Friday 8 November 2019

‘Living with villagers’ for bat conservation in Nepal

by Sanjan Thapa
Sanjan Thapa

“Living with Villagers”, my personal initiative attached to Small Mammals Conservation and Research Foundation (SMCRF) an innovative volunteer project for Bat Conservation kicked off back in 2012-13 from Madi, Sankhuwasabha District of North-eastern Nepal.  (Thapa 2014; Ware 2014) (read more about this project in a previous BCT blog HERE).

During my bat conservation awareness projects including Rufford Small Grant (RSG) first project (which you can read about here) Bat Conservation international funded project (read more here) and RSG second project (more about this here) I observed Nepalese people have negative attitude towards bats in most parts of the country. 

They have the misconception and misbelieve of bats as ghost, witches as they are seen flying at the night. They conceive bats bite, prick their eyes or urinate on their body. At western part of Nepal, people blame bats for damaging the horns of cattle and goats. In Chitwan, bats are blamed for damaging Rhino horn. Some nomads, tribes such as Chepang hunt bats as bush meat for subsistence. The hunted bats, now is not only limited for meat consumption in their households but also to sell in the local remote markets at Saktikhor, Chitwan District (Dahal et al. 2011). In the past it was believed, bats killed and fed to cattle cure Babeosis (Acharya et al. 2010), however, it is not a general practice nowadays. Similarly, Newar communities in the past believed, bats killed, dried and dipped in oil cure ear bugs, baldness, and paralysis (Tuladahar-Douglas, 2008).

Glimpses of conservation awareness activities during Living With Villagers project at Shakti High School, Gorkha
Government has neglected bat conservation, neither formulation of conservation plans and policies are neither prioritized nor are budget allocated for its conservation. However, Government officials are positive towards conservation of species other than mega and charismatic fauna including bats. The role of bat conservation is up to the effort of Non-Government Organizations and individuals. Funding for the conservation of these species is generously supported by International agencies. A few bat conservation projects have been carried out including surveys in different parts of Nepal, most of them in remote areas. These projects run for a short period of about two months in each project area. The effectiveness of the projects is sustained only during project period, and the project aim could not be achieved completely because of the project’s short duration. Moreover, the available fund is very limited or very little for the conservation of species like bats. With these realities in mind, a longlasting, effective, self-sustaining project “Living with villagers for bat conservation” was planned.It is a volunteer project, without any financial support from other sources. During this project there will be substantial visits to be made to villages and suburban areas and interacting with the villagers. It has three objectives; educating the schoolchildren, raising awareness through the outreach materials and surveying the species diversity. First two objectives are expected to inform about bats, their role in ecosystem services and change the misconception about them. Subsequently, it will benefit in long-term conservation of bats in Nepal.

Mr. Dibya Raj Dahal operating a double unit Ana Bat II and Zcaim detector at Udayapur field
After Madi, I joined another school, Sharada High School at Barhabise, Sindhupalchowk District in North-central part of Nepal. I joined the school as Biology Teacher and stayed there for about eight months during 2013-14. However, I could not continue the project except disseminating conservation education posters to the schoolchildren and other students.

I joined an Ecosystem Management Project as Field Officer in Udayapur in 2014 where we continued the awareness activities during August 3-25, 2015 at Triyuga Municipality, Udayapur District in South-eastern Nepal (Thapa 2015) (read more about this here).  Besides, the awareness activities, one of my colleagues Mr. Dibya Raj Dahal stationed at Itahari in eastren Nepal joined me and we conducted a bat survey at 15 localities in and around the Triyuga Municipality during April 2016.  We deployed roost survey and mist netting to capture bats. We recorded altogether four species of bats Cynopterus sphinx, Megaderma lyra, Taphozous sp., and Pipistrellus spp. We recorded bat echolocation calls deploying a double unit Ana Bat II and Zcaim detector donated by Jacobs, UK.

After my stay for more than two years in Udayapur I went back to Kathmandu and was looking to go other districts to continue this project. After more than one year of 2015 Nepal Earthquake, I joined Shakti High School as Biology Teacher in the Head Quarter of the Gorkha District in Northwestern Nepal.

Just after three months I had joined the school, all of sudden, I got an email from Ms. Caroline Ware, who had visited to Madi back in 2012 and observed the initial project activities. She was a staff at Natural History Museum, London. I was excited when I read her email that she is already in Nepal in November 2016. I invited her to Gorkha. As usual, she was accompanied by Ms. Ang Diku Sherpa, who is associated with Dunsmore Nepal Textile Trust and Allo Nettles Cloth Production Club.. Mr. Ganesh Shrestha, a M.Sc. Zoology student from Central Department of Zoology, Tribhuvan University was conducting thesis on bats in Dhading District. He also joined the team. At Gorkha, the team conducted school awareness activities in the school where I was posted. We conducted a half an hour lecture in which we delivered about bats and its conservation importance to schoolchildren. We emphasized on ecosystem services provided by bats, direct and indirect benefits to human beings, such as pollination, seed dispersal, and pest regulation. Documentary show “Secret World of Bats” was screened for 45 minutes. Besides, we disseminated some conservation educational materials including leaflets and poster from SMCRF, booklets, resource packs, newsletter, and post cards from Bat Conservation Trust (BCT). Documentary show “Secret world of Bats” from Bat Conservation International (BCI) was screened on the white board using a mini pocket projector and a laptop supported by IDEA WILD.
School children with bat conservation message posters after the documentary show

Handling captured bat at Deurali Bungkot Cave
In the local hotel where Caroline and AngDiku stayed at Gorkha, they met an Engineer Nabin Shrestha from Deurali Bungkot, Lakhan Thapa Rural Municipality who was working then in Daraundi Hydropower Station. The team was convinced and planned to visit a cave roosted by bats near his village as suggested by Er. Shrestha. We travelled off road about an hour in a local bus and reached the Bungkot bus stop, we contacted the concerned person who could guide us and waited for half an hour to receive him. We walked next 20 minutes to the house near by the cave.  We visited the cave in the evening. At the time of sunset we administered a mist net Ecotone 9m*2.4m at the entrance of the cave.  We captured an individual of Rhinolophus affinis. We also operated a SM4BAT ZC detector and recorded some calls of passing bats and also captured bat. We dismantled the mist net at 8:00 PM, night stayed at a house in the local community near the cave. We found the local community enthusiasts on bats. We shared and informed about ecosystem services provided by bats, direct and indirect benefits to human beings, emphasizing pollination, seed dispersal, and pest regulation.
Spectrogram of echolocation call of the captured Rhinolophus affinis developed from Kaleidoscope Viewer 4.1.3 version

Later during December, I continued the awareness activities to 200 schoolchildren from classes VI-IX in the same school.  The documentary show ‘Secret World of Bats’ was screened in a SMART HD Television Set available in the school and about 200 conservation awareness posters was disseminated to them.

About nine months I stayed in Gorkha and left the school and was involved in RSG Booster Grant Project during 2017-18 (read more about this project here) . In September 2018, I got enrolled for my PhD in Guangzhou University, Guangzhou, China. I have planned to undertake the PhD research entitled “Phylogeography of Nepal-China trans-boundary bats and impact of historical climate and tectonic effect on them”.

Team in Gorkha from Left to right Sanjan Thapa. Ganesh Shrestha and Ms. Ang Diku Sherpa
The main goal of this study is to understand the phylogeography (biogeography and evolutionary history) of bats dwelling in south and north faces of the Himalayas and the impact of topographic complexities (geographical barriers) and historical climate in the Himalayas on the bat species. Specific objectives of this project are to assess the species richness, current distribution and predict future distribution pattern, understand their biogeography and evolutionary history, supported by phylogenetic approach and infer the possible impact of geographical events (tectonics and topography) on the bat fauna and their response towards historical climate and climatic processes. Field work will be conducted at sites near the Nepal-Tibet border. Bats will be captured and tissue sample (3mm wing punch) will be taken. DNA extraction, PCR and sequencing will be conducted and phylogenetic and phylogeographic analyses will be executed. Although there are few limitations for this interesting research such as lack of funds to conduct field work in Nepal side and the terrain is too remote and adventurous.

A week ago, there was news of killing bats from caves in Putha Uttarganga Rural Municipality in East Rukum District. The local people as guided by local traditional healers (Jhankri) kill the bats and dip into mustard oil. This oil as they say may cure some unhealed wounds, rashes and skin diseases. The project “Living with villagers” will be continued after my PhD from Putha Uttarganga Rural Municipality in East Rukum District.

Views of Gorkha Bazar and surroundings


I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Mr. Niraj Prasad Bhattarai, Principal and all the teachers of Shakti High School, Gorkha for their kind support to conduct the school awareness activities. I would like to acknowledge Er. Nabin Shrestha and local community of Deurali Bungkot for their support during the team’s visit. I am indebted to Caroline Ware, Dr. Debbie Bartlett, Angdiku Sherpa, Ganesh Shrestha, and Min Bahadur Gurung for their continuous support to continue this project. Thanks are owed to Idea Wild for the laptop, GPS and pocket projector; Emery Lucy from Jacobs and Richard Crompton, UK for the double unit Anabat II and Zcaim detector;  Bat Conservation Trust for the resource outreach materials; Bat Conservation International for the documentary; SMCRF for leaflets and posters; Greenwich University for a box of pencils.

I would like to express my esteem acknowledgements to Prof. Paul A. Racey, Ms. Sally R. Walker, Dr. Sanjay Molur, Dr. B.A. Daniel and R. Marimuthu from Zoo Outreach Organization, Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal, Dr. Shant Raj Jnawali, Ms. Sarita Jnawali, Dr. Hem Sagar Baral and DNPWC for their kind and continuous encouragements and support.

About the author
Sanjan Thapa is a researcher for Small Mammals Conservation and Research Foundation

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