The role of environmental education for biodiversity conservation: a case study in the protected areas of Nepal

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Balancing conservation goals and needs of local residents is always challenging. While some believe protected areas are a safe paradise for wildlife, others suggest that it is shortsighted to ignore

Balancing conservation goals and needs of local residents is always challenging. While some believe protected areas are a safe paradise for wildlife, others suggest that it is shortsighted to ignore the social and economic challenges faced by people who live adjacent to protected areas when addressing conservation objectives. This dissertation explores the link between biodiversity conservation and environmental education programs (EEPs) administered to residents of buffer zones adjacent to three protected areas in the Terai Arc Landscape, Nepal. Using surveys and interviews, this study examined 1) the influence of EEPs on attitudes of local people toward biodiversity conservation; 2) the influence of EEPs on conservation behavior; 3) the responses toward biodiversity conservation of local people residing in buffer zones who have received different levels of EEPs; and 4) the effect of EEPs on wildlife populations within adjacent protected areas. Local people who had participated in EEPs and attended school were more likely to express a positive attitude toward conservation goals than participants who had not participated in EEPs or had the opportunity to attend school. Participation in EEPs and level of education favored expressed behavior toward conservation goals, such as making contributions for conservation or supporting anti-poaching patrols. However, EEP participants and non-participants were equally likely to engage in activities that were at odds with positive conservation behavior, such as collecting fuel wood or killing wildlife to protect their farm or feed their families. A direct comparison of EEPs given by schools versus non-government organizations showed that EEPs were largely ineffective in promoting positive conservation attitudes and behaviors. Despite heavy poaching of charismatic species such as the greater one-horned rhinoceros or tiger over past decades, Nepal recently celebrated ‘zero poaching years’ in 2011 and 2013, largely due to increased anti-poaching enforcement. The relationship between EEPs and the decline in poaching is unclear, although local officials all claimed that EEPs played an important role. These results indicate that current administration of EEPs in Terai buffer zone communities is inadequate, while also providing evidence that properly administrated EEPs may become a valuable investment for these protected areas to achieve long-term success.