The last decade has seen Nepal suffer a sad triple hurt: civil war and social unrest, a lack of foreign investment, and now the effects of a great economic collapse, labeled the “credit crunch” in the West. In addition to all of this, climate change issues have recently started to bite. So I posed three questions to the UK charity, the Foundation for Endangered Species (for which I am the Chief Executive.) My questions were: Why should the Foundation choose to work in Nepal? Can they help rebuild any aspect of the country? If so, what is the best way of achieving their goals?
The first question was easy to answer. Nepal has the greatest quality of wildlife diversity per square kilometer of any country in the world. The variety of its flora and fauna is based on its unique geographical position and different habitats. The accompanying weather patterns and climate also contribute to much of the regions’ endemic wildlife. Therefore the Foundation can make a greater contribution and make more of a difference in Nepal than in some fashionable wildlife country elsewhere on the globe.
I recently visited Nepal on two long working trips seeking answers to the two remaining questions. This first visit was a fact-finding experience where I analyzed the feasibility of some project aims and processes. I knew I must chisel out short, medium and long term programs and quarry them into position. It was also very clear that to make any plan effective, the Foundation would have to integrate wildlife, environmental, educational and sustainable developmental issues into an efficient program.
Experiencing Thamel, Bardiya and Chitwan
On my first visit, I arrived at Kathmandu in hot sunny weather, very different from the rainy, soggy, miserable London that I had left only 18 hours before. In the first few days, I orientated myself in this fascinating and bewildering place. Kathmandu’s Thamel district was quite unlike anything that I had experienced before. The clonking, ringing, horn blowing traffic was overtaking, crossing and dodging within six inches of each other. This mayhem made me nervous – and I was only witnessing it from a safe position with my back against a shop wall!
I was garnering knowledge of Nepal’s social, political and cultural life as I sought to establish a solid network of cooperative Nepali environmental and educational organizations. My first priority was to create a sustainable development system through which the Foundation could later ‘retire’ from the project. Local organizations would then take over permanently. This process avoids notions of a ‘new colonization’. It is also in unison with the Foundation’s agenda in the Earth Charter International, especially as we had previously adopted the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development Program (UNDESD). Furthermore, as both Vice Chairman and ‘Environmental Concern Advisor’ of the UK Commission Schools Group of UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), I would also advocate United Nations ethics whenever possible.
To carve out a practical action plan from such notions and concepts, I arranged to meet up with two friends who had experience of these affairs. It was an acquaintance that had begun in 2005 at the Earth Charter International Conference in Amsterdam, Holland. I reveled in having a reunion lunch with Ramesh Man Tuladhar of the Nepal Earth Society and another colleague, Surendra Shrestha. It lifted me up to a really high level late on a balmy summer’s night. But once I was alone back in my hotel room, I had to try to fall asleep surrounded by the invading noise of Thamel’s heaving and bustling nightlife. The youngsters’ night-clubbing spirits outside in the streets together with my own buzzing excitement guaranteed absolute failure for any deep sleep. Time passed slowly.
After some busy, dizzy days acclimatizing in the capital, I ventured forth to enjoy the many thrilling experiences of Nepal’s exciting and exotic wildlife. I treasured my visits to Bardyia National Park. On many occasions I became transfixed with exhilaration as we stole upon unsuspecting animals such as peacock, rhesus monkeys, leopard and a number of deer species. Often, during my evening relaxation with the days’ heat subsiding, my mind stilled and I reflected on my safaris of just a few hours before. I realized that many exotic creatures are in grave danger as they face the horrors of extinction. Whilst many of these animals are placed at the more recognizable end of the wildlife spectrum, there are many other less well known species that are also in need of desperate help. These include mammals such as black buck, and a number of birds such as the paradise flycatcher and the collared falconet.
On one forest visit to Seti Devi in Chitwan District we had a brush with near death. A small group of us climbed up a temporary observation tower built from bamboo that the Foundation may one day replace with a more permanent structure. Then, deciding to go on another jungle trek, we walked across the glade into a thicket and came face to face with a mother rhino and calf. The rhinos were caught by surprise, so much so that the mother charged us. We panicked, turned and fled. We did not know it at the time, but the mother had only made a mock charge that was intended to scare us. Wow! She certainly did that!
The following weekend, we moved on into the Chitwan National Park Buffer Zone at Sauraha where we met up with a committee member named Bashu and other conservationists to discuss a new project. We walked through the jungle watching out for wildlife. After an hour or so we inspected a man made swamp and a nearby observation tower that had been recently constructed. We saw this as a prototype for a better site for the Foundation to build.
Continuing our trek, we arrived at a natural gladed hollow that would allow the site to be transformed into a lake very easily. In this proposed project we had to dam up one side of the hollow. Rainwater would then flood into our man-made but natural looking feature, in which water would no longer seep or run away into an adjacent part of the jungle. Our planned observation tower could be built right on the water’s edge of this burgeoning lake that would inevitably attract huge amounts of wildlife. I would later name this project the ‘Chitwan Collaboration’.
At the end of my enthralling sojourn, I returned to London to see how plausible the ‘Chitwan Collaboration’ project would be. I also delved into the question of how exactly we could begin to tackle it all. The project needed targets, budget and funding. We had to know exactly what to do, who should do it, and when.
It also became clear to me that we would have to focus on using an ‘umbrella species’ to create public awareness. I chose Nepal’s largest carnivore, the tiger. This means that as we save the tiger, all other living things in the same eco-system will be shielded under its protective cover. Moreover, to raise funds in Britain, the Foundation would also use the tiger as a ‘flagship species’ to create interest in our project.
In the mosquito ridden, disease infested jungles of the Terai, I had photographed many exciting animals that later became the centre of my photographic exhibitions throughout the UK. Venues included London libraries, art galleries, a major theatre and the neo-gothic Liverpool Cathedral. These exhibitions proved to be great successes, as they engaged many viewers and galvanized much support for our burgeoning projects back in Nepal. I photographed some fantastic animals that some people only dream about –gharial, marsh mugger, tiger, rhino, elephant, monkey and many more. But getting these shots was not easy in the jungle’s steamy, sweaty and often uncomfortable conditions.
As I developed a plan, I was invited to see the ambassador at the Nepali Embassy in London to discuss a number of our projects in Nepal, including our work with UNESCO. I met the Ambassador in 2007, Mr Murari Raj Sharma, who had a new idea for us to investigate. It is to establish a permanent nature reserve in the hills southeast of Kathmandu. The intended site is an uninhabited district south of Dhulikhel but north of Sindhuli. As this area is planned to connect Nepal’s urban areas and present road systems with a new motorway, it will give many schools access to the district. The educational aspect would create benefits for humans as well as for wildlife. This new nature reserve would have to be developed over many years, however, in order to become big enough to be truly outstanding. Certain obstacles would have to be tackled such as the varying levels of local government and necessary planning permissions.
A School Program And More Fieldwork
On my second visit to Nepal, I was determined to explain our long term projects to more people, groups and organizations that would lead to successful and permanent results.
Another section of my agenda was the Foundation’s own wildlife education program applied through UNESCO. I had initiated a Wildlife Gardening and Animal Feeding Station program (WAFS) that had recently bloomed into a pilot project for the UNESCO Schools’ Group.
This had been a success in Great Britain. But in Nepal wildlife gardening had not taken off so well, so we decided that Vidya Sadan School of Kathmandu would be the first ever Nepali school to enter this scheme.
I had helped schools set aside an area of land for wildlife. Children put scrap food out for birds and animals, plant flowers for certain animals to feed on, such as butterflies and insects, plant trees and shrubs, and also put up boxes for birds, bats and other animals.
The educational benefits of WAFS for the children include either formal education based in the classroom, or informal education through hobby type activities during leisure hours. A number of possibilities are then open to each and every school. For example, some children could specialize in ornithology, whilst others could monitor invertebrates. Others could prepare themselves to become scientists with a variety of methodologies, including sustainable botanical practices. Children could also be given positions of responsibility depending on each school’s individual set of circumstances.
As part of my working program, I twice visited the poorer Kathmandu districts, including the Vidya Sadan School of the Kathmandu municipality (Ward number 7) Saraswatinagar section. I inspected their WAFS site, which was ready to be installed and used for education. Throughout the day of my second visit we celebrated their membership of UNESCO with music, singing and dancing. As I prepared to leave the school, I was presented with a gift and a scarf of honor. I also took back some pupils’ artwork for their twinned school in London to enjoy. It really made me feel special and at one with my hosts.
As my Kathmandu schedule had finished, I returned to the Chitwan District to enjoy more safaris and tree planting, as I did on my first trip. Even on the first day in the jungle, it was the ubiquitous mosquitoes that gave me more pain than the much larger tiger or rhino. I do not know why mosquitoes seem to prefer me to everyone else, but they certainly do. Even though I had put on huge amounts of the best repellent available, they still hounded me throughout the day. They honed onto every square inch of my creamy white skin and bit me mercilessly.
A few days later we had a Chitwan Park canoe trip, which gave me a completely different perspective of animal watching. I came face to face with a marsh mugger in its natural habitat – and at its own watery level. Meeting crocodilia under those circumstances rams home a feeling for the animal’s perfection for its lifestyle. I became aware of my own fragility and my incapability of fending off any attack without help or weapon. Admittedly I had the jitters, yet still became awestruck of these magnificent creatures.
I felt that I had to probe further into this seeming paradox. I analyzed the marsh mugger’s aquatic skills, their muscle strength, their dagger like teeth and their protective armor plated body. All of these qualities add up to an overwhelming supremacy to that of a comparably ineffective primate. This realization is probably the cause of most people’s fears; and it is very difficult for the general public to like something fearful. I believe that this mentality will always be a problem. My question is, how can I turn people’s fears into admiration? – only then will we be able to fully protect these animals. It seems that my photographic exhibitions are still the best answer.
The following day we went for another jungle trek, and although we had wished for it we failed to manage a close encounter with a tiger. On reflection it was just as well, as I believe that it could have destroyed us in its jungle home just as easily as the marsh mugger could have done in the river.
On that walk, however, we knew that we were right inside the tiger’s territory because of the tell tale signs. I witnessed the pug marks in the mud, a urine patch that still reeked of the signature pungent odor, then a tree that was regularly used as scratching post, and finally a small dung pile. It was both fascinating and satisfying to find and interpret these field signs that I had learned about in the classroom, many miles away.
Returning to Seti Devi Community Forest, I was shown the site of a tiger attack on a wild boar that had occurred the previous night. The vegetation was flattened in a haphazard way, and the body hairs of both animals were still present at a nearby tree trunk and I could almost imagine the skirmish, as one fought for life, the other for food. I did not get to know the result of that particular encounter, but I knew that it must have been vitally important for the tiger to eek out a sustaining meal, either for itself or its cubs. It also meant an absolute life and death struggle for the boar. Once again I wondered about the physical skills, muscle power and mental determination of that savage battle. I also felt the amount of pain inflicted on each of the combatants. One vicious but natural blow from either animal could permanently damage a human. I wondered just how many of these potentially fatal strikes did these fighters exchange before the final outcome.
After our field work ended, we returned to Kathmandu where I became a tourist for a couple of days. I visited Patan’s Durbar Square, ate the local specials and fell in love with the incredible architecture. I then visited a natural World Heritage Site – Mount Everest. The only way for me to do this in my allotted time was by the Everest Flight. I boarded a plane at six in the morning, before the clouds had time to form and obscure the world’s greatest peaks from view. This experience was inspirational and reinforced my belief that wilderness areas must be preserved forever to be enjoyed as a right by all people.
As my second visit sadly drew to a close, I created the Foundation’s much needed funding plan: the ‘Himrain’ project (it stands for ‘Himalayan rainforest’, but is designed to cover all areas of Nepal). Whilst Prince Charles’ rainforest plan covered much of the tropical region, it had omitted Nepal. Therefore the Foundation would begin to complement that global plan.
I’ve made sure that all of the Foundation’s projects run alongside or within most United Nations organizations and plans, as well as Nepal’s own Community Forest Management program. It allows other people to develop whatever we have started.
The Foundation for Endangered Species in Nepal will continue its important work, even suffering some inevitable setbacks. My own future? I plan to return and push our projects forward leading towards our mutual goals. When I do, perhaps you may hear more good news…
Andy Mydellton is the Chief Executive of the Foundation for Endangered Species which operates in Nepal, and an active participant in several United Nations initiatives. For further information see www.ffes.org.uk, or contact the Foundation at email@example.com.