Live and Let Live: Wildlife Versus Humans in Nepal (Satis Shroff)
THE loss of wildlife habitat in the states of Nepal, India and Pakistan caused by widespread and indiscriminate destruction of forests in the foothills of the Himalayas and the Karakoram has led to an ecological crisis, resulting in floods and landslides after the torrential monsoons. When the forests recede the humans venture further into the habitats of the wild animals to cut and gather firewood.
Take Chitwan, the jungle in Nepal’s Terai for instance. Till 1961 organized poachers wantonly decimated the wild Rhinoceros unicornis in the jungle in order to sell the rhino-horn for a profit due to its healing properties in traditional Chinese Medicine. In February 1993 for instance, four rhinos were found dead in the Chitwan Park and the poachers had removed their hoofs and horns. In Nawalparasi there had been similar cases of rhinos being shot for their horns and hoofs a few weeks earlier.
To assist the helpless wardens a battalion of 800 Royal Gurkhas had been deployed. According to the then director of the wildlife department Tirtha Man Maskey, “There are 400 rhinos in Chitwan with a reproduction rate of 2% according to research statistics.” A few days earlier 12 persons were arrested with 44 pieces of rhino hoofs and two pieces of horns. And in the Shukla Phanta three Rhino-cubs were found dead. The average life span of a rhino is 60 years. To combat the increased poaching a security committee involving the Chitwan chief district officer, forest officer, security officer along with the representatives of the various units had been formed. The point was: will poaching be stopped in the long run or only as long as the Royal Gurkhas prowl and patrol the National Park? Moreover, the Gurkhas were deployed to stop the Maoists insurgents in the past, and the poachers faced hardly any resistance and started decimating the wild animals. That also scared the tourists, and they were advised from their respective foreign departments to avoid Nepal.
There are less than 11,000 rhinoceroses left in the world, and four species are threatened with extinction. The Taiwanese are known to be stockpiling rhino horns as an investment. According to a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimate already 10 tonnes are already stored in Taiwan. In 1970 the price of a kilo African rhino horn was $30 and today more than $2,000. The Asian rhino horn, which is smaller than the African one, is worth $50,000 a kilo because the Taiwanese think it’s more potent. Even though commercial trade in rhino horn and its by-products are prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, Zimbabwe and South Africa would like to export them and use the money to support effective anti-poaching programmes. It’s a case of legal trade to stop illegal poaching.
But poaching is also a trade. The legal market might “jeopardize rhinos elsewhere” according to Joanna Pitmann, who thinks “Taiwanese traders see gold in stocks of rhino horn.” To think that 30 years ago there were 100,000 black rhinos in southern Africa. Now there are only 3,500, the better part of which are in Zimbabwe, which is notorious for its high poaching-rate. According to Joanna Pitmann: “An average of three rhinos are lost in Zimbabwe every week.”
There seems to be a lucrative market and desperate souls are out to smuggle as many rhino horns and hoofs as possible. But aside from poaching there are also other problems. Thanks to the electrification of the many lodges along the Chitwan Park border the rhinos, tigers, leopards, and other denizens of the Royal forest nowadays have started getting used to techno-sound, hip-hop, lambada, Bollywood melodies, and rock n’ roll music blaring for the delights of the jungle tourists. The noise pollution created by the industry catering to tourism, in what should be a tranquil and serene National Park, is a nuisance indeed for the denizens of forest.
Nepal’s Endangered Rhinos: Once a royal hunting reserve, the lowland valley of sal forest and riverine grassland has come to be known as the Royal Chitwan National Park, and is Nepal’s number one Park. Take a trip down to Chitwan and you will get what I mean.
The wildlife you will get to see ranges from tigers, leopards, gaurs, sloth bears, sambars, chitals, hog deer, barking deer to the noted Gangetic dolphins which are seen cavorting in the waters of the Narayani River. And if you have a crush for ornithology, you will find exotic avi-fauna. Chitwan without the great one-horned rhinoceros would be unimaginable, since the area is internationally known as the wallowing grounds of 300 to 350 rhinos, which incidentally is the second largest population in the world.
Back in 1975 the rhino population of Chitwan was between 200 to 250.If you are planning to make a trip to Chitwan, I would advise you to make it between January and May, because that’s when the rhinoceros concentration down there is the greatest. The lush, green grass provides high quality grazing to the rhinos. In May they begin to shun the tall grass species which are unpalatable, and that is when they make for the paddy fields of the local hamlets to pull nocturnal raids much to the consternation of the local Tharu and other Nepalese farmers. During the day you will find them wading in the shallow rivers and feeding on the aquatic plants.
Do the rhinos have a specific breeding season? Actually there’s no evidence. The habitat in Chitwan is such that it provides a year-round food supply, and the conditions of living are most favorable to them. During the mating season, you are likely to hear “pant squeaks” when a male is hot on the trail of a female rhino. The females emit squeaks of low intensity when the pursue the males. The highest frequency of such squeaks is heard in the month of March. The males can be seen making furrows on the earth or sand as the case may be, by dragging their stubby hind legs along on the toes, while urinating. This was a phenomenon which had been baffling a biologist from Cambridge named Andrew Laurie whom I met, and who was doing research on the ecology of the Nepalese rhinos. He’d been recording the rhino behavior every month and felt that their urinating and furrow-making during the monsoon may have been due to the “bad conditions for track preservation” He said, “The furrows are made by male rhinos after unsuccessful attempts to mate cows or after encounters with humans.”
The rhino has a long period of pregnancy and the young ones take an equally long time to mature, and all this overrules the advantage of a regular breeding season. When a rhino cow has completed her period of gestation, she heads for a secluded spot. The cow disappears into the thick forest for several days before the birth. Andrew Laurie had evidence for a possible estrus periodicity of between 34 and 44 days, which he obtained in the months of June and July. Laurie said, “I saw a bull grazing and moving with a cow and her two year old calf from the 14th to 16th June. On 15th June he mounted the cow and remained mounted for one hour, stationary in the elephant grass.”
One whole hour: it was unbelievable
Laurie went on to say, “I didn’t see the bull again with the cow and her calf until the 19th of July, when he attacked her. It was amazing. He succeeded in turning her right over on her back by lifting from the side with his head between her front legs. And all this while the calf grunted from a distance in the tall grass.”
He said the cow and the bull evaded each other until the 27th of July when the cow started to follow the male around sniffing at his penis, urinating herself and uttering “squeak blows”.
There is a possible peak births during July and August, which would tie in with a peak of mating activity in March and a 16 1/2 month gestation period. But Andrew was of the opinion that mating behavior and births have been recorded throughout the year, and it was hard to detect a peak. “I’ve christened a healthy calf with the named Lickety Split,” he said with a chuckle because it seemed to dash about in the Chitwan foliage. The movements of the rhinos tend to be linked with food availability. They can be observed during the March-April feeding on the short grasses in the river banks in the blazing and forested plains located below the foothills of the Himalayas.
When grasses are scarce, they try aquatic plants, sedges and other coarse plants rather reluctantly. And when the grasses are burnt by the villagers of Chitwan, they immediately rush to these places to eat the charred stalks, which they relish. They return about two weeks to the same place to eat the new shoots. It’s quite intriguing to watch a rhino eat short grass. It uses its lips to bite off or pull up the shoots. The chewing is continual and often, the animal blinks and then bites off new grass with its lips again. You will discover that some roots and grass drop out by the side of the rhino’s mouth, but the animal normally has a gargantuan appetite and eats even the dead, russet and yellowed leaves on the ground.
And peaceful coexistence is not exactly what the villagers in the vicinity of the Royal Park believe in, at least as far as the rhinos are concerned. The Nepalese villagers have been briefed about the importance of the National Parks for the country, but not the animals.
From as early as April in Katar and in the eastern parts of the Chitwan Park, the ungainly, cool and determined rhinos begin visiting the farmlands and feeding on the first rice and maize crops because they are so supple and delicious to them. Some of the rhinos tend to be neurotic and go about eating bananas, weeds and ripe wheat. And some even indulge in coprophagy. Keeping off the wildlife from the crops is indeed an eternal problem that the Nepalese farmers in the Terai face.
Rhino greetings: How do rhinos greet each other? They do it like the Eskimos, I mean the Inuits. A young rhino approaches another slowly with its nose stretched forward. The noses come in contact gently, and often a sparring bout ensues with one’s horn circling the other’s snout. But unlike the Inuits, the horns of the rhinos sometimes clash with a great noise. A nuzzling of the side of one’s face with the other’s mouth may take place, with a view to biting each other. And sometimes, you may be able to watch a rhino down in Chitwan bob its head up and down or even grazing and sweeping its head speedily from side to side. However, the approaching rhino, after touching the newcomer’s nose or nuzzling him will graze with him peacefully. The adult cows and bulls behave differently. They avoid contacts. But when they do come in contact, they hold their heads high and snort again and again, and even bare their teeth.
And what do adult males do when they come face to face with each other? They either ignore each other or threaten each other. The meeting is characterized by head-on approaches at times, followed by loud shouts, squirts of urine and touching of horns, low on the ground. And one of them may even turn and flee honking. Sometimes, a fight may develop in which the tusks are used a lot.
Andrew said, “During a fight one November, one male lost half its horn and both rhinos were deeply gashed. One of the animals returned six miles to the south of the Rapti River the next night. He walked very slowly, dragging a back leg and fed for no less than two hours.” Eating after a good fight seems to do them good. You will find that the rhinos show the most aggressive behavior in their wallows, where threats and fights are very common, especially during the monsoon season. Despite the existence of many wallows in Chitwan, you will find the rhinos concentrated at a few wallows, and the wallows are changed very often. Most interactions involve rhino cows and calves. The approach of another rhino to the wallow might trigger off an interaction.
Attacks normally take the form of a charge. I remember having read an exciting description of a charging rhino by Peter Fleming in my school days, in which he called the animal a “brute”. Well, if you had a huge rhinoceros charging at you, you wouldn’t be inclined to call it friendly or cute either I suppose.
The best thing to do under such conditions would be to clamber up a thick tree. But the tourists in Chitwan are mostly on elephant-back and hence such situations hardly arise. When a rhino charges, the head is held low, mouth open, tusks bared and the charge is accompanied by a loud roar. The rhinos stop facing each other at a distance of one to two feet. The charge is ritually repeated. Or one of the animals might turn and disappear into the jungle: a loser. Each attack results in the loser having to divert to another place in the wallow, or even away from the wallow all together. A banishment and the winner takes it all.
Approaching rhinos sometimes turn and go on quite oblivious of the snorts. Others don’t even bother to take notice and walk right in. Even between the same rhinos in similar situation, the results of encounters are different on different occasions, and not stereotyped, according to Laurie.
“One cow and calf” he said,” always occupied the same position in a wallow no matter which rhinos were present. They never took part in aggressive interaction rituals.” But the normally playful rhino-calves are involved in the interactions.” In one case,” said Andrew, “a two month old calf attacked an adult female after she had chased off his mother. The cow in turned chased him in the opposite direction, but the spirited calf charged twice again. The cow stopped in front of him each time with her tusks bared, roaring loudly. Eventually the calf’s grunts were answered by soft squeaks blown from his mother, who had returned to fetch him.”
Interestingly enough, dung-piles are used by all members of the rhino population. And when a rhino comes across fresh dung, it serves as a signal for him to defecate. Calves invariably defecate after their mothers. And the dung-piles are developed in areas frequented by rhinos especially along paths and near wallows, and they are often 20 feet in diameter. A most remarkable thing about rhinos is that they defecate after an encounter with either another rhino, elephant or humans. So if a rhino defecates after he or she sees you don’t feel insulted. It’s the done thing in the world of the rhinoceros. One would not like to pass judgement, but the rhinos of Chitwan seem to have an entirely different opinion about us humans.
Besides the defecation, urination is also another important communication signal for the rhinos. A rhino squirts urine during or after encounters with fellow rhinos, elephants or humans, especially while walking away. It also urinates while on leaving a forest or grassland, a ditch, a field or road edge. The rhinos, while urinating, are known to scrape and drag their feet. The marking behavior of the rhinos form a sort of communication system between individuals. The olfactory signals are recognized by other fellow rhinos.
The dung-heap for instance stimulates the rhino to defecate, and the furrows created by them after defecation and urination serve as visual and scent marks. And what’s remarkable is that the only permanent association among the rhinos happens to be the cow and her calves. The adult males are solitary, egoistic and do not tolerate the presence of other rhinos. Physical contact is very important in the cow-calf relationship, and wallowing cows and calves often lie touching each other. The small and chubby calves are very playful and spend long periods rubbing their heads and flanks along their mother’s huge body.
Mating among the rhinos takes place when the calf is about two years old. The calf is driven away usually by the male at the time of courtship. Both male and female follow each other’s tracks in Chitwan or for that matter in Kaziranga or elsewhere, when they have lost contact and greet each other by touching noses. The behavior patterns change as the animal matures from a baby to a calf, and from a sub-adult to a full grown, breeding adult. Forty years go, most of the rhinos in Chitwan lived in the ideal, wild environment with very few people and extremely low amount of cultivation.
The only deadly enemies were the stately princes and maharajas from Kathmandu or their royal guests from Great Britain, who took pride in wantonly shooting animals after driving them and trapping them through the use of hundreds of villagers who encircled them with endless white sheets of cloth, and the beating of drums, tin-cans to create a great clamor and frightening noise in the otherwise serene jungle in the Terai.
The royal shikaris sat on perches called machans or on the backs of tamed elephants and shot the animals, birds and reptiles. Not because they had hunger as is in nature among the denizens of the jungle, but because it was chic and was supposed to be a sport ever since the gun was invented. The idea was not to stalk an animal alone in the ratio of one against one, with the undercover of the jungle as part of the game, and to kill a wild animal to feed the starving wife and children. Agriculture and transportation problems were already solved and hunting and killing helpless animals living in the jungles and forests came in vogue, to be documented for posterity in front of ‘fierce’ animals, not realizing that the fiercest and wildest animal was the human himself armed with a gun and lethal cartridges.
In one big game expedition alone, the Nepalese Royalty Jung Bahadur Rana shot 21 elephants, 31 tigers, 7stags, 1 rhinoceros, 1 boa constrictor, 11 wild buffaloes, 10 boars, 1 crocodile, 4 bears, 20 deer, 6 pheasants and 3 leopards. Three successive generations of British monarchs have done game-hunting in the Nepalese Terai jungle. In 1886 when King Edward VII visited Nawalpur he is said to have bagged 23 tigers, 1 leopard and 1 bear. His son King George V shot “in one day in Chitwan” 10 tigers, 1 rhino and 1 bear. That was in 1911.
In 1921, the Duke of Windsor, when he was the Prince of Wales, visited Bhikhana in the Nawalpur district and took part in a shikar (hunt) and was presented the following animals and birds by the Maharaja Chandra Shumsher Rana as a present for the London Zoological Gardens:1 baby elephant,2 rhinos,2 leopards,2 Himalayan black bears,2 leopard cats,1 black leopard,1 tiger,1 Tibetan fox,1 mountain fox,2 sambhurs,1 thar,1 unicorn sheep,3 musk deer,1 four-horned sheep,1 one-horned Tibetan shawl goat,2 Tibetan mastiff puppies,1 monitor and 1 python.For the ornithological collection there were: 4 Nepalese kalij, 1 white crested kalig-pheasant, 4 cheer-pheasants, 2 koklass-pheasants, 4 chukor-patridges, 4 swamp-patridges, 2 green-pigeons, 10 bronze-winged doves, 3 Great Indian Adjutants (L. dubius), 1 hawk, 1 peafowl (P. cristatus). That was just the list of the animals presented by the Nepalese Maharaja.
In the course of the shikar, the Prince of Wales shot 17 tigers, 10 rhinos, 2 leopards, 1 bear, 7 jungle-fowls, 2 partridges, 15 snipes, 1 peacock and a hamadryas (Naja bungarus).
‘How long did it take to shoot all these animals?’ you might ask.
Just eight days.
Today, the animals in the jungles of Chitwan, as elsewhere in the world, have to coexist with more people in the areas due to the increase in human population and migration of people from the mountains of Nepal under the resettlement programme of the Nepalese government. Much of the mixed forest and grassland areas which are good rhino habitat have been destroyed, giving way to settlements and cultivated fields.
The Nepalese population in 1974 was 12 million and in 1996 it is almost 18 million. Now it is 27 million. The humans multiply despite the so-called family-planning programmes that are publicized in Radio Nepal and Nepal Television, in the Gorkhapatra and The Rising Nepal.
The movements of the rhinos and other animals in their original home grounds of the Terai (lowlands) have been restricted, so that they move after dark: stealthily, warily, over areas which used to be previously grassland and dense jungle. Nevertheless, there’s one thing that gladdens all conservationists and animal lovers alike, is that the Nepalese rhinos are opportunists and surprisingly adaptable, utilizing a wide range of food.
With proper wildlife management, the rhinos of Chitwan have increased in number. And rhinoceroses have also been trans-located from the Chitwan Valley to the Royal Bardiya Wildlife Reserve. In order to reintroduce a part of the endangered species in another part of the country and to provide them with an alternate habitat, and as an insurance against any unforeseen catastrophe that could infect the rhino population in any particular area. The translocation might also help reduce the conflicts between the need for protecting the endangered species (and their gene pool) and the Nepalese villagers living in the periphery of the National Parks. It took 16 hours to bring the rhinos from Chitwan to Bardiya, and was a major success. The WWF (USA) gave a helping hand to the Nepalese, and tranquillizing equipment and other support were provided by the Smithsonian Institute.
But there’s no need to be complacent, since the rhinos may succumb if disease broke out among them, for despite their thick armor, they are just as fragile as humans inside, as far as immunity is concerned. The most appropriate measure would be to move the villages from the Park area and to compensate the Nepalese villagers adequately through organizations like the WWF, World Bank or whatever, so that the wildlife may not have to encroach upon paddy fields at night. After all it is the human beings who have been encroaching upon the territory of the ‘wild’ animals, and not the other way round. The rhinos move in relation to the food, and when there is a stiff competition for food from wildlife, domesticated animals and the local people, migration to another territory is inevitable. The National Parks and Wildlife Office and the KMTNC need to be more vigilant in preventing human encroachment and poaching for furs and aphrodisiacs at the cost of rare animals which are a natural heritage, worth preserving.
On the one hand you have the government and conservationists passing laws that the Chitwan jungle be declared a National Park, so the dollar-paying tourists can stay in so-called jungle-lodges and go on photo-safaris on the backs of elephants through the thick elephant grass and drink campari or bourbon-on-the-rocks. And on the other hand, you have the farmers and villagers of the Chitwan area, who are endangered by the wild animals of the National Parks, because the wild animals (elephants, rhinos, tigers, leopards) not only come at night looking for fodder (rice, bananas, maize) and easy prey in the form of domestic animals, but also enjoy the protection of the National Park Rangers and, therefore, of the government.
The Chitwan Park covers 93,200 hectares and comprises also the flood plains of the Rapti, Reu and Narayani Rivers. The confrontation between the wildlife and humans in the jungle areas is pre-programmed. In 1974 there were approximately 400 rhinoceros and 70 tigers in Chitwan Park. According to a recent report published in July 31, 2006 the population of the endangered one-horned rhino in Chitwan has dropped from more than 500 six years ago to around 370. Three one-horned rhinos were killed and one wounded by poachers in around Chitwan National Park in south-western Nepal in the last week of July 2006.
It can only be hoped that the Nepal Terai Ecology Project’s attempts to make solar-powered electrical fences to keep the rhinoceros out of the farm lands will be a help, though prowling big cats don’t make much of such man-made hindrances.
Wildlife versus Humans: The KMTNC has in the past also initiated a grassland Ecology and Human Use project in collaboration with the International Institute of Environment and Development (USA). An American biologist named John Lemkhul made an in-depth study of the grassland ecosystem in Nepal, and the project proposed to develop a management scheme for the thatch grass that is vital for local human needs.
A Nepali grassland expert Keshav Rajbhandari from the Department of Botany also took part as a consultant. The study revealed that the Chitwan Park was providing over 15 million rupees indirectly to the village economy by permitting the local villagers to cut grass in the park for two weeks every year. It was found that 90,000 Nepalese enter the park during the two week season. The cutters are legally allowed to cut khar, kharai, bayo and smiti. The villagers walked up to 3km to get to the park and up to four members of a family helped to cut the grass. Even the Nepalese villagers need an entry permit to cut grass.
But at night, when the wild animals start plundering the crops, the farmers become angry, and try to drive them away. Moreover, there have been tragic episodes enough to fill volumes, whereby the village children and women have been attacked by the wild animals. The Rising Nepal and the Gorkhapatra, two Kathmandu-based governmental English and Nepali dailies, bring out such tragic news often enough. The humans living in the vicinity of the National Parks, that goes not only for Chitwan but also Langtang, Bardia, Rara, Sagarmatha (Everest) National Parks, are tempted to go to the Parks with their lush green grass and vegetation to gather firewood and fodder for their domestic animals. This phenomenon is also evident in the Darjeeling area, despite the forest-officers on duty. Where there’s poverty and an acute dearth of firewood, there’s always a way out of the desperate situation, mostly through illegal means.
It’s not uncommon to read in the pages of The Rising Nepal about the call to “Propagate the Nature Conservation Message” and about the heavy responsibilities of the wardens in the preservation and effective management of Nepal’s national parks and wildlife reserves. And in the same daily you have the story of how wild elephants terrorized and destroyed some thatched houses and saplings in Morang district, and how a village assembly member named Khadga Bahadur Ale was crushed to death while traveling from Letang to Kane through a forest.Or the story of a four year old girl named Sita Devi Paudel of a village in Dhikurpokhari who had been suffering from diarrhea and was carried away by a tiger around 8:30pm and the next day only some part of the girl’s body were found in the nearby jungle.
Meanwhile, there was another story about wild elephants on the rampage from the Sunsari district, where they’d destroyed the thatched huts of 12 families in the Baraha Chetra villege. And in the hamlet of Bishnu Paduka four cows and two domestic swines had been killed and some goats injured by the wild elephants. Another caption tells the story of how the man-eater leopard which had attacked many children in the Kaski district was killed by a single bullet fired by Ram Bahadur Tamang, a resident of Chapakot village in Lalitpur district. The leopard was 4.5 feet long, and had been terrorising the children belonging to the hamlets of Hemaja, Dhita, Kaskikot, Dhikurpokhari, Bhadauremagi and Sarankot.
The story reminded me of the German TV film entitled “Danger in the Rapti” by Max Rehbein, who’s protagonist was Hemanta Mishra, a Nepalese wildlife expert, who likes to hear Beatles songs, in the role of a swashbuckling local Jungle Jim, in which he shot a man-eater and smoked a cigarette with the thankful village headman, for want of a peace-pipe. Hemanta Mishra used to work in the wildlife office in the early 1970s and ran the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation, and was awarded the J. Paul Getty Prize for Natural Protection. He worked for the UNO later in New York.
Another story deals with a leopard which killed ten children, aged 3 to 13, in the hamlets of Dhimal, Bhadaure, Tamagi and Sarankot. A small 3 year old girl named Maya Adhikari of Malang village in the Sarankot district was snatched away from her mother as she was being washed in front of her house at 7pm on a Sunday. No wonder that the local people living in the vicinity of the National Parks feel insecure and few villagers venture out of their homes after sunset. The tigers turn into man-eaters only when then become old, are injured or have lost their habitat. The question is: Do the tigers encroach into the habitats of the Nepalese villagers or is it the other way around? To date there are 13 national protected areas comprising more than 9% of the total land area in Nepal. According to the Save the Tiger Fund report, the situation of the tiger in Chitwan is optimistic and their numbers are increasing and their habitats are improving. The number of elephants are also on the rise and provided that poaching is curbed, the numbers of rhinos will definitely increase in the future in Nepal.
The situation may take a positive trend if the Nepalese farmers plant trees, for only a fourth of the forest wealth of Nepal has remained intact. The reason is that in the year 1967, the then Nepalese government nationalized vast forest areas in the country. And after that the Nepalese farmers didn’t feel obliged and responsible for the forests and started cutting down trees without second thoughts. In order to combat this, the Nepalese government introduced in 1979 the village-forest, the state-forest and the so-called protected-forest.
Old eco-song & dwindling habitats: “Nepal’s wealth is the forest, said our ancestors” runs an eco-melody over Radio Nepal, but the vast tracts of forests have been encroached upon by people looking for agricultural-land. With the Nepalese forests dwindling, there is an increasing pressure in the remaining forests which have been declared National Parks, and are protected by the government.
There’s no denying that there’s a struggle for habitats between the wildlife and the humans in the vicinity of the National Parks of Nepal, as elsewhere in the world. As long as the Nepalese government and its apparatus, the wildlife offices, are active and educate and warn the people and nab the poachers, there might be hope for Nepal’s wildlife. But can more wardens and wildlife management help in a country where the population has been steadily increasing, and where there’s a dearth of arable land, and thus the competition and habitat encroachment on the part of the wildlife as well as humans in the limited living space in Nepal?
The 104 year old misrule in the past under the Rana heredity Prime Ministers, and the defunct Panchayat government, and the later administrative mistakes on the part of different governments, have led to the reduction in the number of flora and fauna in Nepal, not to speak of the forests which were prized for trees like the karma for furniture, sal in the foothills of the Churai chain for construction purposes. And sadly enough, Nepal needs 7.5 million tons of newly planted trees per annum if it is to avoid shortages.
At this stage I shall have to tell the story of a big game hunter-turned-conservationist. He came to Nepal in 1960,when there were a lot of tigers and no tourists. The tigers were shot till they became almost rare.
Today there are a little more than 60 tigers at Chitwan Park. Some In the year 1999 the number of tourists who visited Nepal were registered as 492,000 but due to the decade of armed conflict between the government troops and the Maoists some 13,000 Nepalese, mostly civilians, died. The tourists were advised not to go to Nepal and the number of visitors sank to 277,000 in 2005. The tourists were obliged to pay a ‘tax’ to the Maoists.
Although over 15,000 tourists come each year to the Terai, the tiger population has nevertheless increased since then. The British banker named Jim Edwards (Tiger Tops) is supposed to have brought about this wonder. He organized jungle tours, wild water trips and trekking in the Himalayas, complete with climbing equipment: all for dollars naturally, because you cannot live in the Himalayas without money, and he has a beautiful residence in Kathmandu, a luxury apartment in London, and a domicile in posh St. Moritz. And till 1960 he was busy making money by organizing big game Safaris. And since a couple of decades it’s been ecology and tourism.
Protected Wildlife: The growth of the population in the Terai area and elsewhere in the Middle mountains of Nepal, which shows an increment of 2.6 per cent does and will exert a lasting pressure upon the wildlife and vegetation of Nepal in the long run. And these are the questions that will pose serious problems for the country in the future. For with the construction of new roads, establishment of new industries and lodges and hotels for the foreign tourists, the country expects an industrial and tourist-boom that might disturb the ecological balance of this beautiful biotope that is Nepal, with its diverse flora, fauna, landscapes and ethno-cultural rarities.
Meanwhile, the protected wildlife of Nepal has been divided into 38 species falling under the three classes of mammals, birds and reptiles. The National Park and Wildlife Conservation Act has put 26 species of mammals, 9 species of birds and three species of reptiles in the wildlife protection list (1993). The protected mammals are: the red monkey, hispid rabbit, wolf, red panda, hyena, lynx, tiger, wild elephant, small boar, stags, yak-nak, “napon”, “salak”, “sonru”, the Himlayan red bear, “lingsang”, “charibagh”, leopard, the snow leopard, the rhinoceros, the musk deer, gaurigai, wild buffalo, “chiru” and “chapeka”.
The birds in the protected list are: the stork, orane, Lopophorus impejanus (Nepal’s national bird), “garmujur”, the great pelican, the white stork, “chir”, the munal pheasant and the “sano swar mujur” (peacock with the small voice). The list of protected reptiles include: the python, “sungohari” and the gharial.
After the establishments of National Parks in Nepal a number of projects were started: the Nepal Terai Ecology Project, the Snow Leopard Project, the Barun Valley Project, the Annapurna Project, International Workshops on the National Parks, Rhino translocation to India, the Nepal National Conservation Strategy, the Gharial Conservation project to name a few. The Smithsonian Institute (USA) helped start the Nepal Tiger Ecology Project in the 1974 and then decided to change the name of the project to “Nepal Terai Ecology Project” and expand the research activities “beyond the tiger.”
One can only hope that the delicate balance between the Maoists and government troops will be set aside, and the poaching will be curbed in due time in one of the most beautiful National Parks of the world. For Nepal’s National Parks are worth a visit. The romantic sunsets, the cries of the wild in the jungle nearby, the adventurous hotels and modern amenities for the visitors from abroad, and the friendliness of the Nepalese people from different ethnic backgrounds.
I still hear the frivolous melody Resam piriri played by a Nepali boy with a flute in the Terai, Nepal’s lowland, and it reminds me of the wonderful people I met during my sojourn in my Himalayan country, be they Tharus, Rais, Magars, Gurungs, Tamangs, Chettris and Bahuns or Newars. I still see their smiling faces and their kind words, despite the decade of hardships, terror, intimidation and uncertainty. I admire their inborn desire to survive all these human-made obstacles and misery, to keep a stiff upper lip, and the hope and faith that they have in the Gods and Goddesses of Kathmandu, and Nepal in general.