Nepali Times
Chitwan’s young conservation crusaders


Shahi Chitwan Ratriya Nikunja Madhyawarti Chetra Mrigakunj Upabhokta Samiti
Dwara Gathit Upa-samiti Banyajantu Chori Shikar Niyantran Yuba Aabhiyan.

That is the long name for a group of energetic young Chitwan college students who in a short time have made their mark fighting poaching in Royal Chitwan National Park.

To make locals more conservation conscious, the group visits schools, puts up street plays, holds dohori geet concerts, slide shows and even has a guleli sankalan campaign where boys and girls hand in the slingshots, which they use to kill birds. But protecting the areas flora and fauna isn't so simple.

Due to the on-going conflict, poaching and illegal harvesting of natural resources have greatly increased in Chitwan. The group's volunteers, in their late teens and early 20s, have learned that poachers often take shelter and gather information on the whereabouts of animals from locals living near the park. Residents are fooled by poachers who arrive incognito in sleek Pajeros, offering drinks or cash. Others are dressed as sadhus or act like deaf-mutes.

To prevent locals from getting hoodwinked and exploited by poachers, the young men and women have launched a ghar-dailo program, going house-to-house in the buffer zone surrounding the park to inform villagers about the benefits of conversation and warning them against poaching and other illegal activities.

"Only if we talk to them one-on-one can we convince people about why conservation is necessary," says one of the volunteers Doma Poudel, "It is hard work but we have seen positive results."

Many locals have suffered from wild animals, including rhinos that come out of the park to raid crops. But the rhinos are also a tourist attraction that brings revenue to the villagers living on the park's outskirts. On the other hand, poachers offer instant cash which could land a villager in jail for years. The group discusses all these things and tries to convince fellow villagers of the importance of conservation. Volunteers say locals have started reporting suspicious strangers and handed over traps and nets used by poachers found in nearby forests.
However, awareness alone is not enough. The group is also investigating carcasses of poisoned rhinos to find where the substances were bought. It has also hired guards who patrol nearby community forests daily and report their findings.

The group's intensive drive has now resulted in a well-connected network of informants. When group members are notified of any illegal activities within community forests or of potential poachers in the area, they notify officials at the sector office who then take necessary action.

But hurdles remain. For example, the very conflict that has brought about the need for the anti-poaching movement has also greatly hindered the group's mobility. Also, the volunteers are still studying or have part-time jobs, so programs can only be scheduled in their free time. Because they aren't paid, some parents complain that groupmembers stay out all day and return home without a single paisa.

But they are not giving up. In fact, members have bigger ideas. They plan to organise a region-wide campaign to make vets and pharmacies more attentive to who is buying pesticides and why. Knowing that women also need to be active participants in their efforts, the group is planning a fun, conservation-related Tij activity. And further afield, it wants to organise mobile street-plays along the highway from Bharatpur to Hetauda, which skirts the park.
For the moment, due to the greatly reduced number of rhinos in the park (see: 'The no-horned Asiatic rhinoceros', #258) the dedicated group is focusing on saving this highly endangered species.

We accompanied the regional head of the campaign, Rishi Gurung, on his door-to-door awareness drive. He sits down in the veranda of a mud house telling a woman about the benefits of the Milijuli Community Forest near the village and warning her about suspicious-looking strangers. The woman nods her head but says she wasn't even aware of the community forest even though she lives right across from it.

Gurung tells her: "We need to conserve nature not just for tourism but for ourselves and our livelihoods. All plants and animals are important."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)