LEAVING A LEGACY: From right, Chandra Gurung, country representative WWF-Nepal; Jill Bowling Schlaepfer, director of programs, WWF-UK; Mingma Norbu Sherpa, conservation director, Asia Pacific Program, WWF-US; Narayan Paudel, director-general, Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation; Damodar Parajuli, acting secretary, State Ministry for Forests and Soil Conservation; Gopal Rai, state minister, Forests and Soil Conservation; Pauli Mustonen, Charge d'Affaires of Finland in Kathmandu on 22 September in Taplejung at the handover by WWF-Nepal of the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area to a local council representing dozens of village committees and mothers\' groups.
The Ghunsa helicopter crash last week that killed 24 people wasn't just a tragic loss of life, it devastated Nepal's nature conservation movement, setting it back by decades.
Many names on the passenger manifest were builders of Nepal's model achievements in environment protection over the past decade. Their deaths have left a void that will take a long time to fill. They proved that nature is best protected through grassroots ecotourism activities, and their projects are being replicated in Nepal and across the world.
"These people represented the diversity of expertise, backgrounds, and ethnicities that contributed to Nepal's conservation successes over the last 30 years.
They proved that for conservation to work you need strong local participation. and they would have made even more contributions. Their deaths leave a void that will take a long time to fill, particularly in terms of janajati participation and leadership," says Lhakpa Norbu Sherpa, who worked closely with many in the crash over for 25 years in Nepali conservation.
It is a bitter irony that just the previous day, they had all witnessed another landmark in Nepal's nature conservation history: the handing over management of the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area (KCA) to a local council. The initiative built on the main lesson of Nepal's conservation success, that the environment can be protected best when local people are involved.
In Kangchenjunga, conservation will now be managed by a council representing dozens of village committees and mothers' groups. The project is implemented by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation with support from WWF and other donors.
"This is a great day for the people of Kangchenjunga," Dawa Tshering Sherpa, chairman of the management council had said on Friday in Taplejung, "We are ready to take on this responsibility thanks to support from organisations like WWF."
Chandra Gurung of WWF-Nepal, himself a pioneer of grassroots conservation in the Annapurnas, had said he was proud to be part of the effort. "This handover will be a positive example for the world of people managing their natural resources, and enable learning on how to make conservation more equitable
and sustainable," he said.
The Kangchenjunga area is a treasure-house of biodiversity with higher rainfall and cloud forests, and WWF has invested $1.5 million in conservation efforts here since 1998. Local management means less pressure on forests and less poaching of wildlife.
"WWF is greatly encouraged by successes like this," said Mingma Norbu Sherpa of WWF-US. "I\'d like to congratulate the government and the people for working through a decade of conflict to reach this pinnacle."
The handover was carried out by the State Minister for Forests and Soil Conservation Gopal Rai at a ceremony in Taplejung on 22 September. The visiting dignitaries then flew out to Ghunsa to inspect a local group implementing the management, and the helicopter crashed into a mountain at 4,000 m just after takeoff on the flight back. Minister Rai, Chandra Gurung, Mingma Sherpa and Dawa Tshering were among those in the ill-fated helicopter.
The nation also mourns veteran geographer Harka Gurung, senior donor representatives, WWF staffers, several noted government officials and two journalists.