As you lay supine in bed in the morning, eyes half-open, you may hear unfamiliar but magnetic chirps coming from a tree right next to the window. Curiosity about the source of such sweet chirrups creates an irresistible impetus that pulls you awake. As you step out onto the verandah, you see rare pheasants and other exotic species of birds; some pecking at each other, a few cleaning their beaks on their wings or legs and the rest just idling as their heads make quick, irregular, aimless movements. You walk down a few steps to have a closer look at the birds, and are startled by what you see in the garden a few feet away. A small herd of deer walks in with the young sprinting around their mothers, showing no hint of the perpetual sense of alarm they normally bear. You stand there awestruck, while a pair of barasingha (swamp deer) lock horns and thump their way into the garden dispersing the other deer to the fringes. Throughout the day you’ll see antelope amble around the garden and several species of exotic birds resting in the trees or flitting about from one to the other.
The way things are right now in Nepal, you may not be able to conjure up such things even in your dreams. But if Kent Crane, an American investor, has his way the possibility of it happening is real. “If the government here allows me to go ahead with my game farming project, I can turn all this into reality in a few years,” says Kent in his emphatic tone. Game farming may be unheard of by many here, but it is highly popular in African countries, some states in the US, in Canada and in few other developed countries. “In game farming a person raises game species—certain species of wild animals categorized as such—at his own expense and uses them for consumptive as well as non-consumptive purposes,” he explains.
Each country has a separate list of game species depending upon the type and the population of the fauna available. All game species, however, tend to be of mild nature. The animals listed as game species in the USA, for example, include bison, desert bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and antelope. In Canada, in addition to these animals, the game list includes wolves, mountain lion, mountain goat, wild boar and red stag.
“Most of these animals were on the verge of extinction. Uncontrolled hunting and poor management resulted in a sharp decline in their population. Over the years, however, there has been a significant rebound in their numbers as people learnt to put value on these
animals,” says Kent; then he sums up in the same breath: “That is what game farming is all about—putting value on animals.”
This is when you realize that the man is talking business. To realize that he is also talking conservation, however, you need to listen carefully to what else he has to say. “Animals that are born, grow up, consume a lot of vegetation and, if you let them die without bringing them to use, it is a sheer waste of great benefits that could be gained from them,” he says. As you nod your head to imply that he may have a point, Kent narrates how the concept of game farming originated, and elaborates on the various ways to bring the animals to use, and perhaps back from the brink of extinction.
According to him, since rampant hunting and poaching reduced the number of animals, hunters began to panic, so did the governments. The governments at several places, frustrated by the failure to control such activities, decided to tell the people that the animals belonged to them and they could do whatever may please them. Surprisingly, it seemed to work. The sense of ownership also brought along a sense of responsibility as people were proud of their new-found possessions. They could say “Hey, look, that’s my elk or deer or bison.” They didn’t want to lose the animals. And, as visitors from far-flung places arrived and showed great interest in the animals, they realized that the animals were of great value. For the love of the game the hunters were willing to travel far off places and, even if not a trophy to carry on their way back, many were ready to pay some money to capture the animals on film.
Trophy hunting is a consumptive use, whereas photography and sightseeing are non-consumptive. Since hunting brings more income than what photography may fetch, many people began to seriously consider growing animals at their farms in large numbers. One of the major source of income on game farms is from fees charged for hunting.
Kent’s story may or may not be true. And although game farming by his account may sound like a concept of, by and for the hunters, you cannot question the wisdom behind it or, for that matter, the possibility of it being replicated here, in Nepal.
Game farming or game ranching, when done in a scientific, systematic and sustainable way, can bring astounding results as is proven by successful experiments in various countries.
Three things to be taken care in game farming are: avoid diluting or weakening the genetic pool of the indigenous wildlife, managing the environment and ecosystem of the animals in the farm, and avoiding conflict with the local population.
Kent is pretty upbeat about starting a game farm project in Nepal. He has already bought 800 ropanis of land in Shivapuri, built a resort there and even raised three leopard cubs in a short time. “I am ready to be a guinea pig for Nepal government. They can use me as a test case and if what I do causes any conflict I am willing to take the responsibility and face-up to the consequences,” he says confidently. Then, if his plans materializes, and you spend a night on his game farm, you may wake up one morning to the chirp and chirrups of rare birds and the sparring of deer.