We were in Nepal exploring and appreciating the beauty of it, when we stumbled upon an article on Parks and Conservation in their local newspaper – The Kathmandu Post. It was about how two women became the agents of change in the conservation of wildlife. Being a true believer of “say no to animal cruelty”, led us to getting in touch with the brilliant Doma Poudel. A woman who started her journey of protecting and caring for animals, plus the environment at a very young age. Her undying love for conserving the wildlife has brought her to the position she is in today, where her voice against animal cruelty is beyond being just commendable.
- You were one of the first women nature guides in the country. How is life like as a woman in a male dominated field?
- – It was not a very easy start to begin with when I wanted to be a nature guide. I have a little bit of social background related to dealing with animals and preserving the eco system in general that probably helped me a little in the start. At that time there were around 20 to 22 male guides, and I was the only female amongst them. They invited me to be a part of their group but only in an office behind a desk. It wasn’t enough for me to say the least, because I wanted to be there in the field. According to the rules of the park there should be 2 guides with each guest or group inside the park. They believed it was too dangerous for a woman to be inside the park and that we couldn’t handle what the job entails. I had to convince them to let me be a part of the nature guides who accompany the guests, and finally one day they agreed to send me on a 3 days trip. During that time we encountered with a rhino, where in I helped in defending ourselves without hurting the rhino and chased him away with confidence. This was what led them to believe in me and broadened their minds of letting me be a permanent nature guide. I went to the park regularly post that and had a team who wanted to go in with only me (she laughs).
- We heard that the national park has reached 1000 zero rhino-poaching days! Congratulations! In an area where hunting is more than just a sport or a means for survival, how were you able to achieve this?
- – The security is very good now inside the park, compared to anywhere else in the world. The revenue that the park gets from the ticket and jeep cost, around 30 to 50% goes to the community level for conservation work. This in turn helps in contributing to the livelihood of the people. And I think it is good policy because it really works, since there are a lot of poverty stricken and landless people. It is of course not an easy job, but we are trying to create awareness among the locals living around the park area. Teaching them about the benefits of the eco system and how the existence of animals is important to us. Tourism has helped a lot in this regard because it helps us generate income for the people. Now the locals are very cooperative, but I’m just afraid that one day they might change their mind or get negativity again. So I am working with the conservation stake holders to keep things under control. On the other hand I am still continuing with awareness or conservation programs for the community at large.
- These meetings or awareness programs take place in a school or what kind of venues do you pick?
- – Yes, we go to schools. I am in the anti-poaching community so we educate the children with legal awareness programs. Some people still don’t know the kind of punishment they get if the animals are harmed.
- How does it work? Do you announce a date for these programs for people to attend? How do they join the sessions?
- – There are 22 different user groups or buffer zones in every national park. Under that there are 1000’s of smaller groups in the community who are connected to the buffer zone groups, who are connected to the council. All of this is connected to the national park. There are 3 different processes, and we are 9 different units in the anti-poaching community. 45 members who are working in the anti-poaching community. But there are also many different groups in the user community – both men and women directly involved in the community. This is how the word spreads among the locals. It is mainly word of mouth.
- We admire your passion for the conservation of wildlife. What led you to pursue this?
- – When I was in school I was involved in the green club, participating in planting trees and training programs. But then I didn’t know much about conservation on the larger level. Then later I started working for women empowerment and joined several clubs for conservation, also did some training to preserve the environment or cleaning the environment. My mom died by an attack of a rhino. People were questioning me as to why I wasn’t angry with the rhino. But I feel animals are innocent and voiceless. So my answer to all those people is simple. Humans are still killing people and going to war in spite of knowing the outcome and circumstances. Humans do it on purpose, but animals don’t know right from wrong like we do. So why should we kill them for doing something that they were not aware of, they were only trying to defend themselves. It is because of these animals that we have thousands of tourists every day. We benefit directly from tourism. But if there is no wildlife how can tourism grow here in Chitwan, how will it run. If there was no national park then how will we live? Cos of the one horned rhino we are popular, but if there are no rhinos then how will we survive, cos there will be no tourists. Though it makes me sad to remember what happened to my mother, I cannot take it out on the animals. It helps me be at ease and feels good and motivates me to help conserve the wildlife. I think I have inspired a lot of people doing what I do.
- What are some of the major challenges you have faced in protecting the wildlife?
- – In 2007 – 2008 around 34 to 37 rhinos were killed each year. In 2009 we found a rhino whose horn was cut, and he was running around in pain. It was 100 meters away from the army post but they didn’t realize. Nobody was helping the rhino. That was really painful for me. Then in 2009, in the national park many rhinos were killed. This happened because the second high court from the government level released 120 poachers. That made me really sad and angry. Then we decided to make a special plea to the government. We had a meeting with the government officials and the conversation stake holders along with the national guide association. I was the secretary of that meeting. We conducted two such meetings or programs – One was in Chitwan, and the other was in KTM. That is when we created awareness about the rhinos. Our questions were straight forward – how are the people getting the guns to kill the animals? I know that the locals are not allowed to enter the park so easily with guns or carry guns. Why don’t they know that the rhino was killed so close by? Why is the security so weak? Nobody could answer us. We made a signature rhino protection campaign and wildlife protection during that time. We went to the official person of the district office. In KTM we did a press conference as well. We collected around 50000 signatures on the campaign for animals and rhino protection. Together with this we went to the government, Prime Minister (Madhav Kumar Nepal) during that time – the chief constitution speaker Subhash Chandra Nembang – we met all the chair persons of the chair party. We also met the 601 constitution members and voiced our concerns. We gave the 50000 signatures, and questioned them about releasing the poachers. Since they were already released we cannot do anything about it, as it is already decided but I came up with a solution. So I proposed that together we can send the natural resource management community in the local level surrounding the park area. I can give the ideas and strategies to make the protection better for the animals. Make a strong crime control bureau or conservation army. That time we had a lack of coordination, where they would blame each other. Good coordination is required for protection of animals, which we have now. We also have a good army and proper GPS connection. Everyone seems to be helping now – Government, police, locals. So it is making very good progress. I did receive a lot of threats from the poachers that time, but that did not stop me. If we work together it can be successful. It is not easy to protect but still possible.
- Do you still get threats from poachers?
- – Now it doesn’t happen as much but still happens in moderation in the western part of Nepal. Our network has become much more-stronger than before so we don’t have to worry much like before. And hoping we stay like that. We have a really very strong team now so I’m very happy to achieve this. I don’t think poachers will dare now.
- Would you kindly share one of the most rewarding experience as a conservationist?
- – I want to continue doing what I do and make it better and better till we reach our goal. We still have to make more policies to make this work.
- In a recent interview, you were quoted saying “Conservation is only possible when livelihood of the locals is equally paid attention to. People need an alternative way of life that uplifts their lifestyle and income. And I believe it all starts with education and skills development.” Thousands of tourists from all over the world come to visit this yearly, is there anyway, they can contribute to both the ‘education and skills development’ of the locals? If so, how?
- – If people want to get in touch directly with the anti-poaching community they can do that. Or they can do it through the government. There are buffer zones or user communities, so we can involve them directly. I have my own office – Nepal Dynamic Eco tours and it was established in 2012 – as I am trying to do something myself as well. We are supporting the local women with their organic farming, and also supporting single women by distributing goods. We are distributing school material to the children. But it will not be enough, we have to look forward to do some skill development and income generation training. And also increase the education among the masses. If they want to contribute then they can come to me and I can help them connect together with the national park. I welcome everyone to my office. It is my dream to make a Wildlife foundation in the coming days and hopefully we achieve success.
We applaud for Doma Poudel and hope she achieves her goals!