I meet Anil Adhikari on a warm mid-November afternoon in Kathmandu. The days I spent in the country gave me an opportunity to appreciate the hospitality and friendliness of the people of Nepal, and Anil is not only no exception but is a special case. The house is full of books, and his, the ones he has written, are proudly on show in a display case in his office room. He is actually working from home. His mother loves to write poetry while Anil loves to write books. He has always loved writing about nature and animals but, above all, loves writing with the aim of promoting a love and respect for nature and animals in others. To date Anil has written 2 novels on contemporary women issues, several books for children and over 150 articles for National newspapers and magazines. As a Consultant he worked with the leading conservation institutes WWF, ZSL, Snow Leopard Conservancy, Winrock International, National Trust for Nature Conservation and these organizations published numbers of his books mainly to bring conservation and environmental awareness among mass public mostly children under various school based environment clubs namely; Eco Clubs, roots and shoots and snow leopard scouts.
I ask him how he started. ‘I am lucky enough to turn my passion into a profession,’ Anil says and with a beautiful smile and the clear gaze of someone who talks about something they love. He continues, ‘I started writing stories for TV, then in 1994 my first novel came out, which was on prostitution. In 2003, I got my first writing contract from WWF. In fact, one of my writer friends Dr. Sangita Shrestha who remembered me whether I could write an extra-curricular book for Eco Club children.’
Anil showed me piles of colorful books, some in English, others in Native Nepali which are full of illustrations that tell stories familiar to me, including hunting and poaching, but also tales of coexistence with protected wild animals such as Snow leopards, Red Pandas, Tigers, Rhinos and ghariyal crocodiles. These books, he explains, are parts of a biodiversity and sustainable livelihoods project’s best practice documentation which aimed to replicate and learn from successes. Among these books he has got three text books that have been used in several schools. Most interestingly, Anil is currently writing two more reference books on snow leopard conservation focusing school children of grade 7-8. As per him, this is under Dr. Rodney Jackson’s Snow Leopard Conservancy (SLC). ‘Local text book for school children including wildlife contents?’ I ask, astonished, since in my part of the world these topics are not covered in the school system at all. ‘Yes’ he replies‘, and the coexistence of human beings and wildlife is one of the topics that are dealt with’. ‘In what way?’ I ask and he starts showing me the pages where stories related to environment behavior change regarding animals, livestock protection measures, in short, measures for coexistence, explained to both rural and urban school children. Remarkable, I think. ‘Yes’ he says, picking up the conversation again, ‘conservation is an important topic in our country. It springs to mind that in the last few days I have seen VisitNepal2020 promoted everywhere along the city streets and I can only imagine how many millions of tourists will arrive, driven by their desire for panoramas and the exceptional fauna that this country hosts. One of the many is the Snow Leopard which has part of its range here. The ‘Snow Leopard Conservancy (SLC) & National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) have published many of my materials dedicated to coexistence with and conservation of this magnificent animal,’ explains Anil.
You have worked for several conservation organizations in Nepal and have written many volumes on human wildlife coexistence. What are the main challenges that your country is facing in this sense?
The problems are many and varied, ranging from predation of domestic animals, which is one of the biggest problems in Nepal, to the invasion of agricultural areas or their entering villages, even attacking people. Unfortunately, the tendency of the local inhabitants of rural communities to enter protected areas is also high. People enter the forest to collect firewood, to graze their livestock, to collect grasses, fruit, bark or other products that can be processed and traded together with aromatic or medicinal herbs. During these incursions the probability of encountering wildlife increases as does the risk of becoming the victim of an attack. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for animals such as leopards or Tigers to enter villages in search of food. One of the causes of increased encounters and interactions between humans and wildlife is the occupation of space by human beings for agricultural activities and urbanization. This is rapidly leading to the fragmentation and erosion of habitats. The population has always used natural resources but now we have to deal with an increase in population that is leading to the overexploitation of natural resources. In addition, the low level of awareness and education negatively affect behavior, the way in which resources are used and relationships with wildlife.
What role do stories play in promoting a pro-conservation attitude?
My goal is to bring positive change in people’s behavior through storytelling when approaching wildlife and natural resources in general. I like to work using examples that have to do with village life and that represent day-to-day problems that are very familiar to villagers and of their relationship with nature. In some parts of Nepal, the value of nature is still very much underestimated as some children plays cruel games such as slingshot to kill birds. This behavior is in profound contradiction with the principles of respect for nature and conservation which our traditions also promote, and it is a behavior that we must change. I documented a story in which a village man, tired of seeing the children playing by knocking down small birds with the slingshot, collected the slingshots from the children and for every 100 slingshots he gave one soccer ball. The strategy was an immediate success and the slingshots were handed over to him in their hundreds and the children began changing their habits, spending time playing soccer and forgetting their catapults. Many children from other villages read about this success story and wanted to replicate the model, showing that change is possible, using the right sort of media.
What do you think your work has contributed most to mitigating the human / wildlife conflict?
Most of my writing assignments have dealt with issues relating to measures to mitigate conflicts between humans and wildlife, in the case, for example, of Snow Leopards and shepherds in the High Himalayas, or Tigers and rhinos or conflicts between people in areas with low levels of statutory protection. These are reference materials such as local textbooks for school-age children or best practice stories for people in the community. I think that the contribution of these texts can be both direct and indirect. Reading, which is still a highly esteemed means of communication in the communities and therefore having a direct impact, can be considered as coming from the trust and appreciation of the book as a tool. On the other hand, word of mouth acts through those who have read it and spreads, via the story, positive examples deriving from the application of the good practices suggested in the texts. In fact, my stories incorporate many practical suggestions in the text to deal with wildlife interactions, based on the experience of experts.
What value do you think communication and storytelling have in promoting coexistence with wildlife?
Humankind’s non-acceptance of coexistence with wildlife today challenges the survival of many species. A lack of conservation education and awareness is certainly part of the problem that can be remedied through various types of IEC (Information, Education, Communication) materials that provide people with the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others and to share their teachings. There are many edifying stories of coexistence with the Tiger, the Snow Leopard, the Red Panda, the Himalayan Tahr and various vulture species that are not yet adequately documented or publicized and which provide a precious wealth of knowledge that is not being adequately exploited. Documenting, publishing and disseminating these stories helps to change people’s way of thinking, creating positive attitudes and involving the local population in conservation and I therefore believe that communication and storytelling represent fundamental tools in promoting this change.
What are your recommendations regarding the media to employ, the target audience and languages to use to promote human wildlife coexistence in your country?
Various rapid communication tools, such as mobile app and social media such as facebook, have been successfully used to track wildlife poachers, , to monitor animal movements and communicate them directly to community members. In the conservation of the Red Panda, rapid communication tools are employed by the forest guards to monitor the presence of the Red Panda as well as the movements of the poachers. However, when it comes to raising awareness and spreading knowledge and best practices among community members, reference books, textbooks, success stories and amusing comics remain the most appropriate media. And, in this sense, it is essential that the language used is a local one. This, in fact, makes the population feel fully involved, with the appropriate skills to be able to change their behaviors and, most importantly, it lets the community feel that it owns the knowledge, the processes and the changes, and affirms its own identity.
Which is the human wildlife interaction story, of those you wrote that you are most fond of and why?
One of the most significant stories I have retold is that of “Himali Chunga Sherpa” a shepherd from the Himalayas. Himali was very angry because a Snow Leopard had killed two of his yak calves. He therefore decided that to solve the problem, he had to face down and eliminate his opponent. He then began to search the ridges, gorges, riverbanks, rock faces and meadows. Eventually Himali reached a cave close to which he found the remains of his two calves. Just then Himali heard noises coming from within the cave. He slipped cautiously into the darkness and, entering a few meters, came across two small leopard cubs that were moving. He grabbed them, wrapped them in his jacket and took them with him for the two hours descent that separated him from his stables, where he hid them. At midnight Himali woke up. On the one hand he heard the lament of the mother yak for her two calves and on the other those of the mother leopard screaming, probably looking for her cubs. “I was wrong,” thought Himali at midnight and decided that he would bring the kittens back to the cave. The next day, however, he reflected on the fact that in the two hours it took to reach the cave the leopard could have killed another of his yaks. Then a wild and cruel thought came to mind and, instead of bringing them back, he decided to throw the kittens into the nearest river. What followed was the worst night of Himali’s life. He couldn’t sleep a wink. “I did a terrible thing by killing the kittens,” he thought, unable to stop tormenting himself. That nocturnal crisis proved decisive in Himali’s life. He deeply unhappy with what he had done to the leopard, so much so that he decided to stop being a shepherd and sell his yaks and he began to think about how to help protect the Snow Leopard, joining WWF Nepal as conservation programme assistant in the field, learning to use the photo traps and other research tools. Since then he has taken part in many research projects, collaborating in the GPS-collaring Snow Leopard and helping with population studies. Himali also recognized as a local Citizen Scientist is happy that he is been able to hand over his scientic knowledge to the next generation who are also active in wildlife conservation in eastern Nepal.
Anil Adhikari is one of the Editors of “The Snow Leopard” magazine that has been publishing from Nepal since 2014. He is also a freelance writer/journalist, previously contributed to several National News Papers and Magazines.