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Bardia National Park (BNP) and Sonaha indigenous minorities, Nepal

Creation of national park impacted Sonaha indigenous groups in the Karnali river delta. Despite participatory conservation they continue to struggle for livelihoods while facing conservation injustice.


The Sonaha ethnic minority groups in south-wester Nepal inhabit the lower Karnali River Delta and they consider the river and riverine environment as their ancestral territory. The Sonaha history of inhabitation in the delta can be traced back to the times prior to the unification and creation of modern Nepal (in  the1800s). The Sonaha historically led a semi mobile way of life; dependent on river based customary livelihoods (artisanal fishing and manual panning of gold dusts) and accessed forest resources. They managed riparian areas and riverbanks as a common property for gold panning. 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Bardia National Park (BNP) and Sonaha indigenous minorities, Nepal
State or province:Province 5
Location of conflict:Bardia district (Lower Karnali River Delta, Buffer Zone of Bardia National Park)
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Establishment of reserves/national parks
Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:Land
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Creation of Bardia National Park, 1976 (formerly a wildlife reserve) by then His Majesty’s Government of Nepal, Ministry of Forest, Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation.

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Project area:Bardia National Park (968 sq. km) Buffer Zone (507
Level of Investment:The current Park management plan, states $ 82027.85 for the Buffer Zone Management (Conservation, Community Development, Income Generation, Conservation Education, Administration) and $47867.71 for Park and People Relations
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:While the total population in the buffer zone of the BNP is 1,14,201 which includes diverse major ethnic groups such as Tharu, Chetri of hill origin, around 1250 Sonaha population (as of 2013) were affected by the creation of the Park.
Start of the conflict:1976
Relevant government actors:Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation, Ministry of Forest and Environment, Federal Government of Nepal.
International and Finance InstitutionsUnited Nations Development Program (UNDP) from United States of America - Donor of the integrated conservation and conservation project as listed in the Project Details section
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) from Switzerland - Involved in the integrated conservation and conservation project as listed in the Project Details section
Biodiversity International - Involved in the integrated conservation and conservation project as listed in the Project Details section
United States Agency for International Development (USAID) (USAID) from United States of America - Donor of the integrated conservation and conservation project as listed in the Project Details section
Global Environment Facility (GEF) from United States of America - Donor of the integrated conservation and conservation project as listed in the Project Details section
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Nepal Sonaha Association
Sonaha Bikas Samaj (Sonaha Development Society), Bardia
Community Development Organization (CDO),Kathmandu.
People Centred Development Forum (PCDF), Bardia.
Human Rights and Environment Concern Centre (HURECOC), Bardia.
Protected Area People's Rights Federation (PARF)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageUnknown
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Social movements
Sonaha indigenous minorities
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Other Environmental impacts, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Other Environmental impactsThe creation of national park, buffer zone and their management have contributed to the conservation of biodiversity in general. Based on conversations with locals in the buffer zone, it suggests strict conservation of forests in the Park, sometimes have triggered unsustainable timber extraction resources and led to degradation in the nearby community forests (outside buffer zone). Likewise, improvement of forest cover in the Park and buffer zones have also contributed to human-wildlife conflicts. Some locals also suspect due to rich forest cover in the Park, the riverside settlements in the buffer zone have had experienced flooding as well as river cutting of their agricultural lands.
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts, Militarization and increased police presence, Displacement
Other socio-economic impactsTriggered out-migration of the Sonaha; pushed Sonaha into exploitative agricultural bonded labor systems; lost control and access to ancestral riverine territory; loss of history , ecological knowledge and wisdom, and collective management of gold panning riparian environments.
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Application of existing regulations
Development of alternatives:The Sonaha organisations and supporting NGOs have been advocating Sonaha coexistence with the river environment, restore fishing and gold panning rights, engage Sonaha in conservation, offer just and sustainable livelihood alternatives for the Sonaha. Struggling for either rights to customary livelihoods or economic development (alternative livelihoods) is a contested topic within the Sonaha communities in the delta.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The Sonaha people continue to be marginalised in the national park and buffer zone management, planning and decision making. No just alternatives have been provided for the losses of traditional livelihoods, cultural practices, identities and human rights violations and atrocities in the past from the Park authorities.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, 2029 (1973)

Buffer Zone Management Regulation, 1996.

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Thing, S.J. (2018). Politics of Nature Conservation and Space National Park, River, and Sonaha Ethnic Minorities. In Social Science Baha (Ed.), Conference Proceedings 2013: The Annual Kathmandu Conference on Nepal & The Himalaya (pp. 146-171). Kathmandu: Himal Books.

Thing, S.J., Jones, R. & Birdsall Jones, C. (2017). The Politics of Conservation: Sonaha, Riverscape in the Bardia National Park and Buffer Zone, Nepal. Conservation & Society, 15(3), 292-303.
[click to view]

Thing, S.J. (2019). Politics of Conservation, Moral Ecology and Resistance by the Sonaha Indigenous Minorities of Nepal. In C.Griffan., R.Jones & I.Robertson (Eds.). Moral Ecologies - Histories of Conservation, Dispossession and Resistance. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

My Republica (news report)
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Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Documentary by Nepal Federation of Environmental Journalists.
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Documentary by FIAN Nepal
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Meta information
Contributor:Sudeep Jana Thing, Curtin University. Email: [email protected]
Last update27/06/2019
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