A pheasant uprising in Nepal
The Impeyan Pheasant, Nepal’s national bird, and the Blood Pheasant are protected species, so Nepalis are taking to rearing other wild fowl as a healthy alternative to poultry.
The Danfe, Monal and other jungle fowl are still illegally hunted, but increased demand during the pandemic has led entrepreneurs to raise कालिज pheasant with varying degrees of success.
Ashish Upadhyay worked in Qatar for 11 years before returning to Nepal with the idea of starting a pheasant farm. With three friends he set up Kalpit Wildlife Agro Centre in Bhaktapur five years ago.
The company imported 4,000 Ringed-neck Pheasant eggs from the Czech Republic at Rs2,000 each. But due to lack of specialised knowhow, only 400 of the eggs hatched, and it was difficult to keep the birds alive in captivity.
Learning by trial and error and with careful tending, Upadhyay’s farm now has over 1,000 pheasants on half-hectare farm, and is selling to customers in the capital.
Nepalis have traditionally sought pheasant meat as an immunity-boosting diet for convalescing patients, which is why demand shot up during the pandemic and jungle fowl were poached in the forests surrounding Kathmandu.
“During the pandemic, demand for pheasant meat rose and with economy of scale our farm can be commercially viable,” says Upadhya, showing a visitor around enclosures alive with foraging Ringed-necks.
Dhruva Thapa is another entrepreneur who actually trained as a poultry farmer overseas and brought back pheasant eggs from France to start his Tulsikunj Eco and Wild Village in Pokhara.
Like Upadhyay, it was not easy in the beginning. And Thapa’s farm at the edge of the forest was raided by a leopard one day, and he lost most of the birds he had carefully raised.
But business has rebounded, and he now has 10,000 pheasants in a 1.5 hectare farm outside Pokhara where he has added a swimming pool and restaurant specialising in pheasant dishes.
The Ring-necked Pheasant has seven subspecies, and is the bird that does best in captivity. Other wild fowl have an even lower survival rate.
Unlike chicken, which require specialised feed, pheasants forage on soil, weeds, and insects such as grasshoppers. They therefore need a greater area with plenty of trees and shrubbery, and cannot be crammed into sheds like chicken in broiler factories.
Also unlike chicken, pheasants need to fly, which means the enclosures need sky-nets. A fully-grown pheasant weighs up to two kilograms, and is ready for sale at 6 months for Rs2,500 each. Females begin to lay eggs from nine months.
Nepal’s pioneering pheasant farmers warn that the business is not as easy as poultry, the return on investment is not as assured, and insurance is an issue. They say pheasants are still protected species, and government policies do not make a distinction between wild and farmed birds.
Nirmal Nepal of Tulsipur invested Rs10 million to buy 1,000 pheasant eggs from Belgium four years ago. But because all his knowhow came from watching YouTube tutorials, he lost half of his chicks to the cold.
“I was inexperienced and did not know enough in the beginning,” admits Nepal, whose flock has now grown to 10,000 pheasants.
Ironically the success of independent pheasant farmers across Nepal has also brought down the price for chicks. Newly-hatched chicks now sell for only Rs500, down from Rs1,500 four years ago.
“I used to get orders from as far away as Ilam and Doti, but I have stopped selling them. It’s just not worth it,” says Nepal.
According to the Company Registrar, there are nearly 8,000 commercial poultry farms across the country, and only four of them are formally registered to raise pheasants.
What would help would be trainers and professionals specialising in pheasant farming. Veterinarians tend to treat pheasants like they would chicken, even though the two species are completely different.
“There is neither feed nor required medical resources for pheasants in the market,” says Baburam Shrestha, a farmer in Butwal who trained to raise poultry in France and Italy and is now also raising pheasants.
“Production has increased with the increase in pheasant farmers, but the market is still limited,” adds Shrestha, who also complains of falling prices for both chicks and meat.
“Although it might look like business is profitable, that is actually not the case yet.”
Shrestha has had to improvise as he goes along, experimenting with different types of pheasant feed after he was unable to find a supplier for the proper product. Other pheasant farmers simply feed their birds what they give their chicken.
Shrestha is among the earliest pheasant farmers in Nepal, and in 2017 became the first farmer to get a permit to raise pheasants. But it was a nine-month process because government agencies had no knowledge or policies about pheasant farming.
"When we got the permit, it was under the condition that we only sell live birds, and that too only to other poultry farms,” Shrestha recalls.
Although it is registered as an industry, pheasant farmers struggle to get approval from the Department of Forests, Department of Livestock Services, or the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.
Indeed, Nepal’s National Parks and Wildlife Protection Act 1973 stipulates that the study, research, breeding and rearing of wildlife like jungle fowl require conservation permits.
By law, individuals or organisations seeking to raise and breed wild animals commercially are required to prepare a detailed business and action plan along with their application, following which a technical committee evaluates the proposal.
There is even confusion over which government agency is supposed to licence pheasant farming, which has led most farmers to register their business either at the company registrar's office or the Department of Cottage and Small Industries.
Even though the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Department has a legal provision to permit pheasant rearing, there are no standards in place for the government to grant permission to pheasant farmers.
Forest Ministry spokesperson Meghnath Kafle says that standards related to wildlife rearing, breeding, sale and distribution are finally being drawn up.
But Nepal’s pheasant farmers are not waiting for the government to get its act together to formulate regulation, they are going ahead to make the business viable.