When I was five, my mother used to tell me stories of tigers. Back then, those stories struck fear in me. I was scared of tigers because of their vicious nature and predatory instincts. However, I no longer fear them, rather, they inspire me; I gather strength to deal with difficult situations when I think of their strong characteristics.
I have now realized that my mother was only trying to convey that we can learn a great deal from the animal. Its strength, risk-taking ability and assertive nature are some of the attributes that can inspire people to be brave and confident in pursuit of their dreams. That is why, tiger, a magical creature of nature and the king of the wild will always be an inspiration and fascination to me, but I am sometimes dreaded by the thought of losing them.
Over the last 40 years, we have lost 60 percent of our total wildlife population globally. The lack of knowledge, misinformation and wrong understanding of wild animals pushes them to the brink of extinction. Moreover, anthropogenic pressure including habitat loss, wildlife trade, pollution, conflict and climate change have contributed to their decline.
Back in 2019, I got an opportunity to share my knowledge on biodiversity, ecosystem and the role of tiger in it, on the occasion of International Tiger Day. It was a one-day awareness program to school students in Nawalpur district. Our aim was to encourage young people to participate in conservation as well as to understand their perception of wild animals. I was very surprised to hear a child’s impression of the carnivore and his idea of human-wildlife conflict.
He questioned me, “If they trouble us and harm us, why should we protect them?” I tried to describe positive aspects of tigers and to explain him that the tiger is not a monster that he pictures in his mind but a protector of terrestrial ecosystem, of fresh water system and the protector of our existence in the future. I am not sure whether my answer was able to change his impression of the animal but he gave me a smile, which ignited some hope in me. I also hoped that someday, he learns more about the species and shows interest in their protection.
I firmly believe that education can help change the attitude of people towards wildlife. Therefore, conservation to me is always about reconnecting people with nature. The concept of environmental education has evolved officially after the Stockholm conference of United Nations held in 1972.
In developed countries, conservation education has been a part of school curriculum. At early elementary level, students are taught about country’s natural resources, particularly of their native place. In Nepal, the course of environment education started before 1973. In 1986, Nepal initiated community–based approach; Integrated Conservation and Development Project (ICDP) in Annapurna Conservation Area for involvement of people/students in biodiversity conservation, sustainable resource management and improvement of rural livelihood through eco-tourism. Conservation education is the top priority of this project which encourages bottom-up approach of conservation.
Later on, ICDP was implemented in Manaslu Conservation Area, Gaurishankar Conservation area and Kanchanjunga Conservation Area as well. The program assisted and increased the capacity of the locals in taking leading role for the management of their natural resources. In addition to that, conservation education to school students was increased. In 1994, WWF Nepal initiated the concept of eco clubs in schools with the aim of encouraging and involving students in nature conservation. Altogether 463 Eco Clubs were formed in 22 districts of Nepal.
Friends of Nature (FON) – Nepal piloted the first Green School concept in Korak VDC of Chitwan, Nepal, for sustainable utilization of resources, to enhance environmental health of schools and to produce conservation leaders for the future.
Similarly, National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) and Wildlife Conservation Nepal (WCN) also conduct curriculum-based conservation education programs such as Prakriti ko Sandesh (Voice of Nature) and Nepal Prakriti Pathshala (Nepal Nature School) respectively. Environmental program of WCN has reached 40 districts while NTNC’s program has reached more than 100 schools.
Some other organizations working in the field of conservation have also coordinated with the government in providing conservation education and in working closely with communities. The effort of some individuals working alone to disseminate conservation awareness has made a significant difference too. However, the inability of incorporating conservation education in school curriculum, absence of trained teachers and teaching materials, lack of coordination between environmental organizations and disappearance of aid/fund received for conservation have become the major constraints and obstacles in further promoting and using education as a tool for conservation.
A majority of people in our country live and work in vicinity of the forests and therefore, human-wildlife conflict is a big challenge in conservation. Although community forestry has increased and have been highly successful in recovering the degraded forests, the dearth of focus on biodiversity assessment, lack of knowledge and understanding of wildlife in communities add to the challenges of achieving the conservation goals.
Further, not all communities and students across Nepal have the opportunity of engaging in conservation activities and being a part of the training and outdoor programs aimed at increasing the understanding of nature and its components. Therefore, we need to move forward with an inclusive approach integrating social science and indigenous knowledge to find an evidence-based solution for biodiversity conservation that is not only effective but long-lasting too.
(Anish Dhakal is student of AFU, Faculty of Forestry, Hetauda. He is interested in research and study of wildlife and indigenous knowledge of natural resource management)