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World's Third Highest Mountain Turned Over to Local Communities

Washington - Nepal's Government today turned over conservation of the wildlife and habitats surrounding Kanchenjunga -- the world's third highest mountain -- to a coalition of local communities. World Wildlife Fund was instrumental in the decision and will work on its implementation for the next five years.

The State Minister for Forests and Soil Conservation Honorable Gopal Rai handed over the management of Kangchenjunga Conservation Area (KCA) to the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area Management Council at a ceremony in Taplejung, Nepal. The historic step comes at a critical time in the history of Nepal, which is just emerging from a Maoist insurgency. The decision shows the government's commitment to the devolution of power to local communities, especially with regard to natural resources and equitable sharing of benefits.

"I am very happy to be part of this significant day when the people of Kangchenjunga take on the responsibility of managing this conservation area," said Minister Rai while addressing the community members gathered on the occasion. "I am convinced that the local communities will show even greater commitment to saving the unique natural and cultural heritage of Kangchenjunga."

The Kangchenjunga Conservation Area is known for its rich biodiversity, spectacular scenery and vibrant cultural heritage. Over five thousand inhabitants living within the four Village Development Committees (VDCs) of Lelep, Olangchung Gola, Tapethok and Yamphudin. Launched in 1998, the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area Project is designed to conserve globally threatened wildlife species such as the snow leopard while supporting the local communities through health services, informal education and income generating activities.

Since 1998, WWF has invested $1.5 million in the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area Project. In that time, pressure on local forests has decreased while the positive attitude of locals toward wildlife conservation has increased. In addition, wildlife poaching and illegal harvesting of valuable medicinal plants have decreased and committees have been formed to monitor wildlife movement and illegal activities. WWF will support the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area Management Council for the next five years as part of its Sacred Himalayan Landscape.*

"This is a historic day for one of the world's most spectacular natural treasures and WWF is excited to have been a part of it," said Mingma Norbu Sherpa, Director of WWF's Eastern Himalayas Program. "I would like to congratulate the Government of Nepal and the people for working through a decade of conflict to reach this pinnacle of achievement."

"This is a great day for the people of Kangchenjunga," said Dawa Tshering Sherpa, chairman of KCA Management Council, which was formed in 2000 to represent all stakeholders in the Kanchenjunga region. "We are ready to take on this responsibility thanks to capacity building and local development supported by organizations like WWF."

"We are very proud to be part of this effort," said Dr. Chandra P. Gurung, Country Representative of WWF Nepal. "The handover will be held up around the world as a positive example of people managing their natural resources and enable others to learn how to make conservation more equitable and sustainable." He also thanked the Government of Nepal, particularly the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation, for taking such a bold step that proves conservation can work in Nepal through partnerships between all stakeholders.

* The Sacred Himalayan Landscape Program is designed to conserve the landscapes surrounding the mountains of the Eastern Himalayas while improving local livelihoods. The vision of the SHL is "a Himalayan landscape where the biological and cultural treasures of the world's highest sacred mountains and deepest valleys are safeguarded while traditional rights over resource use are ensured, and livelihoods of mountain people are enhanced and sustained." The concept and vision have been endorsed by the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation. A Sacred Himalayan Landscape Strategic Plan has been prepared under the leadership of the ministry and key partners.