No Trees, No Red Pandas—No life
She witnessed the forests being decimated; now, she fights to protect them as RPN’s first female Forest Guardian in Western Nepal.
Shanti Malla grew up in the rural hills of Dailekh district in Western Nepal. She remembers venturing into the forests to gather fuelwood and graze livestock. Sometimes Malla would cross paths with villagers who were hunting wildlife like barking deer, wild boar and ghoral for meat. The forests were essential to the livelihoods of Dailekh villagers.
At age 17, Malla got married and came to live in Mahawai village in neighboring Kalikot district. Once again, she found herself in a similar scenario where herself, and everyone around her, heavily depended on the forest for their daily needs.
“The forest is our lifeline—I cannot imagine our day-to-day lives without it,” says Malla, “At the same time, this kind of excessive use of resources contributes to forest degradation and loss of wildlife.”
The forests near Mahawai village—along with many districts in Western Nepal—were being decimated by Illegal logging and timber collection. Hunting of wildlife for meat remained unchecked and resources were being extracted at unsustainable rates. “Our water sources began to dry out,” Malla said.
Recognizing the problems, members of Him Kalika Community Forest (HKCF), which covers 241 hectares of land, took steps to revive the disappearing forests. They planted trees on denuded hilltops, appointed locals to protect the forests, and raised awareness about the importance of forests and how to utilize resources sustainably. The community also controlled the movement of people going inside the forests for timber collection and discouraged locals from hunting forest wildlife. Malla was one of the active members of Him Kalika Community Forest User Group (HKCFUG) in Mahawai Rural Municipality.
In 2017, Malla was elected as HKCFUG secretary and two later promoted to become the first female FG in Western Nepal. Red Panda Network (RPN), in collaboration with local partner organizations’ Himalayan Community Resource Development Center (HCRDC) and Human Rights and Environmental Development Center (HuRENDEC) selected Malla as a Forest Guardian (FG) to protect red pandas and their habitat in Kalikot.
We were informed that our forests were home to the endangered red panda, and that this species needed immediate protection,” Malla said. “I wasn’t aware of red pandas; I was curious to know more.”
Malla, along with nine other newly selected FGs (all male members) from five community forests in Kalikot district, took part in a three-day capacity-building training organized by RPN and partner organizations: HCRDC and HuRENDEC. Participants learned the importance of red pandas to the Himalayan ecosystem, wildlife monitoring techniques, and GPS handling. They were taught how to prepare blocks and transects for red panda monitoring. In April of 2019, the newly selected FGs from Kalikot established four monitoring blocks in four community forests.
“I’m really proud to be a part of the FG program. I hope to continue to work to protect forests and help save red pandas,” Malla said.
RPN’s national FG team consists of active members of Community Forest User Groups operating inside red panda range in 10 districts in Nepal. They support red panda conservation through multiple activities, such as monitoring red panda populations and habitat, education and outreach, forest protection, restoration and sustainable management; anti-poaching investigation, and threat identification and mitigation. Most of the forests they work in are located outside of protected areas in Nepal.
In April of this year, RPN celebrated one of the organization’s most significant achievements—reaching 100 FGs in Nepal! The celebration will continue with the replanting of 7 hectares of degraded core red panda habitat in Jajarkot, Jumla and Kalikot districts of Western Nepal.
Out of 100 members, only seven FGs are female.
“The involvement of local women in red panda conservation is pivotal to our success. Unfortunately, due to cultural constraints, we have not been able to hire more female FGs,” says Saroj Shrestha, RPN’s Project Coordinator in Western Nepal. “RPN is committed to changing this." Learn more in the article 'The Changing Role Of Women In Red Panda Conservation.'
Poverty is rife in the rural villages of Western Nepal. In order to support their family, male members migrate to neighboring India in search of menial jobs. This leaves women with the responsibility of taking care of the daily needs of their families.
“We protect forests and wildlife for our children. If there are no trees, there is no life” says Malla.
Click here for more information and opportunities to support our FG program—including sponsorship of Shanti Malla!
Red panda attacked by dogs, rescued by locals
Locals from a rural village in Ilam rescued a red panda that was being chased by stray dogs. The red panda was later released back into its habitat. RPN Forest Guardian led the effort.
Maijogmai Rural Municipality-3 is located in the Himalayan foothills of Eastern Nepal. It is one of six rural municipalities located in Ilam District. This area is also part of the Pancthar-Ilam-Taplejung (PIT) Red Panda Protected Forest.
On Sunday, March 24, at around 5:30 PM, a red panda was being attacked by a gang of stray dogs in Maijogmai Rural Municipality-3. The animal had accidentally entered the village as it was being chased by four dogs until it was rescued by a local named Santosh Rai.
Rai then informed his friend and RPN Forest Guardian, Arjun Rai. “After I received the information about the rescue, I alerted local forest authorities and Community Forest Users Groups (CFUGs). It was already late in the evening when the incident occurred so everyone decided to wait until the next day to release the red panda back to its habitat,” Arjun Rai said.
According to Arjun Rai, the red panda was kept inside a wooden box—where it fed on bamboo leaves—for one night until it was transported by vehicle to a safe location and released into a Community Forest the next day. Local forest authorities and representatives of CFUGs and RPN were present for the release.
Free-roaming dogs (feral, hunting and herding) are a major threat to red pandas in Eastern Nepal. As a result, RPN has been partnering with District Livestock Service Center of Ilam and Taplejung to implement a neutering and rabies vaccination program for local dogs. Learn more in Free-Roaming Dogs: A Major Threat To Red Pandas.
Red panda being released back into habitat. Video by Chhabi Dhakal, Divisional Forest Office, Ilam.
No Panda Pets!
Some at-risk species suffer from a lack of public attention and awareness. In the case of the red panda, too much misguided attention may be doing them harm by encouraging the black market trade of red panda pets.
Recently, reports have surfaced of wild red pandas in cages, presumably captured for the exotic pet trade. In January 2018, six red pandas were rescued from smugglers in Laos, and it’s believed there are other instances of smuggled red pandas that have yet to be detected.
In September 2018, the Red Panda Network launched a comprehensive campaign to halt the illegal trade of red pandas. In addition to exposing the illegal red panda supply chain, a critical part of this effort is educating the public on the reasons why wild red pandas must remain wild, and encouraging them to help us to spread the word so we can cease the demand for red panda pets. (Top photo: Patrick aka Herjolf/Flickr)
Why red pandas shouldn’t be pets
Caring for a red panda is nothing like caring for a dog or cat, red panda expert and conservationist Angela Glaston explained to me in an email.
Red pandas are wild animals built for life outdoors and their nails are made to stay sharp so they can climb and cling to trees. Since their nails don’t retract into their paw pads like the nails of a cat, or quickly become blunt like the nails of a dog, “a red panda in someone’s home or apartment would shred furniture, curtains, and clothes,” Glaston said.
Life as a pet would be hard on a red panda’s health too, as they have thick fur suited to their native habitat and highly specialized diets consisting mostly of fresh bamboo shoots and leaf tips.
“They would be too warm to feel comfortable,” Glaston explained. “A private individual cannot really provide either the accommodation or the diet that they need. Their lives will be shorter and miserable as a pet.”
Moreover, buying a red panda is illegal. “Red pandas are protected by law in the countries where they originate. They may not be captured or killed legally,” Glaston said.
Red pandas are also protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This means a legal certificate must be issued before a red panda can be transported across international boundaries. A legal certificate will be issued if a red panda is going to a zoo as part of a breeding program, but not if they are to be sold as a pet, Glaston explained. “Therefore, any red panda you may buy is illegal.”
How the black market pet trade impacts red panda populations
Little is known about how red pandas are obtained for the black market pet trade, or which groups of red pandas are most vulnerable to the illegal pet trade, Glaston explained.
The potential impact of the black market trade is more certain for the small population of wild red pandas that’s estimated to be as few as 2,500 individuals.
“Even small scale exploitation could wipe out an area of red pandas in their already fragmented habitat,” Glaston said.
How red pandas in zoos differ from red panda pets
Red pandas in zoos play an active role in the conservation of their species. Domesticated pets are isolated (either in a home or apartment, or because they’ve been neutered or spayed) and don’t intermix with their larger population. In contrast, red pandas in zoos are interconnected as part of a worldwide breeding program of more than 600 Nepalese red pandas and 300 Chinese red pandas in zoos outside of China, Glaston explained.
This breeding program is important because it helps maintain genetically diverse, demographically viable, and behaviorally natural populations of the two red panda subspecies, Glaston said.
“They are an educational resource, they help raise funds for conservation, and form a valuable reserve population for reintroduction and restocking should that be necessary,” Glaston said.
“A pet red panda does none of these things,” Glaston continued. “It is not part of any managed population, it does not help raise money for conservation, there is no educational message, and its behavior would be far from natural,”
Any red panda kept as a pet is removed from both wild and captive breeding populations of the species. “Its genetic material is lost to an already depleted wild population,” Glaston said.
How you can help
You can help stop the illegal red panda trade by sharing what you’ve learned here with others, and by being a red panda and zoo advocate.
Few people would want a red panda as a pet if they understood that owning them was harmful for the red panda’s health, and the red panda population as a whole. Educate your family, friends, and the public about the importance of keeping red pandas wild. Let people know it’s illegal to buy a red panda and communicate the harms of removing wild red pandas from already dwindling populations. Helping people understand the disastrous effects of the illegal red panda trade can end the demand for red panda pets.
You can also be a red panda and zoo advocate by teaching others about the important role red pandas in zoos play in conservation efforts and by promoting the Red Panda Network’s #NoPandaPets campaign on social media. If you see a photo or video of red pandas that promotes the idea of having a red panda as a pet, use it as an opportunity to educate others by posting our downloadable Fast Facts #NoPandaPets images in the comments section of the post. This downloadable image contains key facts about the illegal red panda pet trade and why we should keep red pandas wild.
Holly Alyssa MacCormick
Writing and Communications Volunteer
Red Panda Network
Why red pandas shouldn't be pets
Please share these #NoPandaPets images on your social media!
Menuka Bhattarai: The Firefox Guardian
RPN's first female Forest Guardian—and the focus of the award-winning documentary The Firefox Guardian—shares her story and how she fell in love with the endangered red panda.
Just over a decade ago, Menuka Bhattarai was walking through the forest in Eastern Nepal, when a colorful cat-like animal crossed her path and vanished inside the dense forest of bamboo, rhododendron and fig.
“I grew up hearing stories about this fluffy cat-like/fox-like animal which locals believed was responsible for causing damage to crops and livestock. But, I hadn’t seen it myself until that day. I was delighted.” she said.
Bhattarai, a thirty-year-old local from Phawakhola village in Taplejung, a remote hilly district in Eastern Nepal and one of the major habitats of endangered red pandas, shares that the locals—including her—had no idea what a red panda is or that it needed to be protected.
According to Bhattarai locals threw stones to scare away red pandas whenever they entered the village or were spotted in the forest. “We were unaware of the importance of this creature,”.
But things began to change over the years, thanks to the efforts of conservation stakeholders such as Red Panda Network (RPN) in creating awareness of red pandas and reducing threats caused by human disturbances.
Himali Conservation Forum (HCF), a non-governmental organization based in Taplejung has led the charge in raising red panda awareness. Supported by RPN, HCF engages with Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs) in the district to educate locals on the ‘little known’ and ‘misunderstood’ red panda.
HCF works with CFUGs in recommending some of its active members to RPN to be hired and trained as Forest Guardians (FGs)—and Menuka is one of them. RPN has hired 86 locals, including five females, as FGs who are paid to monitor and protect red panda habitat, as well as educate communities on red panda conservation.
“I consider myself an animal lover. When I saw a red panda for the first time, I fell in love with this cute animal. Luckily, I got an opportunity to work as a Forest Guardian for red panda conservation,” Bhattarai says.
Bhattarai joined RPN’s Forest Guardian team about six years ago. Back then, people would question Menuka and why she is saving an animal they considered harmful. “Poachers used to threaten me. They tried to convince me that there is no use for protecting red panda. Initially, I felt discouraged but eventually I got to know more about red pandas and wanted to work toward their conservation,”.
She also added how she was taunted for being a girl. “You should be doing household work and helping your family and not walking in the forests for red pandas,” Bhattarai said, adding, “But, my family members were supportive and let me do my work without any question,”.
Over the years, the perception among local people towards red panda has changed. Awareness campaigns have been organized, information boards installed, and forest users and school children have engaged in various outreach and education activities. In addition, RPN’s ecotourism initiatives have improved the economic status of community members, helping to mobilize them toward red panda conservation efforts.
As an FG, Bhattarai has been monitoring local red panda habitat and raising awareness in the community and schools about the importance of preserving this endangered species.
Pema Sherpa, RPN’s Conservation Coordinator in Eastern Nepal, emphasized poor representation of women in the conservation sector.
“The family environment can be discouraging” she said. According to Sherpa, families are reluctant to allow their female members to work as a FGs as they think going inside the remote forests and walking for hours—sometimes staying overnight—is not something a woman should be doing.
Bhattarai stresses the need for more women FGs to protect the forests. According to her, women are the primary stakeholders of the forests as they spend most of their time in the forest collecting firewood, fuel and fodder for their family.
“I want more women to be part of RPN’s Forest Guardian initiative. They need to be trained and empowered to take necessary steps towards protecting forests,” she said.
Gunjan Menon's The Firefox Guardian is a conservation love story:
Red pandas are a species in peril. But there is a very special community in Eastern Nepal that has come together to protect them. A native of these forests, ‘Menuka Bhattarai,’ is one of only a few women working as a ‘Forest Guardian’ with the Red Panda Network. This is the story of Menuka—an unconventional wildlife warrior—who against all odds is following her heart to save the last of the red pandas.
The Firefox Guardian is an award-winning film, and recently won Best Student Film at the Woodpecker International Film Festival. Menuka's voice has reached seven countries across the globe and has been creating awareness about red pandas.
Filming the Firefox
The Changing Role of Women in Conservation
Learn more about RPN's Forest Guardian program and how you can support community-based red panda conservation!
RPN Supports Nepal’s First Red Panda Conservation Action Plan
Red Panda Network (RPN) is providing key support for Nepal’s first red panda conservation action plan.
The Ministry of Forests and Environment (MoFE) of the Government of Nepal has launched a five-year (2019-2023) “Red Panda Conservation Action Plan for Nepal” to boost efforts to conserve red pandas in the wild. This is Nepal’s first of such guidelines and will provide a thorough framework for engaging local communities and strengthening coordination among conservation actors at national and international levels.
The guidelines were architected by a group of experts representing the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), Department of Forests and Soil Conservation (DoFSC), National Trust for Nature Conservation, WWF Nepal and Zoological Society of London. Red Panda Network (RPN) will provide technical and financial support. DNPWC and DFSC will take an overall lead in implementing the action plan.
“The plan will help to mainstream conservation activities and guide grassroots efforts to ensure the conservation of red pandas in the wild,” said Ang Phuri Sherpa, RPN’s Country Director.
“With this action plan, we aim to protect and manage red panda populations in Nepal by applying a holistic approach to conservation. Involvement of local communities has been prioritized in this action plan which I believe will be critical in achieving the plan’s targeted objectives for the next five years,” said Man Bahadur Khadka, director general of the DNPWC under the MoFE.
The plan outlines five major objectives targeted to improve survival rates among wild red pandas. Objectives include increasing understanding of conservation status, ecology and habitat dynamics; curbing poaching and illicit trade; protection and sustainable manage of habitat; enhancing and extending community-based red panda conservation initiatives; strengthening cooperation and coordination of red panda conservation programs at national and international levels.
“My hope is this action plan will synergize the combined efforts of the central government, provincial and local governments, conservation partners and local communities to achieve the common goal of protecting red pandas,” said Ram Prasad Lamsal, director general of DoFSC under the MoFE.
The presence of the elusive and endangered red panda, locally (in Nepal) known as ‘Habre’, is documented along the temperate bamboo forests in 24 districts and seven protected areas, totaling around 24,000 square kilometers. Besides Nepal, red pandas are also found in Bhutan, China, India and Myanmar with total range-wide red panda populations estimated to be less than 10,000 in the wild.
Wild red panda populations face a host of threats to their survival including continuous degradation and fragmentation of habitats, as well as poaching and illegal trade. Rapid human population growth and development and conversion of forests to settlements and agriculture are causing deforestation in their Eastern Himalayan range. Dog attacks in rural Nepal and transfer of diseases from livestock and dogs to these species—as well as climate change—are emerging threats to this endangered species.
This is all compounded further by the reality that 70 percent of red panda habitat in Nepal lies outside protected areas. Most of these habitats are managed as Community Forests where local communities are key stakeholders.
RPN is addressing these threats through collaborations with Community Forest User Groups and stakeholders that include ecotourism, anti-poaching patrol units, citizen scientist and Forest Guardian program, and community and school outreach programs.
Ang Phuri Sherpa is delighted with RPN’s leadership. “The Red Panda Conservation Action Plan is a first at the national level, and a big achievement for Red Panda Network. We are proud to provide key support for this important framework.”
Red Panda Network
Rhinos and Red Pandas
In December last year, 26 homestay owners in Nepal discussed best practices in ecotourism. Their dialogue highlighted the importance of all actors in conservation and community.
What do rhinos and red pandas have in common? Nothing much, apart from the fact that they are both mammals and vertebrates.
Rhinos, or Rhinoceros, is one of five remaining species in the family Rhinocerotidae. On the other hand, red pandas, which have historically been grouped with bears and raccoons, are now the only representative of the family Ailuridae.
Are they both herbivores? Well, technically no. Red pandas are mostly herbivorous and their diet is almost entirely made up of (mostly) bamboo, fruits and flowers. However, they have also been known to eat insects, bird eggs and even birds. And it gets more complicated: red pandas are in the Order Carnivora but unlike most carnivorans they hardly ever eat meat.
Over half of the world’s red pandas are found in the Eastern Himalayas, a region stretching from Nepal all the way to the tips of western China; Rhinos mostly live in subtropical grasslands and savannahs.
They may not have much in common, but their threat of extinction puts them in the spotlight for urgent conservation of their populations and habitats.
Saving Species, Protecting Communities
The approach to conservation of a species depends on their status in the wild as well as the factors that are threatening their existence. Ecotourism and education may not reap immediate results but it is a start: awareness of a species vulnerability to extinction and necessary protection can slow down horn and hide harvest. As the saying goes, when the demand stops, the killing can too.
In December 2017, 26 homestay owners in Nepal came together to learn best practices in ecotourism management. They visited Amaltari Madhyabarti Home Stay and Pipraha Home Stay, which are part of WWF's rhino ecotourism program.
Apart from sharing experiences in operations, financial management and marketing, homestay owners also learned how to maximize available resources and services for their business’ long-term survival.
More importantly, the dialogue was meant to help them apply this knowledge to their respective homestays and put conservation and community at the forefront of their business.
East of the Chitwan National Park lies Almaltari, a village that has experienced the devastation of overgrazing and illegal poaching. It is also no stranger to deforestation.
The landscape changed after the establishment of a homestay, which Mr Siman Mahato, owner of Amaltari Madhyabarti Homestay, says was an undertaking bursting with challenges galore. He elaborated on major achievements such as constructing six ponds for Bote community fish farming.
Mahato concluded his share with other activities conducted in collaboration with WWF Nepal. For example, 24 local women were able to form an independent network of ‘Naya bihani mahila samuha’ and started producing turmeric. WWF Nepal assisted by providing them with turmeric processing machines.
Participants of the Homestay Exposure Visit also went on a jeep safari where rhinos, deer, vultures, peacock and a myriad of bird species were spotted in their natural habitat. It is a reminder of how these animals—some on the verge of extinction—are better enjoyed in their own home rather than through poaching and illegal trade.
So, what do rhinos and red pandas have in common?
Ecotourism can be an effective solution to their preservation. For example, sign up for one of these homestays during an ecotrek, and part of your contribution goes towards conserving the area’s biodiversity and livelihood programs. Part of the revenue also funds activities that promote local culture and ensures indigenous traditions and handicrafts are preserved.
Because financial and labor resources are limited in this part of the world, it was important that participants on the Homestay Exposure Visit learn how to be resourceful. After all, their efforts at conservation secure not just their own livelihoods, but their next generation’s as well.
If nature trails and cosy homestays are your kind of thing, do check out our upcoming 2018 & 2019 ecotrips here.
You will enjoy hikes through some of the Eastern Himalayas’ most pristine forests, and enjoy the hospitality of village homestays. Your stay will keep wildlife wild and help rural communities earn an alternate source of income.
Writing and Communications Volunteer
Red Panda Network
Free-Roaming Dogs: a Major Threat to Red Pandas
On a daily basis, red pandas face an uphill battle for survival. They are threatened by habitat destruction and fragmentation, illegal poaching, haphazard development work, and untimely weather affecting the flowering of their primary food source, bamboo.
Another threat has emerged: numerous free-roaming dogs within the red panda habitat, and they appear to be triggering high mortality rates of red pandas.
The presence of free-roaming dogs can cause wildlife to move away from an area, either temporarily or permanently. Wild animals (including red pandas) become less active during the day in order to avoid interaction with the strays. Free roaming dogs can kill wild animals and spread diseases such as rabies and distemper. They can also pollute water sources and transmit parasites to both animals and humans.
Neutering is the primary solution to reduce the long-term dog population. But, where to implement such a program? Neutering requires veterinary professionals, resources, and a population of humans willing to participate.
Tourists and pilgrims are also often targeted by free-roaming dogs, and the Ilam and Taplejung Districts, located near the Indian border, are major tourists destinations. A neutering agreement was made with the District Livestock Service Centre: Ilam and Taplejung for their medical services. News about the neutering and vaccination program was broadcasted on local radio and letters were delivered to respective Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs).
Initially, the response was muted as locals were unsure their dogs would survive the operation. There was also misconceptions about whether the neutering process would make their dogs lethargic. Generally, villagers prefer vaccines and as well as birth control tablets over neutering.
A team of technicians performed operations on 200 dogs between the ages of 8 months to 9 years, benefitting 156 households of 8 CFUGs from Ilam and Taplejung (Choyatar CF, Nunthala CF, Kalikhop dadeli CF, Chipchipe CF, Laliguras mahila CF, Pathivara simbu CF, Mayampatal CF, Phurumbhu kharka CF). 53 dogs received rabies vaccinations.
Two weeks after the operations a few people complained their dog’s healing process took longer than expected. No other problems were encountered, though several people reported some neutered dogs had become excessive barkers.
Street dogs are a desired target for neutering, but unfortunately, they are very difficult to trap, and require technicians, and equipment. A dart method can be used to sedate the dogs prior to operation, but this is expensive and requires a high level of expertise. Challenges remain in keeping free-roaming dog populations from becoming a larger problem.
RPN recommends additional scientific research to understand free-roaming dogs’ impact on red panda survival and conservation. We also strongly support working with local professional organizations who can ensure veterinary professionalism. RPN will continue to work with local communities to ensure red panda populations, and the communities that support them, remain healthy and strong.
Pema Sherpa, Danielle Lippe, Mark Hougardy & Terrance Fleming
Red Panda Network
Himalayan Red Panda Phototrip: Q & A with Trip Host Rafa Salvador
Do you love red pandas? Have a passion for photography? Then have we got a trip for you…
Introducing our new Himalayan Red Panda Phototrip. It’s like one of our ecotrips, but with an emphasis on photography. Whether you’re an experienced photographer or a novice looking to improve your skills, this trip offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to get immersed in the distinctive landscape and biosphere of Eastern Nepal.
The Himalayan Red Panda Phototrip is provided in cooperation with Photofox LPG, a nature photography company that facilitates eco-conscious “photo adventures” worldwide. The trip will be hosted by Rafa Salvador, who has experience as a photographer in several countries including Costa Rica, Nepal, Scotland and Thailand. Rafa has organized trips for reputable wildlife organizations such as National Geographic, and with National Geographic Explorers, such as Molly Ferrill. We sat down with Rafa to discuss his background, how the phototrip came to be and what trip participants can expect.
RPN: Tell us a little about your background and how you became involved with photography.
Rafa: My background is in law. Through my journalism work, I naturally became inclined toward photography. After working as a sports photographer during my undergraduate years, I changed my focus to wildlife conservation. I became connected with a National Geographic photographer who was documenting wildlife tourism in Thailand. This rekindled my passion for photography, which led to the creation of photo tours.
RPN: What is main concept behind Photofox Adventures?
Rafa: The company provides full-immersion phototrips with an emphasis on education and ethical practices. Unfortunately, a lot of photography companies disregard animal welfare in pursuit of the “perfect shot”; likewise, nature tourism can have a negative impact on the environment when there’s a lack of knowledge and respect for nature. Our mission is to give people a chance to pursue their passion for nature photography in a more environmentally responsible way, and to educate them about animal welfare. In keeping with this ethos, we often partner with wildlife conservation organizations, such as Rainforest Animals Rescue Group and, most recently, Red Panda Network.
RPN: How did you connect with Red Panda Network?
Rafa: My interest in nature conservation led me to RPN. During a fundraising campaign to assist victims of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, I contacted RPN about the possibility of collaborating on a photo adventure. They were pleased with my experience organizing phototrips, wildlife photography skills and interest in protecting red pandas, and we decided to create the Himalyan Red Panda Phototrip.
RPN: How does attending the Himalayan Red Panda Phototrip benefit Red Panda Network and its mission?
Rafa: Your trip payment directly supports the community-based conservation initiatives of Red Panda Network, including the Forest Guardian program, which trains and employs local people as professional forest stewards. During the trip, you will have an opportunity to see firsthand how this is being carried out, as you visit villages and locations where the RPN is actively involved with red panda conservation and awareness.
RPN: Other than red pandas, what types of wildlife are trip participants likely to see?
Rafa: The mountains and forests we’ll be traveling through are home to a wide diversity of wildlife, including clouded leopards, Himalayan black bears, yellow-throated martens, Bengal foxes, golden jackals and Assam macaques, Additionally, more than 120 species of birds inhabit this region, including the Wood Snipe, Satyr Tragopan, Common Teal, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Maroon-backed Accentor, Green-tailed Sunbird, Rufous-throated Wren Babbler, and the Rusty-fronted Barwing.
RPN: What kinds of equipment should trip participants bring with them?
Rafa: You’ll need to bring two kinds of equipment: hiking gear and photography equipment. For hiking, we recommend an 80-100Lt backpack and a 30Lt daypack with rain cover to carry binoculars, water bottle and extra clothing. Regarding photography equipment, the short answer is that this trip can be completed with only a camera, a telephoto zoom, a wide angle lens, a tripod, rain protection and a cable release. However, if you can afford it, we recommend additional gear, as listed here. It’s also important to bring electrical adapters for charging your camera equipment, including “Type D” Indian BS 546 and “Type C” European CEE 7/16.
Please keep in mind that you should bring all your camera gear on board with you during your flight to Nepal. Never check your camera gear as hold luggage. Check the flight regulations of each airline company to make sure your camera gear bag is suitable for carry-on; I use a Lowepro 500 AW bag and have never had any trouble traveling with it, but I recommend double-checking regardless.
RPN: Do trip participants need to have a certain level of photography experience?
Rafa: No, not at all! Any person at any skill level is welcome, from amateur to professional. Even non-photographers can have a great time on this trip—we don’t want to exclude anyone that is interested in joining.
RPN: Is there anything trip participants should be prepared for in terms of physical challenges or environmental conditions?
Rafa: Yes, this trip requires a medium level of fitness, due to the fact that we’ll be hiking through a wide range of altitudes and terrain. Also, because we’ll be trekking to higher elevations than what many participants are used to, there is always a possibility you may experience altitude sickness. Our trip leaders do everything they can to avoid this, including gradual elevation to allow for acclimation, and making sure everyone is well-hydrated. In any case, this phototrip will be more slow-paced than a regular ecotrip, since we’ll be stopping frequently to take photos.
RPN: What kinds of knowledge or insights should trip participants expect to take away from their phototrip experience?
Rafa: All Photofox Adventure trips are educational in nature, not only in regard to photography but to the setting’s indigenous wildlife and people. On the Himalayan phototrip, you will learn about Nepali livelihoods and culture, as well the red panda, its habitat and the conservation effort on its behalf. In addition, you will develop your travel photography skills, as we demonstrate and practice techniques for capturing wildlife and shooting landscapes. Overall, the trip should be a fun, educational and rewarding experience for all participants.
For more information about the Himalayan Red Panda Phototrip, visit our general trip info page.
Writing and Communications Volunteer
Red Panda Network
Improved Cookstoves for Red Panda Stewards
In a tiny village near the Nepal-India border, a small innovation in cooking methods is making a big difference in the lives of red pandas and the people who share their home.
With the help of Red Panda Network, families in Dobate, a settlement of 11 households in Ilam district, began using metal cookstoves in December 2016. The appliances have improved fuel efficiency and reduced firewood consumption.
Deforestation and loss of habitat are negatively impacting the red panda population. While the causes of deforestation vary by locale, firewood consumption, cattle grazing and illegal logging are the leading drivers of it in Dobate. For families there, the forest is a source of firewood as well as timber for building fences and cow sheds.
Prior to last December, Dobate locals used traditional cookstoves composed of mud and stones, which required 33 kg of wood for fuel per day and produced large amounts of smoke.
The impact of this type of cooking and heating is not only environmental. The smoke has serious health consequences for the people who continue to use traditional cookstoves in poorly ventilated homes, according to the World Health Organization.
WHO reports that about 3 billion people worldwide continue to cook and heat their homes using either open fires or cookstoves that burn coal, wood or animal and/or crop waste. As a result, more than 4 million people die prematurely from illnesses attributable to the indoor air pollution arising from these cooking methods. Children are among those disproportionately affected. Soot inhalation from household air pollution is the cause of more than half the premature deaths due to pneumonia among children under age 5, according to WHO.
To combat these negative impacts to human health and the environment, several countries are working together to encourage the adoption of clean cooking and heating methods. Nepal is a national partner of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership hosted by the United Nations Foundation that is working to create a demand for clean and efficient household cooking appliances and fuels. The alliance has set a goal for 100 million households to adopt clean and efficient cookstoves and fuels by 2020.
The Red Panda Network is helping make this happen. With funding from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), San Diego Zoo, Rotterdam Zoo and the Disney Conservation Fund, RPN worked with local families to design cookstoves that not only met their needs but also those of the environment. Each cookstove cost approximately US$490.
As a result of the installation of the new cookstoves in each household, RPN has seen a nearly 50% reduction in the consumption of firewood. The new stoves use 15 kg of wood per day as opposed to the 33 kg used by the older, inefficient stoves.
In addition, the stoves can burn unwanted litter, leaves and the fruit of trees, which were previously unused, wrote Damber Bista, Conservation Manager for RPN, Asia Division, in an email interview.
Other improvements include:
- reduced indoor air pollution as the ventilation system on the new cookstoves moves the smoke from the kitchen to the outside;
- reduced cooking time (from 17 minutes to 12 minutes to boil 1.5 liters of water);
- firewood collection time cut in half;
- improved indoor heating; and
- reduced demand for extra firewood for boiling water since the new stoves include a water boiling system.
According to Bista, families in Dobate were quick to adapt to the new cookstoves. RPN plans to promote similar stoves in rural areas of Ilam, Panchthar and Taplejung Districts in the future, he wrote.
Please check out this short documentary on our Improved Cooking Stove efforts!
Writing and Communications Volunteer
Red Panda Network
World Health Organization. (Updated February 2016). Household air pollution and health. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs292/en/
Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. (n.d.). About. Retrieved from Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves website http://cleancookstoves.org/about/