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Conserving Nepal's Biodiversity

GANGES RIVER DOLPHIN GYPS VULTURE

Sandwiched in the transitional zone between the Eastern and Western Himalaya, Nepal’s richness in biodiversity is a tribute to its many diverse climates and geomorphological variations. While Nepal is less than 1% of the earth’s entire landmass, over 4% of the earth’s mammal, and at least 8% of the earth’s bird species reside in Nepal. Despite the government designating one-quarter of the country for conservation, Nepal’s flagship species are decreasing at an alarming rate. One gauge of the nation’s decrease in biodiversity is the paucity of Asian Elephant, Ganges River Dolphin, and the Royal Bengal Tiger populations.

Due to a list of anthropogenic influences, including increased resource consumption, habitat encroachment, and illegal trade to name a few, Nepal’s biodiversity is in grave danger. JGI-Nepal has been and continues to be at the forefront of counteracting these destructive man-generated risks, which threaten one of the world’s greatest centers of biodiversity. The following are some of JGI-Nepal’s current initiatives:

I. Gyps Vulture Conservation

In 2006 a local environmental club from Nawalparasi “Happy Flight Group” merged with Roots & Shoots to conserve the dwindling population of Gyps Vultures in Nepal. The group established the Vulture Conservation Program in Basa Bashai of the Nawalparasi district, 230km West of the Kathmandu Valley, and soon after, the first Vulture Restaurant of Nepal was founded.

Threats to the Gyps Vulture Population:

  • Diclofenac: Diclofenac is a veterinary drug administered to domesticated bovine as an anti-inflammatory and is liable for the decimation of much of the vulture population. The drug can cause immediate liver failure in vultures after consuming contaminated carrion that was administered the drug.
  • Stray Dog Poisoning: This practice is commonly used within Nepal to control the ever-increasing dog population and to attempt eradication of canines suspected of carrying rabies. When vultures feed on the carcasses of the dogs, they absorb the toxins, often resulting in their death.
  • Deforestation and Habitat Fragmentation: With the ability to soar over 200km in one day, the Gyps Vulture scavenges great distances for carrion as well as small prey. Due to an increase in human demands for natural resources and sprawl, its habitat is rapidly diminishing. As the Gyps Vulture work harder to locate its food, the raptor’s fecundity with an average clutch size limited to only one egg is declining.


JGI-Nepal in Action:

    Providing Diclofenac-Free Carcasses
  • At JGI-Nepal’s Vulture Restaurant in the Basanta Community Forest, ample healthy carcasses free of Diclofenac are delivered to the birds for a safe and well-monitored feast.
  • Lobbying for a Nationwide Ban of Diclofenac
  • In 2010, JGI-Nepal alongside many wildlife NGOs in the region lobbied against the use of this toxin. While the toxin is banned, JGI-Nepal is enforcing the prohibition and encouraging authorities to maintain their region up to code.
  • Supporting Diclofenac Alternatives
  • JGI Nepal is encouraging locals to use for its livestock the drug Meloxicam, an alternative to Diclofenac not shown to harm the vultures.
  • Monitoring the Gyps Vulture
  • At the Vulture Restaurant, the wild raptors forage, roost, and nest in the Basanta Community Forest. This provides a favorable environment for monitoring the Gyps Vulture population in the wild. At present, ornithologists and naturalists on the JGI-Nepal team are both working to eliminate the known vulnerabilities and also observing the individuals to quickly identify any new threats posed to the local population.
  • Engaging locals Citizen
  • Through conservation awareness programs, community meetings, and workshops, the JGI-Nepal provides locals with techniques for collecting data and monitoring vulture nests and roosting sites to assess and understand the vulture population.


Progress:

Since the establishment of the Vulture Restaurant, significant progress has been made in conservation of the Gyps Vulture. An annual increase of 130% in abundance of nests in Basanta Community Forest is a positive indicator that the population is improving.

Despite the population increase, the number of Vulture individuals is beginning to stabilize. This indicates that even with the significant and beneficial strides taken with the Vulture Restaurant, there are other factors that are countering the continued growth of the population, and new challenges ahead that need to be identified and addressed. This includes additional research and policy enforcement for restoring the Gyps Vulture to a sustainable level.

To Support JGI-Nepal’s Vulture Restaurant, pursuit in identifying and curbing threats to the Gyps Vulture population, and more information regarding the Vulture Conservation Project, please contact santosh@jginepal.org

 

II. Ganges River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica)

Once flourishing in the Southern rivers of Nepal, the GRD adapted to fresh water aquatic ecosystems over millions of years. Now, the basins they inhabit are altering daily due to anthropogenic threats, thus diminishing the species abundance at astonishing rates.

Since 2006, JGI-Nepal (formally R&S) has observed and addressed the following concomitant threats:

  • Neurotoxic Pesticide Endosulphan: Now Nationally banned from Nepal is the toxic pesticide, Endosulphan. This toxin is a known to cause neurological damage to humans as well as reproductive harm to the Ganges River Dolphin. Unfortunately, it is used in the fields within the watersheds where Ganges River Dolphin were once abundant.
  • Poison-Fishing: Many local fishermen use Tiodan, an alternative name for Endosulphan. Poured into rivulets, Tiodan kills thousands of fish that come afloat downstream and are caught by the villagers. Ill-advisedly, the fishermen are unaware that they too suffer from the bioaccumulation of these toxins just like the diminishing population of Ganges River Dolphin and see major neurological damage in their own offspring.
  • Commercial Fishing: High competition for food is never a good thing when you’re trying to survive out in the wild and your species in critically endangered. Despite the natural inter-specific competition in the rivers of Nepal, Ganges River Dolphin must compete with humans as well. With Commercial trawlers collecting up to 2-tons a day, the decrease in prey results in the diminishing of an animal on the top of the food web.
  • Sedimentation: With increased development along the banks of the river, siltation and sedimentation start to rise. Sandbars fragment the waterways, divide the once-high volume rivers, and disturb the balance of the aquatic ecosystem. The primary habitats for GRD are eddy counter-current systems, creating deep pools, where it’s believed that dolphins use their long beak adaptation for breaking down the loose sediment for extracting prey. As the sedimentation increases, it becomes more difficult for the GRD to forage through the packed-in river floor.
  • Non-point and point source pollutants within the watershed: Humans reside along the basins, contributing their unregulated and undermanaged waste to the watershed. The result is an increase in algae bloom and a destruction of the aquatic ecosystem.

    The point-source polluters are equally unregulated, thus contributing a wide variety of negative effects on the physical, chemical, and biological states of the river.
  • Noise-contamination: The point-source polluters are equally unregulated, thus contributing a wide variety of negative effects on the physical, chemical, and biological states of the river.

A unique adaption of the Ganges River Dolphin is their ability to echolocate in highly turbid waters. Nearly blind, these odontocetes click their way around to forage and communicate. As noise from motorized boats, drum bridges, dams, and construction enter their environment, the GRD’s key adaptation is compromised, leaving the mammals confused and unable to forage and survive in their own habitat.

While there are minimal conservation efforts in the region to conserve the highly threatened species, JGI-Nepal is successfully assessing the watershed the GRD inhabit, and simultaneously mitigating the known threats such as chemical pesticides and commercial fishing through political action and intervention.

With the GRD Research Conservation Project presently in fruition, JGI-Nepal will provide the public with updates regarding the status of the species in Nepali waters and how to best mitigate the threats to their watersheds through public involvement and advocacy.

To Donate to our Ganges River Dolphin Conservation Project and For more information regarding this project please contact rupak@jginepal.org

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