Sagarmatha National Park was gazetted in 1976 and lies in the Solu Khumbu district in northeastern Nepal. In 2002 the park’s buffer zone was declared. The park encompasses the upper catchment of the Dudh Koshi River system. It is enclosed by mountain ranges on all sides. The northern boundary is defined by the main divide of the Great Himalayan Range that forms the international border with the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China. In the south, the boundary extends almost as far as Monjo village on the Dudh Koshi river (Green 1993). The park is a spectacular mountainous area with three peaks above 8000m, including Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest), the highest peak in the world.
Most of the park comprises barren land (69%) over 5000m; 28% is grazing land, and nearly 3% is forested (Sherpa 1985 in Green 1993). In the subalpine zone there are forests of Blue Pine Pinus wallichiana, Silver Fir Abies spectabilis, fir-juniper Juniperus recurva and birch-rhododendron forest (Betula utilis, Rhododendron campanulatum and R. campylocarpum). Higher up, in the lower alpine zone above the tree-line at 3800-4000 m there are shrubberies of Juniperus spp., Rhododendron anthopogon and R. lepidotum. Grassland and dwarf shrubs grow in the upper alpine zone from 4500 m to 5500m, and cushion plants from 5500m to 6000m. Oak Quercus semecarpifolia was formerly more extensive but only small areas now remain (Green 1993).
Sagarmatha (‘Mother of the Universe’) and its surroundings are of international importance, representing a major stage of the Earth’s evolutionary history and one of the most geologically interesting regions in the world. Its scenic and wilderness values are outstanding. As an ecological unit, the Dudh Koshi catchment is of biological and socio-economic importance, as well as being of major cultural and religious significance.
A total of 194 bird species has been recorded in the park (Basnet 2004). The park has large temperate forest and alpine zone areas. These support significant populations of characteristic species of the Sino-Himalayan Temperate Forest and Eurasian High Montane biomes respectively including the globally threatened Wood Snipe that may breed in alpine meadows.
Non-bird biodiversity: Globally threatened mammals include Asiatic Black Bear Ursus thibetanus, Asiatic Wild Dog Cuon alpinus, Himalayan Tahr Hemitragus jemlahicus, Serow Capricornis sumatrensis, Himalayan Musk Deer Moschus chrysogaster and Red Panda Ailurus fulgens.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
In 1979 UNESCO designated the park as a World Heritage Site in recognition of the cultural importance of the Sherpa people, the significance of the world's highest mountain and its associated flora and fauna. The loss of forest cover in the region began some 500 years ago, with the arrival of the first settlers. Destruction rapidly accelerated following the influx of Tibetan refugees during 1959-1961 and the large scale growth of trekking and mountaineering from 1963 onwards. Sagarmatha is one of the most popular trekking and mountaineering destinations in Nepal; the numbers of visitors climbed sharply from 4,000 in 1982 to a peak of 26,000 in 2000, although levels have dropped since then, (Khadka 2003). Acquired wealth in the local Sherpa families is generally invested in additional livestock, which consequently leads to overgrazing of high mountain pastures around villages.
Heavy pressure from tourism and mountaineering expeditions has placed great demands on forests (Green 1993). A mountaineer uses eight times more wood than an average trekker and 20 times more than a local Khumbu resident (Khadka 2003). In 2003 there were reports of some forests regenerating, for instance the spruce and hemlock around Tengboche Monastery that had all but disappeared 25 years previously, and juniper bushes near Pheriche (Khadka 2003). With the prohibition on tree cutting within the park, deforestation there has been controlled although lopping of twigs, branches and bark from live trees by local people continues to be a problem.
The tree-cutting ban within the park has had impacts outside the park boundary (Khadka 2003). Villages such as Monjo which lies on the main tourist trail just beyond the boundary have become fuelwood and timber trade centres. Construction of new lodges and houses in the park has significantly escalated demand for firewood and timber in these villages. In 1997 individual lodge owners, especially in Namche Bazaar, were reported to hire people who made daily trips in search of firewood to the forested areas outside the park, usually above the Bhote and Dudh Kosi rivers (Nepal 1997).
At high altitudes lodges often use cow dung cakes and kerosene for fuel as woody vegetation is so scarce. On occasions, however, they also use locally growing juniper shrubs that are exceptionally slow growing and will take very many years to regenerate (Nepal 1997). In recent years, the majority of organised trekking groups and high altitude lodges use kerosene for cooking. The Thame hydro power plant now supplies electricity to hundreds of customers in the park but has only reduced fuelwood consumption by an estimated 25 per cent (see introduction) (Nepal 1997).
A WWF Nepal Program supports an agroforestry project in the park that aims to support Community Forest User Groups to sustainably manage community forests; develop agroforestry by providing fruit trees, vegetable seeds and fodder tree seedlings; develop forest nurseries and develop alternative energy sources (WWF Nepal Program 2000a). After the buffer zone was declared in 2002, the park authorities, aided by the World Wide Fund for Nature also continued their community agro-forestry programme here. Up to half of the revenue generated by the park from trekker fees is now being ploughed into conservation activities in the buffer zone. These include setting up Community Forest User Groups, establishing nurseries and replanting mountain slopes with seedlings. This project is also looking at alternative energy sources such as solar and micro-hydro along the Lukla trail to reduce dependence on firewood (Khadka 2003).
In a 1994 bird survey of the park, significant areas of forest, including many of Betula/Rhododendron forests that are valuable for birds, were noted to have much reduced or absent field and shrub layers and these forests are not regenerating. This is the result of the widespread local practice of removing leaf litter for use as vital manure in fields (Inskipp and Inskipp 1998).
One of the most evident environmental impacts in the park has been the accumulation of rubbish dumped by trekkers and mountaineers. Between 1979 and 1988, there were 840 mountain expedition teams, which were responsible for 422 metric tonnes of disposable garbage, 141 metric tonnes of non-biodegradable garbage and 207 tonnes of oxygen gas cylinders (Sharma 1995). Since 1991, garbage clean-up campaigns in the Everest region have been launched with local and international support. To resolve the issue of garbage disposal, expedition teams have been required to deposit US$4,000 before scaling Mt. Everest since 1992. This arrangement has proved effective as most expedition teams now return their garbage for proper disposal. It is not, however, only visitors that should be blamed for garbage problems, as local Sherpas are also responsible for haphazard disposal of household rubbish (Nepal 1997).
The Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC), a local NGO, run by Sherpas and funded by the WWF Nepal Program, was established in the early 1990s to address garbage disposal and sanitation problems, monitor the garbage management of expeditions, mobilise local communities to organise regular clean-up campaigns and promote conservation education (WWF Nepal Program 2000b). As a result of clean-up efforts by the SPCC and growing local awareness there is now very little garbage on the Khumbu trail. All along the trail there are rubbish bins from where the garbage is collected and then either incinerated or returned to Kathmandu for reuse or recycling (Bajracharya 2004).
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Sagarmatha National Park. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 16/01/2022.