Today, we are struggling and also spending huge amounts of money to save the last tigers, elephants and rhinos in the jungles of Nepal. It is clear from history that these magnificent animals were found in abundance and kings and emperors, the rich and powerful of Nepal organized regular hunting trips – SHIKAARs for themselves and visiting dignitaries each winter. Today, all these animals are protected by law, but they continue to be killed for body parts which are sold in far away countries as medicine, aphrodisiac or just souvenirs. The wealthy and powerful do not hunt any more, but pay others to do the job. The hunts of the good old days are captured in photographs and oil paintings or such reminders as stuffed animals that adorn drawing rooms as trophies.
On 20 February, 1876 at the invitation of Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana, the then Prince of Wales arrived at Banbasa in west Nepal for a two week shikaar. The prince was greeted on arrival with an unbelievable entourage of 800 elephants. These elephants in those days were captured in the wild, trained by the Mahouts and mounted with howdah (carriage). The Rana regime also generated substantial revenue by selling 200-300 domesticated elephants each year. These elephants and the Mahouts who care for, train and ride these amazing animals are a key input to on going conservation efforts in Nepal to this day. While Jung Bahadur had organized the shikaar to reciprocate the Prince’s own hospitality in the UK, it also served as a political victory in terms of recognition of his position as the ruler of Nepal.
In 1893, the Arch Duke of Austria arrived in the Nepali tarai for a shikaar at the invitation of Prime Minister Bir SJB Rana. It was the later assassination of the Duke in Europe, that marked the beginning of the First World War.
On 18 December, 1911, Prime Minister Chandra SS Rana received King George, then emperor of India, for a Shikaar in Nepal. It is believed that these dignitaries were taken on hunting trips in the tarai so that they would not see Kathmandu valley and to ensure that they did not have a chance to meet with the King. In order to receive King George, Chandra had a road built from the Indian border to Kasara in Chitwan, electricity and phone lines installed and plumbing done in the camps supplying hot and cold water. Kasara, next to the Rapti river, is where the park headquarters of Chitwan National Park is today.
The preparations for the Shikaar were very elaborate and a massive undertaking in terms of the people and animals needed. In 1911, the Nepali camp consisted of ten thousand attendants, two thousand elephant attendants (Mahouts) and six hundred elephants. Long before the arrival of King George, the men and animals had driven a huge number of tigers, rhinos, bears and others into the Chitwan valley. A ring of elephants then brought the wildlife close to the camp until finally a few were isolated using a long piece of white cloth. As the animals jumped out of the thick jungle floor, they were shot from elephant backs. King George’s shikaar shot dead 37 tigers, 18 rhinos and 4 bears.
In 1972, Chitwan National Park was created to protect the last 60 or so one horned rhinos in Nepal. Just compare this figure to the fact that Prime Minister Juddha SJB Rana during his 1933 Shikaar in Nawalpur bagged 41 tigers, 13 rhinos. In 1934, when the big earthquake shook Kathmandu and east Nepal, Juddha Shumshere was on another hunting trip in far western Nepal. That hunting ground today is another key protected area, Suklaphanta. During the ten years of armed conflict, these animals have been and still are under threat from poachers and far-away markets that demand and pay high prices for their body parts. If we extrapolate the fact that 15 rhinos have been killed in the last 6 months, Nepal will have to announce the EXTINCTION of this great animal in less than 5 years time!
There is no doubt that the earth was a much better place when humans were hunters and not farmers. Agriculture and surplus food production is believed to be the key reason why there are so many people in the world today. The depletion of the soil and water is due to our agriculture practices and the need to feed so many humans. In a strange way, we can argue that the Parsa, Chitwan, Bardiya and Suklaphanta protected areas exist today due in part to the hunting passions of Jung Bahadur, Chandra and Juddha Shamshere. These wildlife rich areas probably served as strategic foreign policy tools to keep the British in India friendly to Nepal. Today, numerous businesses and thousands of Nepalis have jobs due to the presence of the system of protected areas and magnificent animals, birds and plants they house. Let us take good care of them.