Kanchenjunga Conservation Area lies at the extreme northeastern corner of Nepal. It was designated in 1997 and is the newest of Nepal's protected areas. The Conservation Area supports many species of flora and fauna that are characteristic of the eastern Himalaya. The Qomolongma National Nature Reserve of China lies to the north and the Kanchenjunga National Park in Sikkim in India to the east.
The Conservation Area comprises rocks and ice (64 per cent), forests (16.1 per cent), shrubland (10.1 per cent), grassland (9.2 per cent), agricultural land (0.5 per cent) and lake and landslide (0.1 per cent) (KCAP 2003 based on topo map 1978). Mount Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world (8586m), lies within the Area. There are four main river valleys: the Simbua Khola and the Ghunsa, Kabeli and Tamur. The vegetation ranges from subtropical to alpine. Subtropical vegetation comprises moist broadleaved forests of mixed Schima wallichii, Engelhardtia spicata etc, Schima wallichii/Castanopsis tribuloides and C. tribuloides/C. hystrix. In the temperate zone there are moist broadleaved forests of oak/laurel dominated by Quercus glauca, Q. lamellosa and C. tribuloides etc, Q. lamellosa forests, Q. semecarpifolia forests and mixed broadleaved/coniferous forests of Q. semecarpifolia/Tsuga dumosa/Abies spectabilis/Betula utilis/Rhododendron arboreum etc. The subalpine zone has a wide range of forest types: Tsuga dumosa/Abies spectabilis forest, Abies spectabilis forest, Larix griffithiana forest, Juniperus indica forest, Rhododendron forests and Betula forest. Vegetation in the alpine zone consists of scrub and meadows (Rastogi et al. 1997).
As many as 279 bird species have been recorded in the Conservation Area, but many more are likely to occur (White and White 1992, 1994, 1997), Halberg (1994), Brown 1995, KCAMC 2003, BCN in preparation). The status of bird species in the Area is uncertain. Considering the Area's location and the high quality of extensive remaining forests (see Conservation Issues section below) it is likely to be important for many east Himalayan species, including several species from the East Himalayan Endemic Bird Area. There are large temperate forest and alpine zone areas that are likely to support significant populations of characteristic species of the Sino-Himalayan Temperate Forest and Eurasian High Montane biomes. A recent study has pointed out that a total of 844 species of flora has been found in the area (KCAMC 2003).
Non-bird biodiversity: Globally threatened mammals include the Assam Macaque Macaca assamensis, Asiatic Black Bear Ursus thibetanus, Snow Leopard Uncia uncia, Himalayan Musk Deer Moschus chrysogaster, Serow Capricornis sumatraensis and Red Panda Ailurus fulgens.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
Local people are dependent upon forests to meet fuelwood, fodder, construction and heating needs throughout the Conservation Area. The expanding human population may result in degradation of forest resources, especially in high altitude areas that are particularly vulnerable. Slash-and-burn agriculture is common, the time span between cropping has declined significantly, resulting in decreased agricultural productivity, and incursion into forests and other wildlife habitats has increased. These shifting cultivation practices have been found to be the main factor in the depletion of biodiversity. Human encroachment is particularly high in the middle hills where the prime forest area is being converted into cultivable land. Overgrazing and associated soil erosion are additional threats. Hunting pressure by local people and government employees was reported to be high, however this seems to have reduced significantly after the declaration of the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area in 1997. There is inadequate information on the Area's flora and fauna, including birds (Rastogi et al. 1997, WWF Nepal Program undated b).
Conservation awareness amongst local people was low but after the implementation of the project this has been raised significantly (KCAP 2003). Relatively few trekking tourists have visited the Area to date and only agency-organised trekking groups are allowed. However the major form of pollution in the Area is the rubbish produced by trekking and expedition groups. In 1998, 3000 kg of rubbish was collected from the base camps of Kanchenjunga and Kumbakarna and camping sites at Rhonak and Khambachen, and properly disposed of as part of the WWF Nepal Program in the Area. Village residents are also actively involved in periodic village clean-up campaigns (WWF Nepal Program undated b).
Despite threats, some significant forest areas valuable to birds were found to exist in the late 1990s, for example oak forests between Deorali and Gorjagaon, Tapethok and Sekathum and Sekathum and Amjilassa; oak. rhododendron and hemlock forest between Amjilassa and Ghunsa, and a juniper, larch, birch, willow and rhododendron forest between Ghunsa and Kambachen. There is an especially fine forest of oak, rhododendron, hemlock and fir with a dense understorey of bamboo around Deorali Daada from a few kilometres south of Hellok to the Ghatte Khola (Halberg 1994).
The WWF Nepal Program recently started an Integrated Conservation and Development Program in the Conservation Area from 1997. The aims include increasing community awareness in natural resource conservation and management, promoting the sustainable use of natural resources, empowering local women for participation in conservation and development, improving tourism infrastructure, raising the socio-economic status of local communities and promoting a regional approach (Nepal, China and India) for the conservation of the Kanchenjunga Mountain System. Work is underway and projects include reforestation, agroforestry, exploring and promoting additional income generation, conducting non-formal education and extension programmes, supporting infrastructure development and completing the construction of the Conservation Area headquarters (WWF Nepal 2000a,b).
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Kanchenjungha Conservation Area. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 22/01/2020.