Young Nepali activists protect pangolins
Four years ago, teenager Anish Magar heard about a pangolin being killed close to his home in Yangshila, in the forested Chure Hills of eastern Nepal.
At the time the village community leaders and local organisations urged the youngsters to actively start to raise awareness so they would not poach the rare and elusive animals, the most trafficked mammal in the world.
Pangolins are shy, nocturnal scaly mammals that look like reptiles. They quietly function as ecosystem engineers, burrowing under the soil, eating termites and other harmful insects. But pangolin scales and meat are prized in Chinese traditional cosmetics, and they are smuggled from Africa and South Asia to China by the tens of thousands.
Yangshila is located in the Chure Hills up to 1,950m elevation. Due to its topographic and climatic variation, it is home to rich biodiversity including over 500 plant species and three of the most endangered mammals, reptiles and trees — pangolins, the golden monitor lizard and rosewood.
After Yangshila, the youth team with Ganga Limbu as the team leader and Shristy Thapa, Sushila Bishwakarma, Nishan Bista and Sabita Bhujel as the pangolin fellows.
The members went from community to community conducting pangolin classes in local schools, where the most popular item was always the Jackie Chan Kung-fu Pangolin video. The awareness had an immediate impact, it fired the imagination of students, including 13-year-old Khadga Bahadur Magar.
The boy was returning home from school one day when he saw a family of pangolins scurrying towards the Budhikhola River. Worried that they would be poached, he quietly scooped them up and released them at a location where they could not be seen.
The boy then guarded the pangolin burrow, spending precious time on conservation that could have been spent on earning to augment his family income.
So, last year on World Pangolin Day on 20 February young Khadga Bahadur Magar received the ‘Young Pangolin Protector Award’ from the chief guest Province 1 Minister of Industry, Tourism, Forest and Environment Jagdish Kusayait.
Supported by experts and zoologists, the young group then got in touch with 16 community forest user groups and students in seven community schools. Using their multimedia campaign, they informed locals about the role of pangolins in nature, the condition of their habitat and the reason behind their decreasing numbers, and about poaching laws.
“If you had done this workshop before, then we would’ve saved more pangolins, but I promise from now on to ensure that in our community forests pangolins will be protected,” Ghanshyam Paudel, Chairperson of Ekata Community Forest User Group told the young activists.
This year, the group provided grants and awards to the community forests that had helped spread awareness about pangolin protection. The activity did not just help in conservation, but its young members also learnt basic photography and filmmaking techniques. Called 'Scrappy News Reporting', they interviewed local people and edited the videos on indigenous knowledge about nature conservation in Kerabari of eastern Nepal.
The role of biodiversity conservation is seen as the job for experts, PhD holders, or foreign consultants. This pangolin conservation initiative has shown that young local activists can be more persuasive in spreading the conservation message.