The Annapurna region is Launched in 1986, the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) is the largest undertaking of NTNC and also the first Conservation Area and the largest protected area in Nepal. It covers an area of 7,629 sq. km. and is home to over 100,000 residents of different cultural and linguistic groups. ACAP is rich in biodiversity and is a treasure house for 1,226 species of flowering plants, 102 mammals, 474 birds, 39 reptiles and 22 amphibians.
There are several features that make the Annapurna region a unique place in the world. It contains world’s deepest river gorge - Kali Gandaki Gorge, which is 3 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, a valley with fossils from the Tethys Sea dating 60 million years ago. The region contains world’s largest rhododendron forest in Ghorepani. Tilicho lake, located in Manang – north of Annapurna massif, is the world’s highest altitude freshwater lake.
The biological diversity of the Annapurna region is equally rivaled by cultural diversity. Gurung and Magar are the dominant groups in the south, whereas Thakali, Manage and Loba are dominant in the north. Each of these groups speaks their own dialect, and have unique cultures and traditions. Besides, there are also Brahmin, Chhetri, and other occupational castes although in comparatively smaller numbers. Hindu, Buddhist and pre-Buddhist religions along with a mixture of all these are prevalent across the region. The local people reside in the 5 districts of the 57 Village Development Committees (VDCs) of the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA).
The natural and cultural features of ACA have made it the most popular trekking destination in the country, drawing more than 60 percent of the country’s total trekkers. Tourism, over the years, has been firmly established as one of the most important and competitive sectors of the local economy. There are over 1,000 lodges, teashops and hundreds of other subsidiary services to cater to the thousands of trekkers, pilgrims and their support staff.
The multifaceted problems of ACA have been addressed through an integrated, community-based conservation and development approach, an experimental model which has been in the vanguard of promoting the concepts of “Conservation Area” through an “Integrated Conservation and Development Programme” approach in the country and abroad. ACAP was first tested as a Pilot Program in the Ghandruk
Village Development Committee (VDC) in 1986. After being notified in the Gazette as a Conservation Area in 1992, ACAP program covered the entire area.
Additionally, ACA is the first protected area that has allowed a local resident to live within the boundaries as well as own their private property and maintain their traditional rights and access to the use of natural resources. It is also the first protected area, which has refrained from using army assistance to protect the dwindling natural resource base on which the region depends. Instead, it invests whatever financial resources available for community development and social capital building in the region. NTNC receives no regular funding support from the government for the operation of ACAP, but has been granted the right to collect entry fees from visiting trekkers. One hundred percent of the revenue is ploughed back to implement conservation and development activities in ACA. Additional funds are raised from national and international donors. This is an exemplary achievement of a Non-Government Institution ability to manage a significant portion of the protected area system in Nepal.
In order to manage ACA more effectively, it has been divided into 7 unit conservation
offices - Jomsom, Manang and Lo-Manthang in the trans-Himalayan region and Bhujung, Sikles, Ghandruk, and Lwang on the southern flank of the Annapurna range. The focus of Jomsom, Manang, and Ghandruk, which are among the most popular trekking destinations, is an integrated tourism management and other development activities that benefit the local communities and the environment. The
The first management mandate given by the Government to NTNC to manage ACA ended in 2002. The Government has given another management mandate of an additional 10 years to the Trust. NTNC believes that areas such as the ACA will ultimately have to be managed by the local people themselves in perpetuity.