The discovery this week in Humla of a species of wild yak thought to be extinct has brought new hope to scientists that biodiversity in the Himalaya is alive and kicking, so we can all sit back, relax and have a pleasant flight, remembering to keep our seatbelts loosely fastened at all times while the constitution is being drafted.
Earlier this year, a Pallas Cat
that everyone thought had gone the way of the Dodo was found lurking behind the Annapurnas, leading us to believe that not everyone in Nepal has won a DV lottery yet. Speaking of which, the Wild Ass that once roamed the Roof of the World in large herds are, according to latest scientific research, still merrily making collective asses of themselves. All this goes to prove that news about the demise of donkeys is wildly exaggerated.
Before Nepalis became renowned across the world as the highest per capita consumers of instant noodles (Sponsor’s announcement: “Each pack of ByeBye Noodles comes with a free Maserati”) we used to be known for the diversity of our rare flora and fauna. I am glad to report that going by the incredible numbers of plastic-wrapped gladioli bouquet that were gifted to Prime Minister Jhusil Da before he boarded his plane for Jakarta this week, our floras are doing just fine, thank you so very much. It’s Kathmandu’s street fauna we are worried about. Good thing the street between Thapathali and Teku has been declared a national park to protect our ungulates, primates, canines, felines and bovines.
In fact, the most encouraging revival of wildlife in Nepal in the past decade has been within the Ring Road. Carnivores that were hitherto found only in fossilised remains from the Pleistocene once more prowl the corridors of power in the Jurassic Park of Singha Darbar. Invertebrates now populate Balu Water. Pre-historic reptiles from our erstwhile Animal Kingdom are again hatching from eggs and slithering about in the Consternation Assembly. There are even occasional reports of man-eater politicians turning to cannibalism which means everything is hunky-dory in the boondocks.
But how many of us, sitting here in Kathmandu, answer to the call of the nature? How much do we actually value the wild? Will we ever know we’re looking at a Greater Himalayan Red-vented Twit when we see one? Will we be able to pick out through our binoculars a sabre-toothed ex-gorilla in Paris Danda? How about the Wooly Mammoths inside various quasi-gobblement corporations? Can we identify the exact species of rodent that scurries past the security x-ray in the departure concourse of the Tremendous International Airport? Are we up to date with the micro-fauna within our own gastrointestinal tracts, or are we just content with shooting the breeze, as it were, pretending that no one will notice?
It is time we recognised the dramatic strides Nepal has taken in wildlife conservation, and in order to make it easier for us to find our way around Kathmandu’s concrete jungle and identify its animal denizens, we offer below a useful quick-reference guide for wildlife enthusiasts:
(Sanskrit name: Bandar seri bhagawan):
Handsome and clever, solitary and without scruples, spends much time not wearing underpants, foraging for juicy contracts. Believes in give and take, and generously shares the loot. Diet: rarely observed eating anything other than paan and will mark the perimeter of his domain by spitting red juice in the office urinal.
(Latin name: Habre nepalensis rosso): Shy and reclusive, resides on the forest canopy with occasional forays down to the undergrowth to dig for subterranean tubers. Once thought to be nearly extinct, this left-leaning squirrel is making a comeback on Twitter. Range: Cyberspace.
(Maoist name: Sus extortionum): Once thought to be extinct, but making presence felt again across the midhills and in the Kathmandu Valley rim. Raids farmers’ crops at harvest time, can deliver speeches that last hours if allowed to. Diet: cement, new airport contracts, real estate, electronic consumer goods. Known locally as “khaobadi”.
(Nom de guerre: Cervidae woofwoof politicus): Garrulous, and has a loud hooting call to magnify its stature. Mobile and mischievous, commonly found addressing large gatherings of half-asleep invitees, gathers in herds at election time. Diet: Voracious appetite, can be destructive to shrubs and trees, but if push comes to shove will even eat hard cash.
(Mandarin name: Pisces maozedongeria): Omnivore that roams in schools and adheres to a strict moral code that includes being a scavenging bottom-feeder with strong jaws, often hunts at night and is famed for its whooping, blood-curdling cry similar to one emitted by extinct sub-species in Fengyang County. Habitat: Constituent Assembly, Parliamentary sub-committees, VDCs and DDCs.
(Government-sanctioned name: Ursidae soporificus): Indolent and sluggish, sleeps during the day with head on desk at Singha Darbar, burping in his sleep, emitting distinctive body odour. Approach with care, can be vicious if disturbed. Diet: copious amounts of tea between naps, dry instant noodles (with free Maserati).
Nepal’s Good Luck Cat, Sonam Tashi Lama
Red Panda on the red list, Sonam Tashi Lama