• Human Lives Transformed Through Red Panda Conservation

    They ​are the heart of our community-based initiatives in Nepal. This is the tale of three Forest Guardians.

    It starts with Bimala Moktan.

    Bimala was 24 when she joined Red Panda Network's (RPN) national Forest Guardian (FG) team. Her uncle, Deu Prakash Tamang, had been an FG since 2006 and was among the first selected by RPN. In 2015, Tamang led a team of villagers to chase four poachers who had trapped a live red panda. They were able to free the animal from the poachers and release it back into the wild.

    Tamang later stepped down so a new generation could protect the forest, and Bimala wanted to follow in his footsteps.

    Bimala is from Prangbung village in Panchthar district, Eastern Nepal. Forests play an integral role in the lives of people in Prangbung. Villagers enter forests frequently to collect firewood for cooking, graze livestock and harvest medicinal herbs and Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs). Bimala began to notice the landscape that surrounded her village was becoming deforested and degraded.

    “The need to save our forests and the wildlife that lives there is no longer deniable,” said Bimala during an interview with RPN staff.

    ​Forest Guardian, Bimala Moktan.
    ​Forest Guardian, Bimala Moktan.

    Tamang later stepped down so a new generation could protect the forest, and Bimala wanted to follow in his footsteps.

    Bimala is from Prangbung village in Panchthar district, Eastern Nepal. Forests play an integral role in the lives of people in Prangbung. Villagers enter forests frequently to collect firewood for cooking, graze livestock and harvest medicinal herbs and Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs). Bimala began to notice the landscape that surrounded her village was becoming deforested and degraded.

    “The need to save our forests and the wildlife that lives there is no longer deniable,” said Bimala during an interview with RPN staff.

    Ngima Sherpa is from Dobato in Ilam district. Like Bimala, his village is remote, rural and heavily dependent on forest resources. It is also part of the Panchthar-Ilam-Taplejung (PIT) corridor which is home to 25% of Nepal's endangered red panda population. This region in Eastern Nepal is where RPN has developed a community-based model for conservation and is establishing the PIT Red Panda Protected Forest: the world's first protected area dedicated to red panda!

    Ngima has been a member of our FG team since 2014. He's been instrumental in a number of projects including mammal camera trapping in the PIT corridor, Plant A Red Panda Home, and our GPS-satellite collar study as a red panda tracker.

    Forest Guardian, Ngima Sherpa.
    Forest Guardian, Ngima Sherpa.
    ​Red panda with GPS collar.  © James Houston/Red Panda Network
    ​Red panda with GPS collar. © James Houston/Red Panda Network

    The third FG is Menuka Bhattarai: The Firefox Guardian.

    Menuka is RPN's first female Forest Guardian and the focus of the award-winning documentary The Firefox Guardian. She is from Phawakhola village in Taplejung, a remote hilly district in Eastern Nepal and one of the major habitats of endangered red pandas.

    According to Menuka, locals didn't know what a red panda was; they threw stones to scare the animal away whenever they entered the village or were spotted in the forest. “We were unaware of the importance of this creature”.

    Forest Guardian, Menuka Bhattarai.
    Forest Guardian, Menuka Bhattarai.

    Menuka joined RPN’s Forest Guardian team about eight years ago. Back then, people would question Menuka and why she is saving an animal they considered harmful. “Poachers used to threaten me. They tried to convince me that there is no use for protecting red panda. Initially, I felt discouraged but eventually I got to know more about red pandas and wanted to work toward their conservation,”.

    She also added how she was taunted for being a girl. “They want all women to work at home. They did not believe I could be a successful Forest Guardian just because I’m a woman,” Menuka shares in The Firefox Guardian film.

    Over the years — thanks to people like you — the perception among local people towards red panda has changed. RPN's outreach programs are informing people as to why they must protect this unique, important and endangered species. Our sustainable livelihood programs are fostering red panda stewardship with viable income streams.

    Now, with over 100 members, the FG program is a powerful example of how red panda conservation can transform the lives of people who live among them.

    Bimala is now 27. In addition to her role as an FG, she also works as a member of the Jaljale Pokhari Community Forest. In Panchthar district, RPN is alleviating pressure on red panda habitat — we are protecting the forests so important to Bimala's home — through distribution of improved cooking stoves, support of sustainable herding practices and nurseries that provide medicinal herbs and NTFPs for local families.

    ​Bimala Moktan and Dipa Rai during 2020 FG training in Panchthar.
    ​Bimala Moktan and Dipa Rai during 2020 FG training in Panchthar.
    The new generation of FGs during 2020 training in Taplejung.
    The new generation of FGs during 2020 training in Taplejung.

    Ten red pandas were collared for Nepal's first-ever red panda GPS-satellite study and one of them was named "Ngima" by the research team. The name means sun and it was in honor of the FG that continues to monitor and protect the red panda's forest habitat in Ilam.

    Ngima stated: "I am very grateful to RPN for their continuous work in conserving endangered species and providing an opportunity to improve my economic level. Community-based programs like these are the future of red panda conservation."

    In Taplejung, Menuka has broken through cultural barriers as an inspiration to women in her village who are passionate about conservation. Thanks to the film The Firefox Guardian, her incredible story has been shared all over the world.

    We would say "The End" but — thanks to our dedicated supporters all over the world — this is just the beginning of people and communities coming together in Nepal to save the last of the first panda.

    red_panda_guardianV3_text

    Bimala was featured in a campaign for our Panda Guardian team of dedicated donors whose monthly support creates sustainable livelihoods for the people living on the frontlines of red panda conservation!