A Study of Stated Attitudes and Behaviour of Local People toward

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					    A Study of Stated Attitudes and Behaviour of Local People toward conservation in Koshi
                                 Tappu Wildlife Reserve, Nepal

                                      Lai Ming Lam*
                     Anthropology Discipline, The University of Adelaide

*Lam Lai-Ming, is a Ph.D candidate in the Discipline of Anthropology at the University of
Adelaide (SA 5005 Australia lai.m.lam@student.adelaide.edu.au). She recently completed her
Master’s degree in Environmental Studies. She has carried out fieldwork in Nepal since 2002
and is now studying park-people conflicts in Royal Shulkaphanta Wildlife Reserve.

This paper1 will demonstrate the dilemma between people livelihoods and nature conservation
in a South Asian country- Nepal. Although the concept of people-oriented park management
plan was established because of the development of a strong belief that cooperative attitudes
within local communities would help to preserve the biodiversity in parks and reserves, this
over-simplified assumption is largely challenged in practice, particularly in those highly
populated and poorly protected areas of Nepal. A new wave of ‘protectionism paradigms’ has
therefore recently emerged. In this study an anthropological approach was used to investigate
the relationships between local communities stated attitudes to a protected area and their
actual behaviour. The research site was the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve (KTWR), the only
Ramsar site in Nepal and habitat for the globally endangered species Wild Water Buffalo
(Bubalus bubalis). A household survey showed that an encouraging percentage (76%) of
respondents expressed favourable attitudes towards the KTWR; however, positive
relationships between stated attitudes and observed behaviour were rare. Personal experience
of costs and benefits from the park was the factor most influencing respondent’s attitudes
toward the KTWR rather than levels of education or affluence, as had seen suggested in the

  This paper was presented to the 15th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of
Australia in Canberra 29th June-2 July 2004. It has been peer-viewed and appears on the Conference
Proceedings website by permission of the author who retains copyright. This paper may be download
for fair use under the Copyright Act (1954), its later amendments and other relevant legislation.

literature. Furthermore, the levels of dependency on natural resources directly motivated
behaviour and determined the extent of impacts on the park. Instead of calling for the
Yellowstone model (fine-fence approach), results show that introducing ‘real’ people-oriented
management approaches are the way to achieve long-term biodiversity. This implies that
more site-specific and human-faced park management policies are needed, particularly
provision of tangible benefits and alternative livelihoods for the affected population.

In this paper, I would like to discuss one critical issue in contemporary nature conservation:
the relationships between people’s stated attitudes towards conservation and their actual
behaviour. I believe that positive relationships between stated attitudes and observed
behaviour rarely occur in reality. This is particularly true in those highly populated and poorly
protected area in developing countries. Before, I talk about my case study (Koshi Tappu
Wildlife Reserve, a small protected area in Nepal). I would like first to share four real stories
which I collected from KTWR when I did my fieldwork in the winter of 2003.

Case 1: Yadav is 32 years old and has lived in Sheerpur village since he was born. He told me
that he has only an area of small land, which is not enough to support his eight children. He is
despairing for his future because he never gets benefits from the KTWR, only problems. He
said, ‘I just have a small land holding which can provide eight months’ food for my family:
however, wild buffaloes come to my field and eat my paddy. Sometimes, I really get nothing
from my land. I want to kill all wildlife’.

Case 2: Shivu lives in Haripur village (next to Sheerpur). As he doesn’t have any land, he is
totally dependent on fishing. Every day, he catches fish in the downstream section of the
Koshi River and in the wetlands outside the KTWR. He told me that he is always worried
about his livelihood because he gets only 1kg of fish and earns Rs 50-60 (less than 1 AUD)
per day. During the interview, he said to me, ‘Now, even having lunch is too luxurious for
me!’ He continued and said sadly, ‘I see so many fish in the Koshi River. I just need to put
my hands into the river then the fish come, I really want to catch them but I can’t.’

Case 3: The third story was told to me in one of the poorest villages in Koshi Tappu Region-
East-Pipra village. I met a fisherman. He told me about his night fishing experience. ‘In
winter, my legs and hands are nearly frozen when fishing in river at night, but I have no
choice. Sometimes I can’t get enough food and I just sleep without any food until next day.’
He explained that since the establishment of KTWR, his life has become very difficult. He

said, ‘I’m afraid of the Army so I must go fishing at night even though I’m scared of the wild
animals. I need to provide food for my family.’

Case 4: The last story was related in Ghoganpur village. Like other villages, this village
suffers serious crop damage from wildlife. However, when I interviewed Ram, he told me that
even though he often experiences crop damage by animals, he still admires the KTWR. He
said, ‘I like KTWR because I can see so many different kinds of animals, especially the wild
buffaloes: we cannot see them in other places.’

Obviously, the livelihood of respondents has become harder and harder after the
establishment of KTWR. However, the result of my household survey showed that an
encouraging percentage (76%) of respondents expressed favourable attitudes toward the
KTWR. If the belief of most conservation planners’ is right, cooperative attitudes within local
communities should help to preserve parks. Why is KTWR now facing serious ecological
crisis: several species are at the edge of extinction (DNPWC, 2002; Singh, 2001; UNDP-
GEF, 2002)? And illegal activities of local people inside the park are more serious than

Aim of Study
The aim of this study is to answer the question: whether or not ‘improved’ or ‘positive’ park-
people relationships can be translated into the long-term maintenance of biodiversity in
KTWR. The answer to this broad question is closely related to some micro-level questions.
From the four stories I have just related, it is clear that people from different villages have
different attitudes toward KTWR. Since the establishment of KTWR, have people’s attitudes
changed, what factors may have determined these changes in attitude?

In the rest of this paper, I will first give a general background of contemporary conservation
practices and then the details of my research work. I hope to make clear why I think a direct
and positive relationship between people’s cooperative attitudes and behaviour concerning
resource uses, is an ideal which seems to exist only in decision-makers’ imagination,
particularly in those highly populated and poor countries like Nepal.

In the past two decades, understanding local communities’ perceptions, attitudes, needs and
aspirations has been the subject of increasing attention by conservation agencies and park
authorities. They have recognized that responding to local needs is a pre-requisite for
maintaining sustainability in protected areas (PAs) (De Boer and Baquete, 1998; Heinen,

1993a; Heinen and Mehta, 2000; Newmark et al., 1993; Parry and Campbell, 1992). A series
of people-oriented management approaches such as Community-Based Management (CBM),
Integrated Conservation Development Projects (ICDPs) and Bufferzone Management Plans
(BZMP) have emerged as an expression of the new paradigm of conservation and are
believed to be the best approaches for resolving park-people conflicts, particularly in
developing countries (Mehta and Kellert, 1998).

Previous studies have suggested that the socioeconomic characteristics of the population,
especially levels of education and affluence can determine local responses to parks
(Alexander, 2000; Fiallo and Jacobson, 1995; Heinen, 1993a; Infield, 1988; Mehta and
Kellert, 1998; Moridi 1987 quoted by Parry & Campbell, 1992; Newmark et al., 1993).
Moridi (1987) proposed that education could make people more conservation – conscious and
less utilitarian in their attitudes towards protected areas. Affluence is believed to be a good
indicator of people’s attitudes because the rich may have the capacity to afford the loss of
resources inherent in the establishment of PAs which the poor, who are dependent on natural
resources would lack (Infield, 1988). The assumption is that when people are highly educated
and more wealthy, they tend to have a more positive or cooperative attitude towards
conservation. Based on these conventional beliefs, conservation education and eradication of
poverty are being given high priority for improving the relationship between parks and
people. In the other words, to change local people’s attitudes with the expectation that this
will lead to a reduction in the destructive use of the resources of PAs. In reality, successful
cases are rare. My study shows that this oversimplifies the reality in the local context. The
outcome in fact is not what they have expected. Rrecently, people-oriented approaches have
been severely criticized by some radical conservationists2 for their failure to achieve their
main goal: the protection of biological diversity. A call for stricter park management has been
widely discussed for reintroduction in unmanageable PAs (Wilshusen et al, 2002). Should we
really need stricter management strategies for preserving nature?

Study Area
The site for the current study is Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, one of the most contested
protected areas of Nepal (Heinen and Mehta, 2000) due to its poverty and high population. It
is located at the south-eastern part of Nepal. It is a small reserve, with an area of only 175
sq.km, while an additional 173 sq.km, including adjoining highly populated villages, has been

  Their five main arguments include: PAs require strict protection; biodiversity protection is a moral
imperative; conservation linked to development does not protect biodiversity; harmonious, ecologically
friendly local communities are myths and emergency situations require extreme measures. But their
views are criticized for ignorance of specific social and political contexts (details see Wilshusen et al

proposed as a bufferzone (Figure 1). It is mainly characterized by extensive wetland habitats
in the form of floodplains, oxbow lakes, and swamp forests. The terrestrial vegetation consists
of grassland savannah as well as small areas of degraded forest (DNPWC, 2002). Its
prominent biological values, especially for Nepal’s last remnant population of critically
endangered Wild Water Buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), contributed to its designation as a reserve
area in 1976. Human entry is prohibited except once a year for the thatch grass harvest. In
1988, KTWR was nominated as Nepal’s first Ramsar site.

The Koshi Tappu region is also characterized with a diverse population of high density.
According to DNPWC (2002), there are 340 settlements and 12,296 households with a
population of 85,557 in the proposed buffer-zone which includes sixteen Village
Development Committees (VDCs) in three districts. The average population density is about
620 persons/sq.km, which is extremely high compared to the national average
(157persons/sq.km) (UNDP-GEF, 2002). Furthermore, about 39% of households are either
landless or own less than 0.05ha (DNPWC, 2002). The livelihoods of most of the
economically active population in the buffer zone are derived from agriculture and natural
resource use. Since the KTWR was established, conflicts have arisen between the local
communities and the utilization of the park’s land and natural resources (Sah, 1997). Studies
have shown that the affected population is hostile to the park because of relatively serious
crop depredation from wildlife (Adhikari, 2000; Heinen, 1993a; Ghimire, 2000; Kherwar,
1996; WMI-IUCN, 1994). In 1994, a Park People Programme (PPP)3, was introduced in the
KTWR and its five year Buffer Zone Management Plan was completed in 2002. However,
there are reservations about how these new conservation policies will work, particularly the
BZMP (Heinen and Mehta, 2000; Sah, 1997). How well these management approaches can
change people’s attitudes or, more importantly, people’s behaviour?

  The Nepalese government implemented the PPP with the financial and technical assistance from the
United Nations Development Programme in five Terai PAs including KTWR. The objective of the PPP
is to enhance the sustainability of the buffer zone communities by improving these socio-economic
conditions and the natural resource base (DNPWC 2002).

Figure1: Location of KTWR and four study villages
Source: Modified from DNPWC 2001 and Heinen 1993b

Research Methods
My study was carried out in January 2003. I selected four buffer zone villages: Sheerpur,
Haripur, East-Pipra and Ghoganpur to study. I first conducted a household survey in order to
gain a general picture of local people’s resource use patterns and their attitudes toward
KTWR. A total of twenty wards (the small administrate unit) lay in the proposed buffer zone
within the study villages and four to six households were chosen randomly for interview
within each ward. A semi-structured questionnaire survey was conducted with the resulting
sample of 100 households in selected villages: Shreepur (20), Haripur (30), East-Pipra (41)

    and Ghoganpur (9). Besides this, another method (field observation) was adopted because I
    observed that when villagers claimed that they liked the KTWR and seldom undertook illegal
    activities inside it, but I found out this was not the case. So I went inside the KTWR three
    times to determine the truth. The aim was to explore the actual human activities inside the
    park by direct observation. During the investigation, notes were taken about what people did
    and said during informal discussions.

    Results and Discussion
    The main findings were: First, the studied population was very dependent on wetland
    resources. About 72% used the natural resources of the KTWR, especially a kind of special
    grass, to build their houses. Besides this, they used the park for fuelwood, fish and grazing.
    Due to this high-dependency on KTWR’s resources, nearly one third of villagers admitted
    they undertook illegal activities inside KTWR.

    However, even though they lost their traditional rights to use resources, my study
    showed that the responses of villagers toward KTWR were unexpected positive with
    76% of the respondents claiming they liked the reserve. The main reasons given
    included direct and indirect benefits, such as resource uses, high potential for tourism
    and high expectations of improved livelihoods which might be brought by
    development –based conservation activities. But attitudes varied from village to
    village (Table 1). These results were completely different from those of similar
    studies in the past (Adhikari, 2000; Ghimire, 2000; Kherwar, 1996; Heinen, 1993a).
    Their studies indicated that people’s conservation attitudes in KTWR had been some
    of the most negative in Nepal because of relatively serious crop depredation. For
    those expressing unfavourable attitudes toward the KTWR, crop damage by wildlife
    was the main reason, with a lesser reason the restriction on resource use. About half
    of the respondents claimed that they suffered crop damage by wildlife.

Table 1 Data on four selected study villages
 Villages     Location   Population         Distance from Dependency      Landless     Positive
                         Density (sq/ km)   KTWR (km) on Agriculture      Population   Attitudes
                                                          (%)             (%)          Toward KTWR
 Shreepur     Eastern    657                2-10          100             0            50
 Haripur      Eastern    385                2-10          83              20           93
 East-Pipra   Western    682                0.5-2         44              59           73
 Ghoganpur Western    549               0.5-2         88                  11           89
Source: DNPWC (2001), Sah (1997) and field survey (2003)

Why do people’s attitudes become so positive? Why do people from different villages
respond differently? In general, according to reasons given by villagers, development-related
benefits have boosted people’s positive attitudes. As Byer (1996) and Henien (1996) noted
that humans tend to give priority to basic, direct material needs rather than indirect material
values, therefore resource use for survival purposes has always been of first concern to those
park peoples. People who claimed to ‘like’ the KTWR generally did so because of actual
benefits such as thatch and fuelwood collection as well as the potential benefits from tourism
and community development. Similar findings have been found elsewhere (Alexander, 2000;
De Boer and Baquete, 1998; Infield, 1988; Ite, 1996; Sekhar, 1998; Stusrod and Wegge,
1995). On the contrary, some studies suggest that cost always restrict people’s support for
protected areas, especially from those people who suffer direct agricultural loss (De Boer and
Baquete, 1998; Infield and Namara, 2001; Parry and Campbell, 1992). In this study, people
who own land were the most affected by wildlife harassment and this contributed to their
negative attitudes. It follows that the levels of education and affluence are not the most
influential values that determine the attitudes of villagers toward the KTWR, but the
experience of cost or benefit was.

Another important finding was that their stated attitudes were seldom reflected in their day-
by-day interactions with KTWR because the KTWR still was threatened by human
exploitation. Indeed, the extent of the impact on the park was closely related to the
dependency-level of local people on natural resources, not their attitudes. In the case of
KTWR, dependency is determined by availability of alternative livelihoods (economic
activities) and fuelwood for local people. The more people’s livelihoods are dependent on
natural resources, the more destructive is the impact of their behaviour on nature. During
three site visits, it was observed that many people engaged in different illegal activities, such
as collecting dung, grass, wood and also grazing cattle and fishing. One of the fisherfolk
practising traditional fishing on the western side of KTWR explained, ‘I have no choice. I
don’t have any land. I don’t have any skills but I have four sons.’ A total of twenty-nine
respondents admitted to utilizing natural resources in an illegal way but 80% claimed to ‘like’
KTWR and were also aware of conservation. As Byer (1996:8) pointed out, when the choice
is between conservation and starvation, people will behave the same even they know their
behaviour will harm the resource base and make life harder for themselves in the long term.

The diagram (figure 2) gives us a very clear picture what has happened in KTWR. Obviously,
the interactions between peoples’ values, attitudes, the dependency-level on natural resources
and their impact on the reserve are complex. Various combinations of those factors finally
contributed to different attitudes and behaviour in the study villages. For example, if we look

at Shreepur village, most villagers had low dependency-level on natural resource, but they
suffered most serious crop damage from wildlife. So their attitudes were relatively more
negative than those people from other villages. On the other hand, in the village of East-Pipra,
people suffered much less crop damage and gained benefits from KTWR, so these factors
contributed to their favourable attitudes. But most of the villagers in East-Pripra relied on
illegal resource extraction from KTWR as their primary source of income. As a consequence,
their behaviour was seriously destructive to the reserve.

                                 Negative –         Positive+

Dependency-level (High)                       Positive             (Negative)
On natural resources                                               Impacts of human
                                                *East-Pipra        activities

                   (Low)                                           (Positive)
                              Negative        (optimal *
                                              situation )
                                    Costs          Benefits


Figure 2 Relationships between values, attitudes, dependency and impacts of behaviour

So what messages did my study produce? Firstly, the implementation of generalised
conservation policies as a resolution for different park-people conflicts is one of main
reasons, I believe, for the failure of people-oriented conservation approaches. My study
showed clearly that local people were not homogenous and their opinions were diverse.
Therefore, more micro-level or site-specific management plans are recommended. Secondly,
only when local communities’ positive attitudes are put into practice will conservation
policies succeed. It is clear that only talking about conservation education can’t help people

avoid starvation immediately. When people can’t fulfil their basic needs and wildlife lose
their habitats, can we still maintain parks?

It is time for conservationists to reconsider what approaches can really solve problems. Our
work cannot stop at only changing local attitudes but needs to extend to how people’s
behaviour can change as well. The results of the study imply that in order to achieve the goal
of biodiversity conservation, old ‘big stick’ conservation strategies need to be replaced by
people-oriented policies which are more pervasive and embedded in site-specific contexts.
Provisions of tangible benefits and alternative livelihoods for these subsistence-level villagers
much be considered as the central philosophy of park management; a strategy which also
could be applied to other unmanageable protected areas in developing countries.

This study was originally undertaken as part of the requirements for the Master in
Environmental Studies at the University of Adelaide. I thank my supervisor Associate
Professor Lesley Potter for her comments of manuscript. I also give my special thanks for Dr.
Joel T. Heinen (Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at Florida International
University), Dr. Jay Prakash Sah (Postdoctoral Research Associate in Southeast
Environmental Research Center of Florida International University), Mr. Ganga Ram Singh
(the Warden of KTWR), Mr. Kul Prasad Adhikari (Buffer Zone Support Units officer of
KTWR), Mr. Medini Prasad Bhandari (ex-president of Association for Protection of
Environmental and Culture) for their participation in discussions. Finally, I would like to
extend my thanks to my research assistant Shiva Adhikari.


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