ROARING FORWARD

56 wild tigers have been recorded in Bardia National Park marking an increase of six from the 2013 survey for the national park.

ROARING FORWARD

ROARING FORWARD

On Global Tiger Day 2016, Bardia National Park disclosed an encouraging finding about the tiger number and presence of breeding tigers and cubs in the national park in the Terai Arc Landscape.

Based on a tiger monitoring study conducted in Bardia 56 wild tigers have been recorded marking an increase of six from the 2013 survey for the national park. The study, initiated in January 2016, was conducted over a period of three months using camera traps and line transect surveys. It was led by the government of Nepal with the support of WWF Nepal, National Trust for Nature Conservation and local communities.

The year 2015 recorded seizure of 12 tiger skins in Nepal, the origins of which are still being investigated. This indicates the scale of the poaching challenge. However, the growth in tiger numbers is a positive trend that could contribute to Nepal’s goal of doubling its wild tiger numbers by 2022.

THUMBS UP FOR TIGERS!


Marking the halfway point of Tx2 — the global goal to double the number of wild tigers WWF organized a digital campaign titled Thumbs Up for Tigers. The aim of the campaign was to increase awareness of the status of the tigers and the global TX2 goal. TX2= Double Tigers, and to double the number of humans engaged in this effort, the campaign linked the “T” for Tigers to Thumbs. For reinforcing this message, the campaign asked people to show their support for the TX2 effort with not one, but two thumbs up!

WWF Nepal staff and youth associated with The Generation Green campaign lent support to this global campaign by giving their two thumbs up for tigers.

TRACKING LAPCHHEMBA IN THE MYSTIQUE OF KANGCHENJUNGA

– Samundra Subba, Research Officer

Now back at my desk, my only connection with Lapchhemba is the GPS locations I receive from her collar. Her latest movements have tracked her in China which reinforces our mission to build stronger transboundary linkages with our neighbors.

TRACKING LAPCHEMBA IN THE MYSTIQUE OF KANGCHENJUNGA

TRACKING LAPCHEMBA IN THE MYSTIQUE OF KANGCHENJUNGA

I was 29 years old when I accompanied the expedition team to successfully collar Nepal’s second snow leopard with GPS technology in May 2015. One year later, I headed once again to Yangma in Kangchenjunga with the hope of collaring a third snow leopard, this time as a leader of the expedition team.

My expedition began on 14 April 2016, when I left Kathmandu with a bag full of supplies and a heart filled with hope. My team comprised of experienced wildlife technicians Purushotam Pandey from the Government of Nepal and Phiru Lal Tharu from National Trust for Nature Conservation further supported by a passionate field team from the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area Management Council and citizen scientists of Yangma.

After 45 minutes of flight time, a four-hour drive to Taplejung and two days of rest, we set out for Yangma, which is a five-day trek from Taplejung. The trek took us through undulating hills, picturesque valleys and steep river gorges, and a landscape that changed from dense forests of alder, oak and juniper to rugged and barren alpine terrains.

After five days trekking, on 21 April, we finally reached the valley of Yangma, our base for the collaring mission. Yangma is one of the most remote villages in the alpine regions of Kangchenjunga Conservation Area (KCA) at an altitude of 4200m with as few as 11 households, the majority of whom relies on yak-herding as a means of livelihood. The previous collaring missions were based in Ghunsa and Yangma, both in KCA, where two adult male snow leopards were successfully collared. This time, we were hoping to collar a female.

After a good rest on our first night in Yangma, we met with the local citizen scientists the following day to reflect on our past experience and share ideas and suggestions for the new task at hand. Collectively we agreed to begin our mission on 24 April starting with a small spiritual ceremony as per the local belief to grant us luck and safety. Between 24 and 26 April, we set up a control station in an abandoned house rented for the mission and strategically laid out 20 traps (Aldrich’s foothold snare trap) along the main trails and primary activity sites of snow leopards. The trap is attached with a radio transmitter which signals our main communication tower if the trap has been triggered. Once the animal is caught in traps were laid out, all we could do was wait and watch…for how long, no one could tell.

After three tiring days of walking up and down mountain slopes to lay the traps, my team finally got the day to rest. It was the 27th day of April. As with other days, our wildlife veterinarian went about his regular business of checking whether any of the traps had been triggered. No sooner had he left camp, than he came rushing back with excitement. One of the traps had been triggered which meant that an animal had been caught. Could it be a snow leopard? Well, we would have to find out for ourselves.

It was about 3:30 in the evening and two of the team members went to the trap site to check. We were not really hopeful, to be honest, since one there was no way we thought we would catch a snow leopard this quick and, second, we had been through numerous situations in earlier expeditions where domestic yaks, blue sheep and even Tibetan mastiffs had triggered the traps instead of snow leopards. However, we got our immobilizing and collaring tools ready just in case.


And then, just like that, my radio received a message. “We have caught a snow leopard!” a voice bursting with excitement came from the other end.

The moments that followed after that was nothing short of an adrenaline rush and like clockwork, everyone had their tasks in order and ready to leave in a jiffy. The capture site was just about two kilometers away from the village, but it took us half an hour to get there because of the alpine terrain.

Upon reaching the site, we were greeted by the majesty of the elusive cat nearly camouflaged in the surrounding rugged terrain except for the juniper bush that gave it away behind which it sat nervous and anxious. With no time to lose, the tranquilizer was prepared and loaded on to the dart. The dart found its target in a single shot and the snow leopard was immobilized at 6:15pm.

Minutes later, more good news followed. The snow leopard was a female!

While our happiness knew no bounds, we still had the bigger task at hand of collaring the snow leopard. She could not, however, be collared in the same site as her capture since it was on the edge of a steep cliff, so we carried her down on a stretcher to the safer base of the cliff.

It had already got dark by the time we reached the base. It was also getting colder. Battling both the elements, we went about fixing the satellite-GPS collar on the snow leopard while also collecting vital DNA samples and taking her measurements. She weighed 30 kg and was 173 cm in length.

We were able to wrap up the whole operation in about 25 minutes after which we injected her with an antidote. With a movement here and a movement there, she slowly shook off the sedative and then, slid into the darkness and the safety of the wild. It was 8:40pm when we saw her last. By a collective agreement with the local people, we named her Lapchhemba after a local deity whose pet is a snow leopard. Lapchhemba became Nepal’s first female snow leopard to be GPS-collared.

But our work was still far from over. We had to wait for the GPS signals to be received from Lapchhemba’s collar. A day passed and then another until it was four days of waiting without a signal. Each passing day made us more anxious trying to figure what could have possibly gone wrong. And then, on the fifth day since the collaring, we received the signal. Our mission had been accomplished.

Now back at my desk, my only connection with Lapchhemba is the GPS locations I receive from her collar. Every bit of information we receive from her will be something new for Nepal as we tally her movement patterns and behavior with that of her male counterpart. Her latest movements have tracked her in China which reinforces our mission to build stronger transboundary linkages with our neighbors.

While I left Lapchhemba in the lap of Kangchenjunga, the mountains still beckon me. And I know I will be back, with a new mission and another snow leopard to collar. Until then, I will find quiet comfort in the memories of this expedition and a deeper connect with the god’s pet.

HOME AWAY FROM HOME

– Simrika Sharma, Senior Communications Officer

With the resumption of the rhino translocations, Nepali conservationists aim to build a second viable population of rhinos in the western complex of the Terai Arc Landscape, presently home to 37 of Nepal’s 645 rhinos. And Bardia National Park, once scarred by an escalating poaching crisis during the Maoist insurgency, may just be the next safe haven for a growing rhino population.

HOME AWAY FROM HOME

HOME AWAY FROM HOME

As dawn breaks over the pristine Babai valley, a 25km river floodplain saddled in the north-eastern section of Bardia National Park, a ten-member joint monitoring team from the Nepal Army and Bardia National Park set out on a foot patrol to monitor the five one-horned rhinos translocated in March 2016 from Chitwan National Park.

The reintroduction of the rhinos in Babai valley after thirteen years holds a very significant meaning for conservationists in Nepal. Babai, considered as one of the preferred habitats for rhinos, had once hosted 70 rhinos translocated between 1986-2003 from Chitwan National Park. Within a span of seventeen years, not a single rhino survived.

“We cannot claim poaching to be the stand-alone reason for the death of the rhinos in Babai valley”, says Ramesh Thapa, Chief Warden of Bardia National Park. “While poaching was a primary reason, some rhinos also died a natural death or out of poor health,” Thapa added.

With the resumption of the rhino translocations, Nepali conservationists aim to build a second viable population of rhinos in the western complex of the Terai Arc Landscape, presently home to 37 of Nepal’s 645 rhinos. And Bardia National Park, once scarred by an escalating poaching crisis during the Maoist insurgency, may just be the next safe haven for a growing rhino population. This is on account of positive changes in the conservation landscape that are geared towards improved protection measures for Nepal’s iconic species.

Protected Areas, for example, have stepped up their anti-poaching response. In Bardia alone, there are 33 guard posts to provide protection to the park’s wildlife species. The introduction of new methods and techniques in anti-poaching patrols, such as Real-Time SMART Patrolling, is ensuring that the Nepal Army and park authorities have constant vigil over the forests of Bardia and its wildlife.

A key conservation ally of the government and its partners such as WWF Nepal is the local communities that live in the fringes of the national park. Of the many successes that the communities have been able to bring in conservation, one that stands out is from the buffer zone community in Taranga situated in the northern belt of Bardia National Park.

“Until few years ago, the local people used to keep home-made guns primarily for killing animals for their livelihoods,” says Chandrakala Buda, a resident of Taranga VDC. “After our village was declared as a buffer zone, the local people have gained more understanding of the importance of conserving wildlife and various alternate livelihoods options have replaced the need to kill wildlife,” adds Buda. In Bardia, the local people handed over 242 home-made guns to the park authorities in a show of support for the country’s broader conservation efforts.

This wave of change bodes well for the five rhinos that have made Bardia their new home. The rhinos with their unique IDs are under 24-hour surveillance. Based on the initial information received, the rhinos are acclimatizing well in Babai valley trying to create their own territory.

In May 2016, a male calf was born to one of the five translocated rhinos – an encouraging sign that the mother is thriving in her new environment. With 25 rhinos yet to be translocated from Chitwan National Park to Bardia National Park and Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve by 2018, the newborn rhino is a signal of hope for a country geared up to rebuild its rhino population.

CONSERVATION CONVERSATION


You have been an important part of the rhino translocation expedition in 2016. How are the rhinos doing in their new home?

All the five rhinos have been fitted with satellite collars with the unique ID. These collars are but our means to remotely track their movements whenever we want. The initial information received from the radio collared data are showing that these rhinos are spread out across the valley trying to establish their home range/territory and utilizing the floodplain habitat on either side of the Babai river in the valley.

 

Could you share an experience from your past translocation expeditions that you hold close to your heart?

During the rhino translocation of 2002, there were two sister rhinos (who were named Sania and Munia) from Chitwan National Park were separated from each other; Sania was released in Bardia National Park, and Munia in Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve. While Sania had acclimatized to her new habitat we could not keep track of her after 2004 due to the political unrest in Bardia. Later in 2009, I was part of an ID-based rhino monitoring program and I hoped I would be able to locate the two sister rhinos. I was quite apprehensive though since I was aware of the poaching situation in Bardia. However, to my sheer delight, I tracked both of them. Munia was doing extremely well in Suklaphanta with her extended family while Sania, who had a unique white marking along her chin, was traced back along the Karnali River floodplain in Bardia National Park. It was like finding family!

 

What has been the most challenging experience for you when it comes to your work in rhino conservation?

I began my professional career in 2003 as a field biologist. This was when the Maoist insurgency was at its peak. As my first assignment, I was deployed to monitor rhinos in Bardia which were translocated from Chitwan. After March 2004, we had to abandon our monitoring task due to the heightened political insurgency in the area. In 2005, Nepal recorded the lowest rhino number since 1973 – the national rhino population plummeted to 398 individuals. In May 2006, two years after the last monitoring in 2004, we conducted another survey in Bardia where not a single rhino was recorded.

 

How has the situation changed for rhinos in Nepal over the years?

In the last 10 years, there have been positive changes in rhino conservation in Nepal thanks to the coordinated working of the government of Nepal, WWF Nepal, NTNC, enforcement agencies like Nepal Army, Nepal police and local communities. Celebration of zero poaching of rhinos for a fourth time in five years since 2011 is a prime example. This has been possible due to some key steps such as increment and reestablishment of security posts in strategic locations inside the park, declaring villages that surrounds the national park as buffer zones for a greater community ownership, arrests of notorious poachers like Raj Kumar Praja and formation of institutions like Wildlife Crime Control Bureau in each district. Rhino numbers have also surged to reach 645, the highest number recorded in the country so far.

 

What is the one message you want to tell the world?

Our goal is to bring back rhino populations in Nepal to its historic level of 800. With the present active biological management coupled with boots on the ground and community participation, I feel this is possible.



RANGER ON A MISSION

– Akash Shrestha, Deputy Director-Communications and Outreach

Laxman Ray is a ranger at Chitwan National Park in Nepal’s Terai Arc Landscape. With more than two decades spent in anti-poaching operations, Laxman speaks for the many brave people who work in the frontlines of conservation.

RANGER ON A MISSION

RANGER ON A MISSION

“I understand that my work in anti-poaching involves considerable risk. I might even lose my life one day. But I am not afraid. It will be one more life lost in the line of conservation duty. And that in itself will be an honor for me.”

For a person who has made 700 arrests in over 20 years, Laxman Ray, Ranger at Chitwan National Park, is an example in modesty driven by the passion to protect what he calls nature’s gift to Nepal.

Literally on the frontlines of the fight against wildlife crime, Laxman has been working on anti-poaching in the national park since 1993. With modest beginnings in the national park in 1989, Laxman’s first experience in anti-poaching came as a game scout, moving upwards slowly to his present position in the park’s anti-poaching unit. Chitwan National Park is home to the biggest population of tigers and rhinos in Nepal and is also one of the country’s strongholds in curbing threats from poaching and illegal wildlife trade.

“Information is power…a key asset that can help keep a check on poaching before it happens.”

Laxman feels encouraged in knowing he is not alone in the fight against wildlife crime. The Nepal Army within the park is his biggest pillar of strength with whom he works together in keeping a look out for any poaching activity in the forests. He also received constant encouragement from senior officers of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation to work for nature and wildlife conservation. Outside the park, he has found friends in the local communities who are his eyes and ears on any suspicious activities in the surrounding villages.

If not on a jungle patrol, one can find Laxman in the communities, in local bars, teashops, and even barber shops! For Laxman, the sphere of his work centers on information and intelligence both within the park and outside to enable him as far as possible to take action against wildlife crime before it happens.

With the help of the Nepal Army, Laxman has been able to expand access and reach within the national park, on land, water, and air. Traditional foot patrols have been complemented by elephant and jeep patrols allowing anti-poaching teams greater area coverage and domination. With WWF and Whiskas support, a boat and bicycles were provided to help access areas by river and on land, which has further helped to increase the coverage of the patrols. He welcomes the government’s initiatives to introduce new technologies to aid patrolling efforts and build anti-poaching effectiveness. Real-time SMART patrolling using mobile phones with GPS and a special patrolling app, also supported by WWF and Whiskas, has helped strengthen coordination between on-the-ground teams and the park headquarters and allowed for swift anti-poaching response, while unmanned aerial vehicles have proved to be important deterrents for poachers who feel they can also be watched from the skies!

Within the local communities, Laxman lays strategic focus on areas with past poaching records where he works with informant networks and local groups such as community-based antipoaching units and rapid response teams to help him gain intellect on anything that appears suspicious. “It could be as simple as a feast in the village when we know that there is no particular reason to celebrate. That is when the local groups are on their guard to know who were part of the feast and whether that could be a precursor to a possible poaching event,” Laxman says.

“If you can make friends with the enemy, you can open up a whole new chapter of understanding and meaning of how poaching works.”

While it is one of his biggest challenges, Laxman feels it is also one of his biggest responsibilities to win the confidence of former poachers. For him, it serves two purposes. Firstly, it is a show of empathy on his part to understand the motives of the poacher driven primarily out of poverty and to convince them on the ways and means towards an honorable living. Secondly, it helps him unlock the mind of a poacher and dig out crucial information on poaching routes and networks which he might have never known working on the other side of the battle.

Of the 700 people who Laxman helped arrest over the years, 160 are still in prison. Many, according to him, are repeat offenders while some have in fact mended their ways. Through sustainable livelihoods programs established in the buffer zone communities, many poachers have been able to find alternate sources of livelihoods and also provide leads to frontline staff such as Laxman on poaching routes and networks.

“Nepal’s zero poaching success has not come easily. But we have shown that it is possible by working together.”

For Laxman, the darkest period was during the insurgency in 2002 when Chitwan National Park alone lost 37 rhinos to poaching in a single year. Though the park had made numerous arrests and confiscated arms from various locations in the park, the scale of poaching back then was too large to contain given the limited resources and reach of the park authorities. Poachers began to move away from surrounding buffer zone areas to base themselves further off and enter the park by crossing the bordering Chure hills as an alternate route. It was only by mobilizing informant networks away from the buffer zone strongholds that the alternate routes could be tracked and poachers brought to book. It was during this time that they were able to nab a network of 17 rhino poachers.

From 37 rhinos poached in a year to zero for four years, Laxman feels Nepal has come a long way in the fight against wildlife crime. Rhino numbers are at an all-time high of 645 and tiger populations have jumped by 63% between 2009 and 2013.

“Back in 1993, I made my first arrest of seven people involved in rhino poaching. It was a feeling of accomplishment for me. I realized if we were to put our heart and mind to it, we can break this cycle of crime. And every time the newspapers publish stories of Nepal’s zero poaching success, I feel proud to be a part of it,” Laxman says.

“But one day I will need to leave this uniform. It could be the only thing that is protecting me till now.”

Laxman speaks for the many men and women who put duty before self to protect Nepal’s iconic species – everyday. While their passion for conservation is a key motivator, Laxman feels that there could be added incentives to urge them further. One example he gives is personal insurance which is presently lacking for frontline staff. In addition, he feels that beyond incentives, required antipoaching facilities, training and equipment really help such staff work more effectively. The anti-poaching work of the rangers and the army in Chitwan has really benefited from the support of organizations such as WWF, for example through the provision of solar panels at guard posts, tents and sleeping bags. These all help the patrol teams in their dedication and ambition to maintain zero poaching. Also, Laxman’s own motorbike is now over five years old and has been his companion in antipoaching in its journey of more than 50,000kms!

“My wife and two children look up to me as their hero…of our family and in the work that I do. I feel I have many expectations to live up to. I have one life to do it, but I think it is more than enough.”

WWF supports the courage and dedication of people such as Laxman, and continues to work with the government, rangers and frontline staff in keeping Nepal’s forests safe and wildlife better protected.

SWITCHING GROUNDS

Five swamp deer were successfully translocated to Bardia National Park (BNP) from Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve in Nepal’s Terai Arc Landscape on 27 May–2 June 2016. With the support from the USAID-funded Hariyo Ban Program together with the Government of Nepal, the translocation expedition was carried out to enhance genetic robustness of the remnant swamp deer population of BNP, and establish a viable population of the species.

NEPAL TO HOST 9th WORLD RANGER CONGRESS

Nepal will be the first country in Asia to host the  World Ranger Conference in 2019. This historic decision was taken at the 8th World Ranger Congress organized by International Ranger Federation (IRF) in Estes Park in Colorado, USA on 21-27 May 2016.

The decision is recognition of the measures that the Nepal government has taken to strengthen its ranger force as well as the country’s remarkable anti-poaching successes in recent years. In early May, Nepal marked its 4th year of zero poaching of rhinos since 2011 due to a combination of motivated rangers, high level political will, cooperation with the army and police, and increased community involvement.

The (IRF) organizes the World Ranger Conference once in every three years. WWF has been committed to support rangers as they patrol the wildlife frontlines around the world.

REBUILDING A FUTURE

Nawalpur Secondary School, destroyed completely by the earthquake of 25 April 2015 in Sindhupalchowk district in north-eastern Nepal, got a new lease of life with reconstruction efforts now underway in the school.

The first foundation stone of the new school block was jointly laid by Tom Dillon, Senior Vice President-Forests and Freshwater of WWF US, Anil Manandhar, Country Representative of WWF Nepal and Phurpa Tamang, Chairperson of the school management committee on 12 June 2016.

WWF provided financial support of USD 70,000 for constructing two earthquake-resistant school blocks of the six destroyed by the earthquake. The funds were raised through voluntary contributions by WWF US staff members intended originally for the welfare of staff from the Nepal office during the initial trying times of the earthquake. Nepal staff however decided to utilize the funds rather on local communities that were harder hit by the earthquake, and Nawalpur Secondary School in WWF Nepal’s project site was selected in the process.

Presently studying in temporary structures of the school, 460 children will soon have access to safe spaces for education once the reconstruction of the school is completed in September 2016.

IMPROVING OUTCOMES IN HYDROPOWER AND INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT

A two-day Regional Sustainable Infrastructure Workshop on improving outcomes in hydropower and infrastructure development in Nepal, Bhutan and India was organized in Kathmandu on 20-21 June 2016.

Hydropower and infrastructure development such as roads, transmission lines and railways has the potential to create far-reaching impacts and transform economies and landscapes in the three countries. Set against this backdrop, the workshop was organized to understand and promote innovative ways to reduce environmental impacts from large infrastructure development activities.

The workshop brought together experts, practitioners and development partners from the three countries to share experiences and lessons learnt on sustainability protocol and practices in both hydropower and linear infrastructure development. The workshop also witnessed active participation of high officials from the government of Nepal and Bhutan, WWF Representatives from the three countries, and representatives from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and hydropower sector.

GOING WILD FOR LIFE

WWF Nepal’s The Generation Green (TGG) campaign celebrated World Environment Day by organizing an Intercollege PechaKucha Competition under the theme ‘Go Wild for Life’. Young speakers from 10 different colleges in Kathmandu valley took to the stage to put forward their opinions on various environmental topics – all under a common format of 20 slides and 20 seconds for each. An intense grooming and mentoring period of two weeks, nature as the muse, and a young mind and voice – these ingredients were all it took to bring out the best in the 10 speakers in the finals.

“It was not just diverse ideas coming together but also the diverse educational backgrounds such as forestry, agriculture and business,” said Alfa Maiya Shakya, the winner of the competition. “Learning that tigers are at the top of the food chain, that climate change is getting hotter to handle, and that conservation is not a losing battle was beyond inspiring. We took back with us a lot more than what we walked in with,” expressed Alfa.

Saheel Baral who stood second said, “Being a management student, I hadn’t really understood how vast environmental issues and the problems are. But I am now much aware why the environment matters”. Likewise, Juliana Shrestha, who won the third place said, “The competition was a great learning experience for a nature lover and enthused public speaker like me. Getting the opportunity to combine both felt awesome!”

SEED YOUR FUTURE

WWF Nepal’s The Generation Green (TGG) campaign embarked on yet another drive towards personal social responsibility by motivating young people to take a simple single step towards protecting the environment.

The Seed Your Future (SYF) initiative was launched on 14 February to mark the second anniversary of TGG campaign. Coinciding with the theme of Valentine’s Day, the SYF initiative encouraged youth to nurture love for the planet by planting a seed. “With this initiative, we would like to appeal to the youth to connect with the earth, literally”, says Ms. Shikha Gurung, The Generation Green Campaign lead. “Targeted primarily at urban youth, the initiative seeks to build their capacity in understanding and engaging in the concept of sustainable consumption,” opines Ms. Gurung.

Following the launch, the initiative has been taken forward by ten schools as a pilot project. Through poly-houses constructed in each school, students grow vegetables and greens while understanding the importance of organic farming under the guidance of proficient agriculture experts. To complement this process, the students are also provided market linkages for them to showcase and sell their produce. The initiative is already showing results with the first monsoon harvest of the season in July which is available for purchase in the local farmer’s market.