addition to the endangered and vulnerable species found in Beeshazar Tal, Ghodaghodi Tal is home to smooth-coated otters, Eurasian otters, swamp deer, red-crowned roof turtles and three-striped roof turtles.

Situated at an altitude of between 4,700 and 5,000 meters above sea level, the Gokyo Lakes are the highest freshwater lake system in the world. Consisting of nineteen lakes, Gokyo has religious significance for both Hindus and Buddhists who travel there to bath in the water which they consider holy, particularly during the Janai Purnima festival. The site is worshipped as the place where the Snake God (Nag Devata) resides, and a temple dedicated to the Hindu deities of Vishnu and Shiva is located there. Devotees believe that wildlife and birds in the area should be protected. The Gokyo Lakes are also a popular tourist attraction receiving an average of seven thousand visitors each year.

Picture attribution: Kandelvijaya (Wikimedia)