Kamal Thapa, Senior Research Officer at WWF Nepal, explains the significance of the red panda, “Although the red panda is classified as a carnivore, it has adapted to an almost completely herbivorous diet. In order to survive, the red panda relies on young tender bamboo shoots and leaves; a viable red panda population, therefore, is an indicator of a healthy forest.”
This almost total dependence on bamboo for sustenance is a major reason for the decline in red panda population numbers, with rapid deforestation and habitat fragmentation posing severe threats to its favorite food source. Dr. Shant Raj Jnawali, Biodiversity Coordinator for the Hariyo Ban Program at WWF Nepal elaborates, “The IUCN lists the red panda as an endangered species on its Red List of Threatened Species; it is also one of the focal species of the Hariyo Ban Program.” Estimates put the red panda population at less than 10,000 mature individuals worldwide. This is likely to decline even more in the coming years. As red panda populations tend to live in isolated pockets, the risk of inbreeding and local extinction are high. Although the species is not generally targeted by poachers, red pandas often fall prey to traps laid for other animals. Similarly, herding practices often unintentionally disturb or destroy parts of the red panda’s habitat.
As part of efforts to protect this rare species, the Hariyo Ban Program is supporting the establishment of a community-based red panda monitoring system in Langtang National Park and Buffer Zone. Aimed at building the capacity of local communities to detect and document red panda populations, the initiative was begun in the villages of Polangpati, Dhwache and Ghyangphedi. According to Kamal Thapa, who supervised the training in Langtang, “Local people have a considerable amount of conservation knowledge – this needs to be tapped to complement existing scientific knowledge. Making use of local knowledge in this way will help communities to really get involved in conservation efforts.”
A group of 11 people comprising members of the Community-based Anti-Poaching Operations Unit, and herders and staff from the Langtang National Park and Buffer Zone Support Project participated in the red panda conservation training. Suryakunda Buffer Zone Users Committee was responsible for the overall management of the event, while WWF Nepal and staff from the Langtang support project provided technical supervision. Participants learned to use GPS and to identify signs of red panda populations. They also received a range of equipment to support them in their monitoring efforts including camping gear, compasses, GPS devices, and measuring tapes. The newly trained monitoring team then set up a series of 12 transects at elevations ranging from 2600 to 3800 meters above sea level; altitude differences of 200m separated each transect. The heartening outcome of this monitoring exercise was the sighting of five red pandas and the recording of their GPS coordinates. Following this, the second level red panda monitoring was begun from 22 July, 2013 in the sub-alpine forests of Syafru and Ghyangfedi VDCs. The team members have established 14 transects between 2800 to 4000 meters above sea level.
Now that the Government of Nepal’s WWF-supported Red Panda Conservation Action Plan has been endorsed, the first requirement, according to Thapa is, “extensive research to determine the population and habitat of the red pandas.” The replication of community-based initiatives such as the one in Langtang is also crucial. “Once local people understand the need for conservation and acquire the skills needed to make it happen, conservation efforts for species such as the red panda become dramatically more effective,” states Gautam Poudyal, Field Project Officer at the Langtang National Park and Buffer Zone Support Project, WWF Nepal. Dr. Jnawali agrees with him, concluding that “threats to the red panda and other such species can be only be reduced if local communities are the owners and guardians of local conservation efforts.”
By Richa Bhattarai, Communications Associate, Hariyo Ban Program, WWF Nepal
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Disclaimer: The Hariyo Ban Program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this article are the responsibility of WWF and its consortium partners and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.
The Nepali youth participated in 12th National Children’s Mountain Conservation Meet 2013 jointly organized by the Adventure Foundation Pakistan and WWF Pakistan. Altogether there were 125 children, aged 11 to 14 years. The major objective of the meet was to create awareness among young people about the uniqueness of the mountain ecosystem by involving them in meaningful practical activities.
The meet was inaugurated with a formal ceremony organized in Abbottabad on 24 June and concluded with a formal ceremony organized in Islamabad on 3 July. The participants learned the importance of biodiversity conservation, waste recycle techniques, and the use of flora and fauna in our ecosystem.
The participants also engaged themselves in various adventure projects such as hiking, route finding, and emergency rescue. Moreover, Nepali youth participated in the cross cultural evening and demonstrated their talent of singing and dancing. The children who attended the meet were given the title of ‘Eco Guard’ which gave them confidence to play an active role in their day to day life to create awareness about the conservation of the environment and its role in our lives.
Furthermore, the participants visited WWF Pakistan’s office and interacted with the staff from Islamabad, Lahore and Nathiagali. WWF Pakistan’s CEO Mr. Ali Habib recognized WWF Nepal’s achievements in conservation especially in zero poaching, GEF and forest carbon in a meeting at WWF Lahore office.
WWF Pakistan is very positive to continue WWF Nepal and WWF Pakistan’s cooperation in the future. There are many areas where the two countries can collaborate, such as: Snow Leopard Conservation, Watershed Management, Forest Carbon, Green Office, Conservation Education and Fund Raising.
The Eco Club students from Nepal explored the ongoing conservation initiatives of Pakistan and interacted with Pakistani youth representatives from all provinces of Pakistan. The knowledge and experience of the trip will encourage the Eco Club students to work harder in biodiversity conservation.
“Nepal’s results are an important milestone to reaching the global TX2 goal of doubling the number of wild tigers by the year 2022,” stated Megh Bahadur Pandey, Director General of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation. “Tigers are a part of Nepal’s natural wealth and we are committed to ensuring these magnificent wild cats have the prey, protection and space to thrive.”
Tigers are found in the Terai Arc Landscape stretching 600 miles across 15 protected area networks in Nepal and India. The two countries embarked on the first-ever joint tiger survey using a common methodology in January 2013. In Nepal, the field survey was carried out between February and June 2013 followed by two months of data analysis to arrive at the final estimates. It was agreed by the two governments that each country could release its national estimates and that a joint report will be released later in the year to provide a landscape-wide estimation of tiger populations and a better understanding of tiger movements in the trans-boundary landscape.
Nepal’s analysis covered five protected areas and three corridors. It revealed tiger populations have tripled in Bardia National Park, from 18 (17 - 29) in 2009 to 50 (45 - 55), and doubled in Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve, from 8 (8 - 14) in 2009 to 17 (13 - 21). Tiger numbers in Chitwan National Park, home to the country’s largest number of wild tigers, have also increased, from 91 (71 - 147) in 2009 to 120 (98 - 139). The results have also shown a comeback of tigers in the recently declared Banke National Park with the presence of 4 (3 - 7) tigers.
“While we celebrate the positive results from this tiger survey, WWF calls on the government of Nepal to redouble efforts to protect these conservation gains that could easily be lost as human-tiger conflict increases and illegal wildlife trade empties our forests,” stated Anil Manandhar, Country Representative of WWF Nepal. “Tigers are an iconic symbol of wild nature and WWF will continue to work closely with the government, conservation partners and local communities in Nepal to get to TX2.”
The tiger and prey-base survey was a collaborative effort of the Government of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation and Department of Forests, WWF Nepal and National Trust for Nature Conservation. It was funded by WWF UK, WWF Australia, WWF US, Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, Hariyo Ban Program (funded by USAID), and US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The goal of this event was mainly to bring about awareness on the various threats to Sarus Crane populations in the nearby wetland and farm areas and disseminate important facts and information about Sarus Crane to the local community. Students from the age group of 12-18 years were involved in this campaign.
A special ceremony was organized to mark the close of the Sarus Crane Conservation Week on June 18, 2013. WWF Nepal’s Young Conservation Ambassador, Ms. Ishani Shrestha (Miss Nepal 2013) was the chief guest and Dr. Ghana S Gurung, WWF Nepal’s Conservation Program Director, and Sharmila Manandhar, the recipient of the Sarus Crane research grant of WWF Nepal, were the guests during the ceremony.
Speaking at the ceremony, Ms. Shrestha appealed to the students and said, “As youth there is so much potential and enthusiasm so let’s channelize that energy towards conservation work”. Dr. Gurung thanked the effort and participation of the students and partners involved for making the campaign a success. He also expressed WWF Nepal’s commitment to conserve Sarus Crane and lauded the support from Lumbini Development Trust and local communities to carry out the week long campaign to bring about awareness to conserve Sarus Cranes. Ms. Manandhar too spoke about the importance of conserving Sarus Crane habitats in the area. Members of Lumbini Development Trust, Eco Club representatives from various schools and members of the District Forest Office were also present in the ceremony. Representatives from each of these institutions also spoke on the importance of saving and increasing the Sarus Crane population in the area.
Students who excelled in the various competition categories organized during the Sarus Crane Conservation Week were awarded with certificates and educational materials during the closing ceremony.