A group of young people in Nepal is developing a new science-driven conservation community, mentoring young conservationists, conducting research training, advocating for the better conservation policies, reaching to the grassroots communities to respond emerging conservation challenges.
This all started nine years ago, when I and my nine colleagues tried to enter the Singh Durbar, a palace complex in the centre of Kathmandu, housing most of the ministries and high-level officers of the Government of Nepal. We were outraged by massive ongoing poaching of One-horned rhinos, and the silence of the government on corruption cases related to the rhino investigations. We wanted to meet the Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Means, which is responsible for conservation-related issues in the parliament. It was privileged to lead; the National Youth Alliance for Rhino Conservation which formed as a youth wing of Team for Nature and Wildlife.
Our main aim was to bring attention to the poaching of one-horned rhinos and to educate, inspire and engage youth in raising their voices on rhino conservation. At that time, we lacked both the capacity and resources to organize ‘big’ events with concerned stakeholders. Even if we managed to organize via fundraising, we were sceptical that the authorities would listen to us as university students, with nothing but willpower. Instead, we tried a simple yet innovative approach, including writing letters to the editors of the major national dailies, visiting various colleges and universities, and organizing rallies.
After doing so for a few months, people started to listen to us and we were able to organize events at the Nepal Bar Association and the Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists. We also succeeded in holding a series of meetings with the chair of Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Means: Shanta Chaudhary and Attorney General Dr Yubaraj Sangroula. Most importantly, we filed a case in the Supreme Court demanding investigations on the corruption issues, and stiff penalties for poachers and traders. The small movement of university students tremendously contributed to sensitize the concerned stakeholders to act, achieving the zero poachings of the rhinos in Chitwan National Park, Nepal.
Rhino poaching was one of the many conservation challenges that Nepal was facing then but there were other issues that needed similar attention. From our previous experience of the rhino conservation movement, we had realized the gravity of youth-led action. We formed a science-driven non-profit organization called Greenhood Nepal in order to lead effective human dimensions of nature conservation, including through public education, policy engagement, capacity-building and civic action across Nepal.
Currently, we are conducting cutting-edge research, training new conservation community to understand the complex conservation problems that Nepal is facing. At the same time, we are educating the general public to policymakers via Conservation School and policy events and media outreach respectively. Conservation School aware and empowers frontline communities to conserve endangered species and their habitat. We also provide intelligence and training to the enforcement agencies to curb poaching and illegal wildlife trade.
One of our ongoing impactful initiatives is scaling up pangolin conservation in Nepal. In this program, we organize an annual roundtable on pangolin inviting government, enforcement, researchers, and other conservation agencies to discuss the recent status and challenges of pangolin. We share all the information by using #NepalPangolin. The first-ever roundtable 2015 concluded by recommending a national survey and conservation action plan for the pangolin. The roundtable turned out quite effective as it brings the community to the government on the same table. Consequently, both national survey and conservation action plan for pangolins seen on the table during roundtable 2017. The Roundtable on Pangolin is still continuing and reaching to the key communities who are living with pangolins in Nepal.
Another very impactful project is conservation of Taxus mairei which is globally threatened and exploited for its cancer-curing properties. Similarly, we are also working to conserve other threatened species i.e. turtle, orchids and more. Further, we are developing a new conservation community through Nepal Conservation Research Fellowship, supporting to design robust research projects that help to deliver conservation outcomes and their professional goals.
When we started none of us had a university degree in conservation, we lacked financial resources, as well as technical support, which we still do. It was very difficult to convince people that the conservation of endangered species is important when they have other priorities just to fulfil their basic needs. Yet, we did not loose our hope and continuing the range of conservation initiatives: research, public-engagement mentorship, capacity building.
The climate is changing, population and greed of people are increasing, access to the natural resources are never easy than today, many wildlife are on the verge of extinction and there is increasing conflict between people and wildlife, and nature and development. Yet, we believe conserving nature can make a difference in people’s lives, it is also possible to co-exist with nature and thrive. After all, the world cannot afford to ruin the set up that governs and supports our own life system.