Course:CONS200/2020/Parks vs People: the impact of the Establishment of the Sagarmatha National Park on the Sherpa people in Nepal

From UBC Wiki

The Sagarmatha National Park was established in 1976. Its establishment has been the subject of a great deal of internal scrutiny by the regions indigenous Sherpa Inhabitants. Since their arrival in the Khumbu valley some four centuries ago, the Sherpa people have held a deep respect for their land and have practiced a highly organized and effective form of environmental stewardship. While Sagarmatha National Park has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the environment of the Khumbu valley, its impact on people is something that needs to come under review. Under close examination the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation has shown a clear lack of respect for indigenous peoples and their conservation methods. This is an issue that cannot continue and requires change if the park is to survive.

Sherpa People

Nepalesischer Sherpa

Sherpa peoples are an ethnic group living mainly on the mountain regions of Nepal. They are famous for living on mount Everest and act as guides for tourists and climbing teams. The term “Sherpa” means “east people” in Sherpa language, which explains where they from. Although most of them live in eastern regions of Nepal, there are also Sherpas in the Rolwaling Valley in the west and in the north of Kathmandu, Sherpa people have their own language but they don’t have written language, so Tibetan is used for writing.

According to Sherpa’s oral history, Sherpa people originally come from Kham in Tibet. Four groups of them migrated from Kham to Solu-Khumbu approximately four centuries ago, which had gradually become the four fundamental Sherpa clans: Mynyagpa, Thimmi, Sertawa, and Chawa. Now, these four groups have split into more than 20 clans that are now distributed in Nepal, China, Bhutan, and India. Some scholars believe that Sherpas are descended from the Xi Xia Dynasty of China, who fled to Tibet and lived there for some generations before moving on and evolving into the present Sherpas [1]. Genetic evidence of that Sherpas once lived in Tibet is also emerging[2]. The major of the modern Sherpas live in Nepal, on mount Everest. Since they have lived on maintains for generations, they have developed a tolerance to hypoxia environment [3] and often act as guides for climbing teams to earn extra money.

Sherpa people in Solu-Khumbu district practice Mahāyāna and are slightly influenced by Hinduism [4], which gives them the belief that every mountain, every river, and every forest is sacred and worthy of awe. This animistic belief impels Sherpa people to show a strong respect for nature and take good care of the land where they live. Their religion also has a great impact on their diet and daily life.

Sagarmatha National Park

Khumbu Glacier - Sagarmāthā National Park

In 1976, Sagarmatha Nation Park was established in Solu-Khumbu district and was inscribed as a Natural World Heritage Site in 1979. In addition to its unparalleled beauty, the SNP is also home to many rare animals such as the red panda and the snow leopard. Since the park established, tourism has gradually become a major economic force in SNP [5]. In 1994, Sagarmatha National Park was designated as an IUCN Category II National Park. The park was dominated by the highest point on the Earth’s Surface — the Mont Everest, and covers an area of 124,400 hectares. It borders the Qomolangma Nature Reserve in the Tibetan autonomous region of China on the north and Monjo on the Dudh Kosi River on the south. The park has been expanded with the establishment of the Makalu Barun National Park in 1998 in the east, and Gauri Shankar Conservation Area in 2010 in the west. The SNP is rich in natural resources and is one of the main sources of glaciers, providing fresh water to people downstream [6].

Many Sherpas were living within the Sagarmatha National Park. In 2002, those settlements and an additional 275 km2 area were added as park buffer zones, aiming to maintain biological diversity, long-term protection, and to provide natural products and services to meet community needs [7]. Those buffer zones fall under the IUCN category VI, the goal is to achieve conservational goals by empowering local people to manage their own resources and providing them relative supports [8]. More than 2,500 Sherpa people have lived in the national park area since its inception, act as a bridge connecting the natural and the culture.

A company of the Nepali Army is stationed at the top of a hill in Namche Bazaar for protection of the park and law enforcement purposes. A regular budget is provided for the management of the national park and buffer zone by the government of Nepal [6].

Traditional ecosystem and management

It is theorized that the Sherpas did not start out high in the mountains. Because the glaciers were more stretched and the climate was much colder than they are today. The ancestors of Sherpa people were not originally settled at such high altitudes but were more likely to have been far below the present national park boundary. Then as the glaciers melted, Sherpa people were able to move to higher places, but leave their farmlands in lower elevations. There are two major growing seasons in a year, the first one starts right before the monsoon and ends right after the fall. Various crops are sowed in this season. In this harvest, all staples of their diets are collected and dried for the winter. The second season was dominated by wheat, starts as soon as the first one ended and harvests in early spring. Together, the two growing seasons make up the diet of the whole year of the Sherpas (Sivinski, 2015)[9].

The higher elevations are used for grazing and herding for animals such as yaks and dzo, providing meat and other animal products. Sherpa people have developed a farming system to ensure sustainable grazing: they move to pastures at different elevations depending on the season, giving the grass time to recover. Usually, animals are moved to higher pastures in spring, and as the snow line moves down, they are taken to lower elevations.

The Management Plan

The Nepalese government introduced a strategic plan to help develop and conserve the culture and ecosystem of the tourist destination SNP. The current rendition of the management plan, ‘ Management plan for Sagarmatha National Park and its Buffer Zone 2016-2020’ [10] has been developed to realise these specific goals.

  • “ To conserve biodiversity of the park with special focus on nationally protected and globally threatened wildlife species and their habitats in order to maintain ecological functions and processes;
  • To promote sustainable tourism, and regulate it for maintaining ecological integrity and cultural heritage;
  • To enhance community stewardship on biodiversity conservation by increasing awareness and improving livelihood of the people living in the BZ; and
  • To strengthen institutional capacity through research, capacity building, coordination and collaboration.”


Tourism in the park has been on an increase almost every year since it opened with the latest data showing 34412 people visiting the park in 2015 [10]. The management plan is based of the tourism growth as it is believed to be the best way to build an income for the people of the park and can also be seen as a form of revenue for the leading government.

When looking at the current Management plan, there are many strides being made towards conservation of wildlife in the region, for example, they have developed special conservation programs for the Snow Leopard, the Musk Deer, and the Red Panda, all endangered animal who have been found in the park. Again the plan states for conservation to be effective, there must be a developed tourism program to show people the need for conservation in the park. The plan Also states that tourism will be set at an amount where there is no negative effect to the conservation efforts made in the park.

The plan clearly states that the government of Nepal and the Park management support the culture and religious beliefs of the sherpa people, who have been relegated to the buffer zone, wherein around. The Sherpa culture of the Khumbu region is beneficial for wildlife conservation as they believe in non-violence religious value, thus there are plans for community-based conservation efforts in the park. For income Porpuses the Management plan states an increase in the development of tourism and the government is hoping that the culture of the Sherpa people will be saved because people are witnessing it first hand[10].

Chronology of the Effect of Policies on the Sherpa People of Nepal

An evaluation of solutions from technical, social, cultural, economic, financial, political and/or legal points of view (not all of these categories will be relevant to all situations). If relevant, add any policy recommendations.

Beginning in 1976 the Khumbu valley received national park status and has since become Sagarmatha National Park. Since then strict laws on resource use and waste disposal have been passed in the aim to preserve the pristine alpine landscape. In addition to laws concerning conservation, the government also began to require that tourists purchase permits before entering the area, which have since generated a tremendous amount of money [6]. While the stated goal of the park was to protect the areas natural resources and landscape, the policy’s enacted by park management are seen by many as too restrictive to the livelihoods of many of the parks residents. As a result many community leaders rejected the government’s plans to make the area a national park. However these objections were ignored and the park was created.

In 2003 the Government was forced to establish a buffer zone around the park to pad its borders from the threat of overconsumption and exploitation. The SNP buffer Zone is a much more heavily populated and resource rich area than the high alpine terrain found within much of SNP. As a result, the rules brought about by community’s inclusion into the buffer zone have created a good deal of problems within the region. Frustration is growing among community leaders and dialogues with park officials have become difficult. As a result traditional practices are no longer being encouraged and many local Sherpa people have abandoned them altogether. For a people whose culture is closely related to their land this trend is troubling, and it makes it worse that the government is taking no action to reverse it, and even seems to be encouraging it. The current state of affairs within SNP and its buffer zone are complicated to say the least. A tangle of communities and government officials that all seem to be obscuring the fact that the area is a national treasure occupied by a culture who cares deeply for its preservation.

In 2008 local Sherpa community leaders gathered to draft and sign a petition that called for the creation of what they called the “Khumbu Community Conservation Area”. The KCCA would unite the entire Khumbu area under the title of one large ICCA, renewing Sherpa people’s commitment to environmental conservation. The KCCA document made no demands on the government besides that they recognize the Khumbu valley as an ICCA and acknowledge the hard work of its residents who have strived to conserve it for the last four centuries. Their demands would not change the power structure within the park but rather would require the government to communicate more closely with communities and work with them for the benefit of all the parks residents

Current Situation of the Sherpa People in Sagarmatha National Park

In Nepal, many protected areas and National Parks are built in the area where Indigenous people live. These parks are protected by the declaration of the national government and organized for the benefit of the community in general rather than the Indigenous population [11]. In most cases, many of the policies made upon these lands are inconsiderate to Indigenous people as they are considered as a minority population. These policies are exploiting the normative use of the property for Indigenous people by restricting their hunting rituals, forest use, land use, and even in the areas of agriculture. They are considered to “violate their cultural and social integrity,” which results in the issue of increasing cultural loss.

Nowadays, the development of tourism is profoundly affecting the lifestyle of Indigenous people. In recent years, due to the restriction of hunting and farming, more Indigenous populations choose to transition their ways of survival from traditional activities and trades to the market of tourism. Due to limited opportunities, local indigenous people have no choice but to take advantage of “increased market integration,” such as hotels, tea-shop, shops, and so on [8]. However, a sudden increase in their involvement in the tourism market further encouraged more visitors, leading to a negative loop that further damages traditional cultures [8]. Many of the changes made to land are focused on the benefits of the tourism market without deeper consideration for the quality of lives of local indigenous people. For example, when the visitor population increases, the grazing areas are transitioned into routes that provide more convenient access for visitors. However, these lands have sacred values to the indigenous people that were not considered when modifications are made. Furthermore, the food that Indigenous people initially eat now has changed to the food that fits more to the tourists’ tastes. Moreover, the increase in the tourism markets also introduces a higher chance of viral infection as visitors are often from a variety of countries that may carry new unknown viruses.

In summary, the policies on national parks and protected areas are now shaping Indigenous people’s lifestyles into a more modern lifestyle, which leads to serious consequences such as cultural loss. Although these restrictions lead to the flourishing of the tourism market and local economy gross, the cultural values of Indigenous People are significantly damaged as a heavy price to pay.


Overall the regulations and policies encompassed by the SNP are in need of more improvement. The agrarian lifestyle of the parks residents has been greatly harmed due not only to the incursion of tourists in the area but also the creation of the park itself. The needs of the community have been pushed aside by the government and the current system cannot and should not be allowed to continue. All of SNP is currently under threat of both environmental as well as cultural degradation. The steps that could change the current state of affairs are extremely simple and logical and would cause a great deal of improvement. In is inexcusable for the government of Nepal to ignore this issue any longer. It is time to for the system to be changed the voice of the Sherpa to be heard once again.


  1. Tang, R (2007). "Wang chao yin mie = Perish of a dynasty". wei xi xia di guo jiao hun. Feng yun shi dai chu ban.
  2. Cole, Amy (Winter 2017). "Genetic structure in the Sherpa and neighboring Nepalese populations". BMC Genomes. 18 – via Biomedcentral.
  3. Hanaoka, M (2012). "Genetic variants in EPAS1 contribute to adaptation to high-altitude hypoxia in Sherpas". PLoS One. 7 – via pubmed.
  4. Macdonald, Alexander (1980). [ "The Coming of Buddhism to The Sherpa Area of Nepal"] Check |url= value (help). Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae – via JSTOR.
  5. Sherpa, Lhakpa Norbu (2008). hrough a Sherpa window: illustrated guide to traditional Sherpa culture. Kathmandu. Vajra Publications.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "Sagarmatha National Park". UNESCO. 2018.
  7. 1993 United Nations List of National Parks and Protected Areas. IUCN. 1994. line feed character in |title= at position 28 (help)
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Josep-Maria, Mallarach (2008). Protected landscapes and cultural and spiritual values. Heidelberg, Germany: Kasparek Verlag Heidelberg. ISBN 978-3-925064-60-9. line feed character in |publisher= at position 16 (help)
  9. Sivinski, Jake (Fall 2015). "Conservation For Whom?: The Struggle for Indigenous Rights in Sagarmatha National Park". independent study project (isp) collection – via Digital Collections. line feed character in |title= at position 41 (help)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Sagarmatha National Park Office, Namche Bazaar, Solukhumbu, Nepal; 2020; SAGARMATHA NATIONAL PARK AND ITS BUFFER ZONE MANAGEMENT PLAN 2016‒2020;
  11. Stevens, Stan (2013). "National Parks and ICCAs in the High Himalayan Region of Nepal: Challenges and Opportunities". Conservation and Society. 11: 29–45.
Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Course:CONS200. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.