Rumbles in the jungle

04 April 2011 | News story

Naresh Subedi, Nepal

Office? The jungle. Colleagues? Elephants, rhinos and tigers. Naresh Subedi has many stories to tell. Stories that are not only fascinating and impressive but that can also make your hair stand on end.

Naresh Subedi works to save Nepal’s wildlife. He studies and monitors animals such as rhinos and tigers, and actively involves local communities in conservation.

Naresh is currently involved in carrying out a rhino census in the Chitwan National Park, which has the second largest population of greater one-horned rhino in the world. He recently fitted radio collars on eight rhinos living in the park and now conducts regular patrols to monitor their movements. This often means spending the whole night in the park, which is also home to tigers, elephants and gharials.

The main purpose of this work is to study the impact that Mikania micrantha, a major invasive species in Nepal, has on rhinos. Mikania micrantha grows on plants that make up the diet of rhinos, blocking the sunlight that those plants need to survive.

“Mikania is ranked as one of the most invasive plants in the world,” says Naresh. "It can smother and choke other plants and it causes soil erosion. No single technique has yet proved effective to control it”.

Naresh and his team perform 24-hour rhino tracking sessions, riding captive elephants. This way they can clearly see the devastating impact of Mikania: they notice huge trees that have been completely covered by the weed and now lie dead beneath it.

Sitting on the elephant’s back, Naresh and his team can also see how rhinos use Mikania-infested habitats. They can find out whether the spread of Mikania is forcing rhinos to move to new areas of the park, or worse, to leave the park in search of new sources of food.

This mode of transportation in the jungle didn’t use to pose any problems in the past, when there were no wild elephants in the park. But today, there are 30 to 40 wild elephants which make rhino tracking extremely dangerous.

“I was recently tracking a rhino on top of a captive elephant, Mahout, which suddenly gave a sign of danger”, says Naresh. “While we were looking around I noticed a big wild bull elephant approaching us. Mahout and I were very scared as a bull elephant had already killed five local people in the southern part of the Chitwan park. Fortunately, the bull was very gentle and I discovered that it was not the same animal. He followed us to our camp and stayed there for the whole night, together with the captive elephants. We never tried to disturb him and we kept quiet, which may have been the reason why he didn’t attack us. I have still many years to work in the jungle for conservation and no elephant or tiger should hurt me!”

Apart from rhinos, Naresh is also involved in tracking other animals. Last year he took part in a tiger census in the Chitwan National Park where 125 - a very encouraging number - of adult breeding tigers were tracked. He also supports anti-poaching activities, addresses human wildlife conflict issues and carries out conservation education work in the vicinity of the park.

Naresh Subedi works for IUCN Member organization, National Trust for Nature Conservation, often in partnership with other national and international institutions, as well as local communities.

Naresh can be contacted at nareshsubedi@gmail.com


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