The Terai Arc Landscape Project (TAL) - Protected Areas
How to maintain the best natural habitats
Inside the protected areas of the Terai, there are two major problems to tackle. One is poaching, and the other is changes in natural habitats, often because of invasive species.
Elephant grass, a common sight in the protected areas of Terai, grows to a height of 4 metres. At maturity the grasses are hard with dry sticks resembling bamboo, and not of much use for grazing species of wildlife looking for something nice, soft, and green.
This unpalatable stuff is removed annually in favour of more succulent sprouts of grass for the herbivorous through management of grandstands. Similarly, trees that spread to grasslands need removal to keep the extent of grassland sufficient.
In the past, natural fires caused by lightning used to sweep the vast grasslands, burn down the tall ground, leaving behind fertile ash for the new shoots to sprout. Nowadays, the grasslands are managed by the TAL project by controlled burning. This process burns the debris on forest floor and the hardy grass stalks on grasslands, in favour of new sprouts.
Grassland management planning includes creating a mosaic of patches in various phases of growth. The resulting young and tender grass has led to an increase in the populations of various species of deer and other herbivores. This, in turn, benefits populations of carnivores, like tigers and leopards, since they, too, will have more to eat.
Combating invasive plant species
Foreign species may not sound like a big problem, but actually they are the second most important cause for extinctions of species worldwide, the first being habitat loss.
Difficult invaders in Terai
Water hyacinth and lotus are floating plants that quickly cover the surfaces of any water body they accidentally enter. Neither is native to the Terai area, but they have arrived with humans, and unfortunately do not happen to have any natural enemies in the area.
In Chitwan National Park, the TAL project hires local people to remove them from lakes by hand, to keep the water open for waterfowl to live in and mammals to drink from. On land, a similar problem has recently arisen with a foreign vine nicknamed "mile a minute". With no local creature to eat it, this fast-growing plant covers grasses and bushes, requiring regular manual removing to give the native vegetation a chance.