Conservation and Environment in Nepal: Monthly Updates
Conservation in Nepal Monthly Update - August-September 2013
August and September have been two eventful months up here in the Ghandruk Conservation Project. Among the highlights was when Nepal’s leading ornithologist (bird expert), Dr Hem Sagar visited our project. We also had two field trips to research red panda (Ailurus fulgens) habitats in the area and continued our usual conservation work, which included bird surveys, mammal censuses, using camera traps, waste management and other conservation related activities.
We were very privileged to have Dr Hem Baral visit us in Ghandruk, as he co-wrote the field guide that we use to identify birds. We had the chance to go birding with him and watching him in action was amazing. While we struggled to peer through binoculars, vainly looking for birds, Dr Hem only had to listen and immediately he could identify all of the birds around him from their calls.
We all learnt a lot about ornithology in the couple of days that he was with us and it was very worthwhile. Dr Baral also gave us some tips on how to improve our methodology for our bird surveys, which were very productive and have helped us become more effective with our research.
Red panda research
Another highlight for us in August was going on a three-day field trip to do research on the ever elusive red panda (Ailurus fulgens). This is one of Nepal’s rarest mammals and probably the hardest one to research given its shy nature. We spent three days trekking to the villages of Deurali and Dobato to investigate the habitat and interview locals to see if anyone had seen red pandas in the area. The results weren’t all that positive, but that was to be expected as it really is an incredibly rare and elusive creature. The closest we came to finding anything on the Red panda was a local man who claims to have seen them twice in the last 23 years!
In September we interviewed three other villages: Uri, Jhinu and Chhomrong during the course of three days. The only person who had seen a red panda was seven years ago near Bamboo village in the direction of the world famous trail to reach ABC (Annapurna Base Camp). The area is rich in bamboos, the main diet of the red panda. We also left forms at hotels in villages so tourists and villagers can report if they have seen any of Nepal’s spectacular mammals that include the red panda, common leopard (Panthera pardus) and Himalayan black bear (Ursus tibetans).
If we find evidence of red panda or other rare and vulnerable species around these villages we will investigate in the field and set up camera traps to try to confirm these sights. The common leopard and Himalayan black bear are seen often by villagers in the forest and also in their corn fields. Fortunately there does not appear to be any human conflicts and the animals leave peacefully around the villages.
We hope to conduct more interviews over the coming months as we try to establish the populations of rare animals in the area.
On-going projects (mammal and bird surveys)
Our on-going projects, such as camera trap surveys and bird observations are going well. For the camera traps we have completed five transect lines across a few square kilometres near Ghandruk. Now we are taking data from between those transects to get a better idea of the mammals in the area, such as barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak), common leopard, yellow-throated marten (Martens flavigula) and, if we are lucky, the Himalayan black bear. We have been fortunate enough to capture on film most of the fore-mentioned and an added bonus of a leopard cat (Felis bengalensis).
The bird surveys have also been successful lately with several species that have been recorded infrequently in this region. Some of the highlights have been sightings of the kalij pheasant (Lophura leucomelanos); common hoopoe (Upupa epops) and pied thrush (Zoothera wardii) are some of the examples. The new method brought to us by Dr Baral allows us to wander around actively seeking out birds rather than staying fixed in one location. This new method has also led to increased sightings in different habitats with a greater variety of species. As you can imagine we are very happy with the new methodology although we shall continue with our old techniques to allow data comparison over time.
August also saw the volunteers continue a couple of special projects, such as cleaning up a stream in the village and also mapping the village with GPS coordinates - something that has not been done for any villages in the region. We hope to get some local people involved in cleaning up the stream as it is all garbage from the village that is blocking it up. Both of these projects are on-going.
Volunteers in Ghandruk over August were enough lucky to witness a traditional Gurung festival called “Thote festival”. This festival marks the end of the maize harvest and the sowing of new crops. It is meant to cleanse the village of evil spirits and bring good health. Many of the villagers turned out for a procession through the streets where men banged drums and other instruments. It was a great experience to witness and be a part of such a traditional custom.
As you can see we have lots of exciting work at the moment and I look forward to reporting on more next time…
Conservation Manager, Nepal