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Four New High Altitude RAMSAR Sites Cteated in Nepal

11/01/2008 15:01:50
January 2008. The government of Nepal has announced the designation of four new high altitude Wetlands of International Importance to commemorate tragedy in 2006 in which the lives of 24 conservationists from the Nepalese government and WWF were lost in a helicopter crash.

The helicopter went down on September 23, 2006 in Ghunsa, Nepal. WWF lost seven colleagues - Chandra Gurung, Mingma Norbu Sherpa, Harka Gurung, Yeshi Lama, Jill Bowling Schlaepfer, Jennifer Headley and Matthew Preece - in the crash.
Phoksundo Lake is inhabited by many rare and unique species. (Photo by WWF Nepal courtesy Ramsar Secretariat)
Nepal lost its minister of state for forests and soil conservation, the secretary of that ministry, the director general of national parks and wildlife conservation, the director general of forests, several of its most distinguished defenders of natural resources and overseas specialists who were champions for conservation in Nepal.

They were returning from a trip to Ghunsa, in the mountains of eastern Nepal where they had participated in a ceremony in which the government of Nepal handed over to local communities responsibility for managing the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area, a place known for its beauty, biodiversity and rich cultural heritage.

Four New RAMSAR Sites
Four lakes were designated as Special Ramsar sites on the first anniversary of the crash. The designation of these lakes under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands means the government undertakes to protect them and report on its progress in doing so.

Together they are an extraordinary group of Himalayan lakes, says the Ramsar Secretariat. All are within national parks and the first of these is already a UNESCO World Heritage site, Sagarmatha National Park, the site of Mount Everest.

The Ramsar Secretariat commended government of Nepal for this initiative, and acknowledged WWF Nepal ‘for its considerable assistance in preparing the groundwork for these designations.’

Gokyo Lake - 4,710 - 4,950 meters
A system of glacial lakes at 4,710m-4,950m altitude in the high Himalayan region at the base of Cho Oyo (the world's 6th highest mountain), not far from Mt. Everest, at the headwaters of the Dudh Koshi River which is part of the Ganges river system. The system is a vital source of water for downstream communities.

The alpine pasture meadow and sloping mountain terrain support IUCN Red listed rare and vulnerable species, such as the kutki plant, the Himalayan tahr or goat, snow leopard, wood snipe, endemic species like the flowering plant Kobresia fissiglumis, and many important birds.

Eight hotels with campgrounds serve eco-tourists and religious visitors. Garbage and sewage left by visitors is difficult to dispose of and such pollution pressures represent a potential threat, as does overgrazing and deforestation caused by mountaineering expeditions seeking firewood. The site is two days walk uphill from Namche Bazaar, the nearest town.
Gosaikund Lakes - 4,054 - 4,620 meters
IUCN Red listed endangered and vulnerable species of animals and plants are present. The site has religious associations for Hindus and Buddhists and is the site of the important Gangadashahara and Janaipurnima festivals.
Human uses include grazing during summers, and there are four hotels with campgrounds for trekking groups and pilgrims. Threats to the site include pollution from the huge gathering during the festivals. There is a religious ban on the killing of animals within much of the site.

Phoksundo Lake - 3,611 meters
A glacial lake near Ringmo in the Dolpo region, the deepest lake in the country and a centre of endemism in the eastern Himalayan region as well as a vital source of freshwater, with the highest waterfall (167 meters) in Nepal a short walk from the lake.

The lake, alpine meadows, and bogs provide habitat for a number of rare and vulnerable plants and animals, including the snow leopard, musk deer, and grey or Tibetan wolf.

The site has great cultural and religious importance, with traditional Tibetan culture of the upper Dolpo and both Buddhism and the ancient Tibetan Bon-Po religion of the lower Dolpo being observed in Ringmo village. There is some grazing and cultivation, but tourism, dependent upon the wetland, is the base of the economy.

Overgrazing and pollution from the 42 households of Ringmo village are seen as potential threats to the site.

Rara Lake - 2,900 meters
The area has developed unique floral and fauna with a number of rare and vulnerable animal and plant species, and the wet alpine pasture, moraines, and damp stream banks along the lake area are the natural habitats for endemic species of plants.

The endemic frog Rara paha is found at only one other location in the Central region, and three endemic species of snow trout are found only here.

Two temples in the area are the venue for a number of religious festivals. Principal threats come from pollution caused by army personnel and tourists and unregulated fuelwood collection, especially during festivals.

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