Conservation and Environment in Nepal: Monthly Updates
Conservation in Nepal - Monthly Update - June-July 2014
This month we have been hard at work and even the onset of the monsoon season could not dampen our spirits. Volunteers and staff alike have been hard at work and we have started an exciting new herpetology project, continued our pioneering sensor camera research and been able to add some new birds to our ever growing species list. If that was not enough, volunteers had time to immerse themselves in some local culture with a colourful festival that we all enjoyed…..
Reptiles and amphibian survey
This is a new project that started in July. We try to catch the amphibians, by doing opportunistic and nocturnal surveys and setting up pitfall traps. We place the traps in an area where we think many of them will live, for example close to water. This way we found the Marbled cascade frog (Amolops marmoratus), but even when we don’t find any animals, it is useful to us, “No data is still data”. When we don’t catch anything in a pitfall trap, we need to find out what the reason is. Also by moving the pitfall traps, we can collect more data. In the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) there were recorded 40 species of reptiles, among those 40 species we discovered 9 species so far in this month. For the amphibians, there were 27 species recorded, we have recorded 6 species in this month. All specimens are photographed closely to be identified to species level and then safely returned to where they were found.
Excitingly just last week local workers digging the foundations of a building uncovered a snake nest! Most of the eggs were destroyed unfortunately, although 4 eggs remained intact. From examination of the snake foetus inside we could see that the snakes were quite developed, they had eyes and were quite long. They did not have teeth though or an egg tooth which they use to break out of the egg when they are ready to hatch. From this we could tell that the eggs needed at least another couple of weeks before they could hatch. The four intact eggs that remained we took and are now trying to incubate ourselves in the hope they survive! If they hatch we will release them back into the wild.
We try to locate the birds by doing opportunistic search and using the MacKinnon method. This means that when we try to locate 10 different bird species in a site using call identification and sightings. When we have found the ten we move on to another site to find the next 10 species over there. There are 240 species recorded in the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) and two new ones were found since July, namely the Pied cuckoo (Clamator jacobinus) and the emerald dove (Chalcophaps indica). These new species were officially confirmed by our resident ornithologist Seejan Gyawali.
For the mammal survey, we went out for a full day trek to place camera traps at an altitude of 2800 to 3000 meters. On the video, we saw some rare species like the common leopard (Panthera pardus) and the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). But 90% of the animals on the videos were buffaloes. In Nepal the buffalo has been domesticated for hundreds of years and are raised like cattle. This large number so far from the village is surprising and could be an indication that the herd size in the area should be reduced or at least stabilised. We also placed camera traps at an altitude of 1200 metres, were we found Sumatran Serow (Capricornis sumatraensis), barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak), large Indian civet (Viverra zibetha) and the Assamese macaque (Macaca assamensis). During the mammal surveying we also unfortunately encountered a poacher’s trap which was probably left to trap barking deer a protected species in ACAP. The trap was given into the authorities in ACAP and they will eventually destroy it and try to find who owned it.
Discovery of dead leopard
Even more tragic was the discovery of a dead leopard. It was found about a 25 minute hike from the village behind the reservoir. It was a young female animal about 2 or 3 years old. It is unclear if she died from disease or poison. Although it was very upsetting to see such a creature dead it was very interesting to be so close to such an animal and be able to be so close to the top predator in the area. The carcass was removed by ACAP again and will be buried so that no one can profit from the death of the animal through its skin.
We also have a Nursery project where we grow our own organic vegetables. Mainly volunteers are involved from the beginning i.e. from preparing the nursery field to the harvesting or in distributing the small saplings to the local villagers. The saplings mainly include pumpkins, cabbages, cauliflowers, spinach and cucumbers. For this project, we own a greenhouse, where we grow all kinds of vegetables, like carrots and pumpkins. The vegetable saplings are given to the local farmers and, of course, we also enjoy eating from the organic vegetables from the garden.
This is an upcoming project for the end of July and September. Now it is still too wet and the butterflies are not fully developed yet. When the survey starts, we will try to catch the butterflies with a net, take a photo and identify them. Currently we have seen many different kinds of caterpillar in the area which is a good indication of a good survey season to follow!
Festival in the village
“Toh-tei" is a Gurung festival which is celebrated twice a year, once during the last Tuesday of the Nepali calendar’s 5th Month and secondly on the last Tuesday of the Nepali calendar’s 12th Month.
This festival is celebrated to free the village of evil spirits, protect the village from those evil spirits and for the goodness of the village and villagers.
During this festival, most of the participants dressed up in their traditional Gurung costumes and walk around the village with drums and other traditional musical instruments. The festival starts with the burning of the incense powder in the fire pot by the elder of the village. Afterwards the participants go around the village with the musical instruments playing. The festival is always concluded by the sacrifice of the rooster (the blood - believed to be given to the evil spirit) and the meat will be eaten by one particular section of the village each time.
Volunteers participated in the festival along with the villagers and had a quite fun time in experiencing the local culture and festival.
As we continue our hard work in the magnificent backdrop of the Nepalese Himalayas I look forward to bringing you more news from the mountains next time…..