Before visiting Chitwan National Park there were several news items I read that fascinated me. First there has been a dramatic rise in the tiger population in Nepal. Second, the last poached rhinoceros was over five years ago. Third, Chitwan boasts a concentration of thriving endangered or threatened species. Clearly they have been doing something right and I wanted the Alyssa and Kylie to see what it takes to make these things happen.
In Chitwan prior to the 1950s the rhino population was estimated to be greater than 1000; however by 1960 the population had dropped to nearly 100. (Source). With only one rhino being killed due to poaching since 2014, Chitwan has been highly effective in deterring poaching (Click Here)
National Trust for the nature conservation: Biodiversity Conservation Center
We had the privilege of meeting with Ram Kumar the officer in charge of the Biodiversity Conservation Center. He presented to us about the amazing work the conversation center has been doing. Established in 1973 jointly with the Smithsonian Institute, their initial mandate was to study the fading tiger population. Over the years the mandate grew to other species and habits and regions.
Ram went through each of the programs that the trust either created, supported, or participated in.
Species census. Counting the various species from period to period helps gauge the health of the population. Census has been carried out in a variety of ways from trapping and tagging, to physical counts. For example to count rhinos, they spread out with line of people and elephants and move laterally across the park to count every rhino they see. This a huge organizational challenge and requires a lot of resources. They also use camera trapping and citizen science to identify and track tigers and rhinos.
Education. Aside from educating the public and the community, they also work to educate tourists. More than this, they actively support community members through college and educational programs. They also train tour guides, game wardens, and Nepalese military members about the wild animals. They have multiple PhDs on staff that participate in the research and analysis of various species. They train teachers, provide legal awareness training, and support environmental groups such as Green Club. Outside the center, they have a small museum that shows preserved animals found in the park. In here are also numbers of placards explaining their mission and efforts in the last throughout the years.
Biodiversity: As human habitat grows, it fragments habitats of various species leading to limitation of genetic diversity and in some cases extinction in certain areas altogether. In an effort to promote genetic diversity and population development they participate with an Asian Elephant Breeding center, Gharil Breeding center, and Wild Water Buffalo breeding center. They also participate in the translocation of various species through different regions in Nepal and in India. Namely, Rhino, Sambar Deer, Gharil, and Wild Water Buffalo. Even though it seems like a small number of transplants (9 rhino), the number of people involved in moving a rhino from one place to another is not so small. I counted at least 100 people participating in the capture, movement, and care of a single rhino. They have also been instrumental in helping establish careers for animal care (such as Gharil husbandry) that did not exist 20 years ago.
Community Development: The traditional community grew up in tension with the jungle. They were both dependent on it for collecting wood and food, but also at odds with it as large animals would eat crops or threaten their safety. When the national park was established and buffer zones made, many communities were relocated. They have worked with the communities to develop agricultural techniques and trades that can work in harmony with the park such as bee-keeping, mushroom farming, They promote gender equality. Indigenous peoples celebration and development. They aid with fencing techniques, nursery development, and sustainable agricultural methods.
Wildlife Rescue: The Trust was celebrating the opening of a new veterinary clinic on the premises. Aside for caring animals in their breeding program, they also rescue injured or sick animals. Recently they rescued 9 rhinos that were swept downstream due to flooding. They also had a top notch molecular cell laboratory. In 2018 alone they rescued nearly 200 wild animals.
Another component of their mission was developing ecotourism models in the community to create harmonious and healthy ways of interacting with the park. To this end they help train guides and community tour activities that are not destructive.
Habitat development: The trust has been moving towards habitat development and land management. They help create buffer zones between the park and the town. These are forested areas that people still frequent to harvest wood and plants, but keep them from wandering too far into the park to give wild animals their room.
Kylies asked: “Why do people not try to kill the rhinos like they do in Africa?” Ram stated that the penalties are very severe in Nepal. In addition, the Nepalese military have bases scattered through the reserves. To this end we frequently encountered either Nepalese military outposts or military personal walking the roads, fully armed. The answer to this question was similar when we asked our guides, hotel manager, or other Nepalese people we met. “The military deters poaching.”
I left with an appreciation of the commitment of the Nepalese government, and the scope and scale of the steps taken to preserve habitats for animals.