- Date: June 19, 2013
- Author: Shubash Lohani, Deputy Director for the Eastern Himalaya Ecoregion Program
I was born in Nepal, in a village adjacent to Chitwan National Park, one of the few places on earth where you can find rhinos, elephants, and tigers in the same landscape.
It was there that I developed my love of nature. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of swimming in the river and picking fruit on the edges of the park. There were a lot of wild animals about, which was thrilling to me as a child.
Helping animals and people
My mother’s family had a farm just outside the park boundary and my father’s brother used to run a tourist lodge about 10 miles west of the farm, also on the edge of the park. When rhinos would visit the local villages at night, my mother's brother had to guard his fields and chase the animals away. In contrast, my father’s brother was always happy when the rhinos came because the hotel guests were so excited to see them.
I was confused by my uncles’ attitudes. One hated the rhinos and one loved them. Why were there two such starkly different views of the same animal? Even back then, I thought I might like to eventually work on creating better relationships between animals and people.
Today, that is exactly what I do at WWF. As part of our Eastern Himalayas program, I help find solutions that protect wildlife and also bring benefits to local communities in Nepal, Northeast India, and Bhutan.
Bringing back the forest
Across its diverse landscape—from high mountains to tall grasslands—the Eastern Himalayan region is home to iconic species such as the snow leopard, Bengal tiger, elephants, and one-horned rhino, as well as millions of people. Seven of Asia’s major rivers originate in the Himalayas, providing freshwater to millions and sustaining vital ecosystems. The area’s natural resources are under tremendous pressure, so WWF has been working with local governments and communities for the last five decades to secure the natural heritage and promote sustainable development of the region.
I am so proud when I witness our success in this mission. On a hot summer day in 2009, I visited a WWF forest restoration project in a village near Bardiya National Park in southwest Nepal. As we stood in the reconstructed forest—a wildlife corridor connecting protected areas of Nepal and India—the chairman of that community forest told me how 10 years prior, the area was only a soccer field.
WWF approached the community in 2001 about creating the restoration program. At the time, the forest was so degraded that the community had trouble finding firewood and the connectivity between the parks was in verge of breaking. With support from the community, WWF initiated a program that included helping the community start income-generating activities and install alternative energy technologies.
Now that once-degraded forest is again lush and healthy. Communities have a sustainable source of forest products, and their lives have been transformed through various eco-enterprises and adoption of alternative energy. And now that wildlife like rhinos and tigers have returned, local people can gain even more income through ecotourism.
Seeing how our work impacts people’s lives gives me a wonderful sense of fulfillment. I am sure that we are doing the right thing, and this is why I do the work I do in the Eastern Himalayas, a place that is so much more than just my home.