'Conflict and Conservation' is what I was assigned to photograph in my recent 9 days (26 Oct - 3 Nov, 2005) trip to Royal Chitwan National Park and Parsa Wildlife Reserve. Focus of this research trip was in finding out impact on wildlife and conservation, (especially National Parks and Wildlife Reserve) because of ongoing conflict between Maoist and the Government. Needless to say, it's a vital issue and mere 9 days was not ample time to go in depth but we did our best to reach to the roots. We were two (Reporter/Journalist Gopal Tiwari and I) in the team and we had no forecasted plan. Even we have had all necessary official documents and Press identity, we never know how things rolls up. We had to reach local communities and visit places where general people have no access. Moreover traveling outsides Kathmandu valley is a different story now. It is not easy as it used to be few years back. All these circumstances made this trip adventurous one and I got so many new experiences to cash in.
During the trip I witnessed how conflict directly and indirectly affected on Wildlife Conservation of Nepal. Nepal is rich in biodiversity and natural beauty because of its unique geographical location and variation in altitude. It has contributed remarkable to the conservation of global biodiversity. More than 19 percent of the country's landmass has been set aside for perpetual conservation purposes but it's very sad to see these treasure being destroyed because of the conflict.
Conservation activities, being cared out with people's participation, have been interrupted following the lunch of a Maoist insurgency and ensuing conflict since March 13, 1996. Maoist's destruction of physical infrastructure and growing human casualties as a result of the armed conflict, the authorities is charge of the protected areas started merging the affected guard posts and the sector offices with the respective headquarters. This precautionary step has left the field posts unattended. Similarly, the Royal Nepalese Army began reorganizing its guard posts to avoid possible destruction. The conservation staff and security personnel have abandoned the territory. Consequently, illegal hunting, collection of plants having medicinal value and deforestation have increased in some regions. On the other hand a positive gesture, the presence of the security forces and Maoist rebels in the jungle has discouraged smugglers and poachers. In addition, the Maoists have been expressing their commitment to bio-diversity conservation. However, they seem to be doing this for their own benefit and in contravention of the government laws.
This has led to an increase in the poaching of wild animals, deforestation and illegal trading in medicinal plants. The conflict has also indirectly influenced tourism and agriculture, pushing the country's economy on the brink.
Besides these findings, I have so many other memorable stories to cherish. One night during the trip we had to face one of the deadliest mosquitoes attack ever in life. Gosh! It felt like I had lost huge amount of my blood and it was so itchy. Inside Royal Chitwan National Park, while going to shoot pictures of Dhoba Post that was blown away by Maoist, we encountered with Rhino and we ran like hell. Rhino chased us more then 100 meters and thanks to an experienced local Tharu Men, who saved us. That was a 'close call' indeed. After taking rest across Reu River we approached other non-bushy route to reach the post.
On our jungle walk, we saw many wild animals, Rhesus monkey, Common langur, Sambhar, Hog deer, Chital, Wild boar, etc roaming freely and it was exciting. I even had this opportunity to stare an elusive Royal Bengal tiger by just half foot away, which was kept in an enclosure at the Kasara Headquarter. A short walk (1km.) from Kasara there is Gharial Breeding Center, Which is also home to the Mugger crocodile and a number of turtles. Visit to the Gharial breeding center with Cheese Kumar dai (a Game-scout) was very informative. We even made fun and laughed regarding his name 'Cheese'. Finding fresh tiger footmarks deep in the forest was scary but I didn't admit about it. Ha..ha.
Strolling through countless Tharu villages was a beautiful experience. Their living style and religious/cultural sure has so many ethical values to preserve. Tharu are the main indigenous ethnic group in Chitwan. They are well known for their resistance to malaria. Traditionally they are farmers and practice their own unique tribal religion. One thing I didn't like about Tharu Men is that they drink locally made wine (Rakshi) often and a lot.
We had hard time finding meals and once we had to sustain a whole day on 2 boiled eggs. All these experience taught me to be better prepared and what stuffs should I be equipped with while going on such trips. Needless to tell that traveling is the best way to learn many things. Still there are so many knowledge that I have gained about my Nepal, my Culture, my Village and lot more. I will be more than just happy to share whatever knowledge I gained wherever I go via this blogging. And yes of course will be uploading many pictures from this memorable trip there in my online photo album.
In the end let me say, small though it may be in size, Nepal nevertheless possesses a natural affluence that is truly spectacular. From the flatlands of the Terai in the south to the magnificent snow capped Himalayas in the north, the Kingdom harbors an amazing variety of flora and fauna, forming ecosystems that are remarkable, and some that are unique to this land. Lets not loose our hope to preserve it.
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