Spiny babbler tourism


Carston Involson from Denmark arrived in Kathmandu in the first week of January. Recently retired from the Danish government service, his objective in coming to Nepal was an unusual one.

He wanted to see the spiny babbler in its natural habitat. Involson went to the World Peace Stupa in Pokhara with Sanjeev Acharya, a bird researcher from Himalayan Nature, and observed the only bird species indigenous to Nepal to his heart’s content. He was ecstatic.

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Hundreds of other birders come to Nepal just to see the rare spiny babbler, which is found nowhere else in the world. It was first recorded as a species by British resident in Kathmandu Brian Houghton Hodgson, who in 1830 gave it the Latin name Timalia nipalensis.

At the time, Edward Blyth – remembered as the father of Indian ornithology – was curator of the zoological museum in Calcutta. In 1855, he determined that the bird Hodgson had described was of not the Timalia but the Acanthoptila species. At one time the spiny babbler was also called Turdoides nipalensis, though today most scientists agree on Acanthoptila nipalensis.

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The spiny babbler is on the endangered list, and lives at 1,500-2,135m elevation in summer and at 500-1,830m in winter. It normally stays in  thick bush, away from farmlands. According to The Status of Nepal’s Birds: The National Red List Series Volume VI, spiny babblers have been found all over Nepal, from Taplejung in the east to Baitadi in the west. They are frequently seen around Khaptad National Park and in Pokhara after the spread of community forestry. But there have been no detailed studies about its numbers.

Hodgson first found the bird in Kathmandu Valley. In an article titled Notes on the Spiny Babbler, Acanthoptila Nipalensis (Hodgson) in Kathmandu Valley, published in Journal of Bombay Natural History, D Proud mentions that the spiny babbler was found abundantly in Kathmandu Valley until 1950. Due to rapid urbanisation, that is no longer the case.

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Protecting Nepal’s birds is not just good for the planet’s biodiversity, but also for Nepal’s tourism so as to attract enthusiasts like Involson.

Kamal Maden is a botanist and biodiversity researcher.