Rolpa: A Future Hub for Ecotourism and Red Panda Conservation
Red Panda Network (RPN) is well into its second year of expanding programs into Western Nepal and the local response has been encouraging as people begin to see the livelihood benefits of conservation.
The mountain forests of Western Nepal are particularly important as they constitute more than half of the habitat available to red pandas in the country. In 2017, RPN launched conservation programs in Jumla, Jajarkot and Kalikot districts and is now in the process of extending to Dolpa, Rukum (East and West), and Rolpa.
To kickoff efforts in Rolpa (Thursday, March 7th) RPN organized a workshop, ‘Community-based Red Panda Conservation in Western Nepal’. The event was held in the district headquarters of Liwang and was coordinated in collaboration with the Human Rights Awareness Centre (HURAC-Nepal), RPN’s local partner organization in Rolpa. In attendance were representatives from the local District Coordination Committee, Sunchahari rural municipality, Divisional Forest Office (DFO), HURAC-Nepal, Rural Development and Awareness Society, and RPN. Attendees shared project information and discussed objectives.
Presently, forests are highly fragmented in Nepal’s western complex. “The project will help to improve habitat connectivity through sustainable forest management,” said Saroj Shrestha, RPN’s Project Coordinator. He stresses the need for more data on red panda distribution and status of habitat in this region.
The first presence of red pandas in the Rolpa district (along with a study on parasitic infections) was confirmed by RPN in 2013. A national baseline survey conducted by RPN in 2016 estimated that nearly 53 percent of the country’s total red panda habitat is located in Western Nepal. A total of 24 districts reported the presence of red pandas during the survey.
“Rolpa has the potential to become an ecotourism hub,” stated DFO officer, Krishna Prasad Dhakal, during the inception workshop. Krishna continues, “if we protect the red pandas.” He went on to state that the DFO is committed to cooperating in any way needed to achieve conservation goals.
Another workshop participant, Ash Bahadur Gurung, chairperson of Sunchahari Rural Municipality in Rolpa emphasized the need for collaborative awareness-building programs. “In some villages, people might kill and eat wildlife—including red panda—out of ignorance. We need to reach out and help them to understand the importance of rare wildlife found inside their forests,” Gurung said.
Ecotourism initiatives can make a huge impact when it comes to conservation. RPN’s red panda eco-trips create income for local families as travelers utilize homestay and nature guide services. These new sources of livelihood support are becoming sustainable alternatives to activities that exploit and degrade the forests. As the local economy strengthens a culture of environmental stewardship begins to flourish as people experience the benefits of conservation.
The two and a half year project launched in Rolpa will begin in two rural municipalities: Thawang and Sunchahari. RPN’s community-based red panda conservation project will also be initiated in neighboring Dolpa, Rukum-West and Rukum-East districts this year. These four districts increase RPN’s project coverage to seven districts in Western Nepal.
About the Community Based Red Panda Conservation Project
In collaboration with local partner organizations, RPN began implementing the Community-based Red Panda Conservation Project in Western Nepal in 2017. Activities began in Jumla district, followed by Jajarkot and Kalikot in 2018. This project is now being expanding to four additional districts in Western Nepal: Dolpa, Rolpa, Rukum-East and Rukum-West. RPN’s major objectives in this area are to improve the status of red panda populations through community engagement, threat mitigation, and habitat restoration. Various interventions, ranging from conducting a detailed baseline study of red panda distribution and habitat, a school outreach campaign, awareness-building, sustainable forest management and promotion of sustainable livelihood alternatives—this includes improved cooking stoves, ecotourism, and organic farming—will be carried out in active participation with local communities.
Media workshop on combating wildlife crime.
On March 7th, 2019, RPN organized a half-day workshop on illegal wildlife crime for journalists and media staff in Liwang, Rolpa district. RPN worked alongside HURAC-Nepal in hosting 12 representatives from local and national media outlets. The meeting focused on illegal wildlife trade in Western Nepal and the role of media in reporting wildlife issues.
Workshop participants raised the issue of lack of red panda awareness and understanding of the species’ endangered status among rural communities in Nepal. They talked about how hunting wildlife for meat is common in many villages located in red panda habitat in Rolpa and neighboring districts. “Majority of the households use homemade guns and traps for hunting on a daily basis. Red pandas are among the wildlife hunted,” said Khem Budha Magar, a reporter with Annapurna Post.
They talked about the incident involving two orphaned red panda cubs raised by Lahari and Man Budhamagar of Rolpa District in 2016.
Throughout the event, it was clear that attendees were interested in and passionate about reporting on wildlife crime and conservation. They also expressed their support for RPN initiatives such as ecotourism. “This workshop was important for understanding wildlife crime in Western Nepal. We hope to collaborate and cooperate with RPN to raise awareness of this issue,” said Mahesh Neupane, chairperson of Rolpa chapter of Federation of Nepali Journalists.
Red Panda Network