Sunday, June 11, 2017
10 Questions w/h The Eastern Herpetologist, Dr Kalu Ram Rai, Professor, Mechi Multiple Campus, Jhapa, Nepal
|Dr Kalu Ram Rai|
Prof Dr Kalu Ram Rai from Mechi Multiple Campus, Jhapa, is a name you’d come across when things are concerned about herpetology of Nepal. With nearly three decade long experience in the study of amphibians and reptiles of Nepal, especially in the eastern part of the country, Prof Dr. Rai has made remarkable discovery of three frogs, one caecilian, one turtle and two reptiles new for Nepal. He is the author of ‘Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Nepal’ published in 2013, handful of children’s book on herpetology of Nepal and an honorary member of the non-profits, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Society of Nepal.
I never had the privilege to meet Dr Rai in person but read about his contribution to the herpetology across the country. Let’s hear straightly from him what he plans forth!
Q1. Namaste Dr Rai! What are you up to these days? Any specific research plans in near future?
Namaste, Thank you very much for your nice question! These days I am busy in my own study, reading and writing. In addition, I am looking after the Turtle Rescue and Conservation Centre which is running in the collaboration of ARCO-Nepal and SUMMEF-Nepal at Budhoholi within the premises of Sukani Martyr’s Memorial Park, at Salbari, Shanischare (Jhapa).
Q2. What groups of animal excites you the most?
Amphibians and Testudines
Q3. Whom should we call a Herpetologist - one who studies herps or someone who handles it or even someone who breeds it for commercial purpose?
I prefer to call a Herpetologist who does study, research and publish scientific paper on it with some new findings. It should be more academically professional rather than that of commercial purposes.
Q4. How and when did the love for herpetology evolve in you?
Sorry, I didn’t understand this question clearly!
Q5. Herpetology in Nepal is the least preferred subject and less prioritized even from the academic sector when preliminary collections started very early, during Hodgson’s period (100 years before). What could have caused the delay?
Yes this is an interesting question in context to Nepal. our history of educational development is not long in our country specially, the science education in Nepal that started only 45 years back. So our society is still suffering from different superstition and false concepts. So, we have learnt to love beautiful animal such butterfly and birds, but not herpetofauna (amphibians and reptiles). Because they may look ugly and disgusted. So, our traditional concepts are responsible to be a least choice subject even in our Universities.
Q6. You’ve devoted your life as a herpetologist with a doctoral degree, travelling many remotest locations of Nepal. Tell me what places are best for herpetological studies?
Yes I have completed herpetological research survey journey from east to far-west region of Nepal. I had surveyed the herpetofauna from the Himalayan region to the lowland Terai region. Among the surveyed Districts of Nepal, Ilam is an ideal place for complete herpetological study. Likely, SankhawaSabha District for highland, Dadeldhura District for midland and Bardiya district for lowland district are marked on my priority basis.
Q7. What was the most significant moment of your career?
The PhD rewarding ceremony of TU convocation was my significant moment in my life.
Q8. Only 53 species of amphibians are documented in the literature. Does this reflect a truer picture of amphibians’ diversity when countries like Panama and Costa Rica, smaller than Nepal harbors hundreds of frogs? Also, isn’t it a high time that we should go for genetics rather than visual based morphological identification?
Yes, why not! If we could afford for such latest technology to identify genetically, it might be done. But so far I know, we could not conduct at microlevel right now. But let’s chap like you initiate it and make possible in your generation.
Q9. What fields of science need to be integrated so as to promote herpetology in Nepal?
Q10. What suggestion do you have for newbie in this field; pursuing career, research and conservation endeavor?
I would like to say one proverb-‘Where there is will, there is way!’ So if you are really interested in the field of herpetological study, you may have greater and greater opportunity in your life. But you mustn’t be afraid of any hardship and difficulty because you have to overcome so many obstacles during the fieldwork of amphibians and reptiles as they are living not in easily reachable places. Regarding it, you may a little bit feel about fieldwork if you read my book ‘Mero Anusandhan Yatra’. This book always encourage for not to be defeated but to be conqueror.
Dr. KR Rai Khambu
Bhadrapur-8, Campus mode, Jhapa (Nepal)
June 11, 2017
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
‘We’ve made it safe and sound this time’, I said it to my friend on the last day of our expedition while we stopped by in a local hotel at Soti. From here, one could easily get a local bus around to return back in the city. Those of you who have little idea of what I’m talking about, please grab a coffee first and allow me to explain my position. We have recently completed our 21 days (March 1-21) ‘SAVE MANASLU’S FROGS! Research Expedition’ trip to Manaslu Conservation Area, Gorkha district, north western part of Nepal. This expedition was a part of the amphibian research and conservation work I’ve been carrying out in Manaslu since early 2016, ‘Saving Mountain Frogs (Paha) Before It’s Too Late; Conservation Effort at Manaslu Conservation Area, Gorkha District, Nepal’ (http://www.rufford.org/projects/biraj_shrestha).
|Stream frog (paha) habitat in Manaslu|
I worked in the remote landscapes of Manaslu in April-May 2016 for over a month doing amphibian survey, celebrated 8th Annual Save The Frogs Day with local community and did school awareness programs. Then, I revisited Manaslu in September 2016 for follow-up visit but as we reached Tatopani at 8:30 in the morning, a great tragedy struck in the form of landslide. We escaped death by an inch but unluckily a group of Spanish trekkers who were just ahead of us met the terrible accident. Four people died at the spot and multiple injured individuals were flown to hospital via chopper. Well, Manaslu is one of the most dangerous remote montane amphibian habitats in Nepal. The only trekking trail runs through the deep gorge with raging torrent of Budhi Gandaki River below fed by the melt of world’s eighth highest peak, Mt Manaslu (8,163 m asl).
|Budhi Gandaki River flowing swiftly|
The disastrous earthquake of 2015 whose epicenter Barpak was just beneath the Manaslu has also hugely added vulnerability to the geography and fragile mountains. After we witnessed the landslide on second field visit, I was so traumatized and spent days agonizing whether I should resume my incomplete tasks or not. But call it sheer stupidity or the love of frogs! we geared up, improved morale and set out to achieve the mission of frog conservation in the himalaya. This recent expedition which happened to be my third quest was able through precious donations that came to SAVE THE FROGS! from frog lovers all around the world. Thank you once again for that!
|Narrow eroded trail at Tatopani|
Our journey began as we headed to Gorkha district from Hetauda in a local bus so as to collect the research permit from Manaslu Conservation Area Project (MCAP) office at Gorkha city. I met the newly appointed project coordinator of MCAP, briefed about our work at Manaslu and obtained the permit. On the next day, we took another four hours bus ride to Arughat, NE from Gorkha and from there another two and half hours bus ride until we reached Soti. This is the point where the vehicular road ends and trekking starts. We stayed the night at Soti, saw a flock of tourists with their guides, mules grazing around and raging Budhi Gandaki River nearby which was the ambience of Manaslu calling, I know!
|The mule train|
Early morning the following day, we started trekking and let me tell you that it’s a very strenuous everyday 8-10 hours walk with rise in elevation at Manaslu. We travelled a total of 48 kms length rugged trail (dangerous oftentimes!) to enter Jagat and exited through the same route. We started from Soti (579 masl) to Liding, Lapu besi (775 masl) and Machikhola (918 masl). The next day, we started from Machikhola and reached Tatopani (956 masl). I had the jitters when crossing the narrow eroded trail where we witnessed a huge landslide in September 2016. Actually, there are plenty of landslide or rock fall areas in Manaslu circuit after the earthquake.
|Landslide sign post installed by MCAP|
After Tatopani, we crossed Dovan, Syaulifedi, Thadodhunga, Yarubagar and reached Jagat (1,351 masl). This is the entry place for the Manaslu Conservation Area. Since we led our expedition on the start of spring, we hoped for a pleasant weather in the mountains but you never can tell. It rained cats and dogs in the lower regions from the day we entered Manaslu while the northern areas snowed without stopping until our final day of depart. The temperature was down throughout our expedition with frequent storm and strong winds. Crikey, it was only the pre-monsoon season?
|Snowy mountain tops|
That unpredictable weather hugely affected our amphibian survey. We walked a transect of 45.6 km from Jagat to Lokpa, Dyang and Prok village doing Visual Encounter Surveys (VES), did stream surveys and 10x10 sq. meters quadrat surveys. However, we didn’t see any adult frog/toad this time nevertheless; we observed egg mass and tadpoles of amphibians.
|Local boys helping in stream frog’s survey|
|Trying to shoot paha egg mass in clumps|
We saw clumps of stream frog’s (paha) egg. They were found clinging underneath of rock in small streams. The eggs of toad were found in a different fashion. Toads laid their eggs in a long chain of jelly coated membrane and found floating in stagnant water or less current water. The tadpoles are unidentified and easily observed at bottoms of mountain brooks. We did quadrat study in forests and agricultural lands but didn’t spot any amphibian. Local people said it was the unfavorable weather and coldness that restricted sighting amphibians.
Paha egg mass in clumps
|Developed paha tadpoles inside the jelly coated egg mass|
|Toad eggs in long chain|
We kept other tasks like Amphibian Conservation Dissemination Workshop, frog conservation posters distribution, formation of Amphibian Conservation Group (ACG) and ethnozoological study of paha use by local community in Manaslu in parallel with the amphibian survey. We conducted the Amphibian Conservation Dissemination Workshop in Philim (1,431 masl) of Sirdibas VDC, Lokpa (1,910 masl) of Chumchet VDC, Dyang (1,914 masl) of Bihi VDC and Prok village (2,436 masl).
Amphibian Conservation Dissemination Workshop at Philim, Sirdibas
MCAP Office at Philim with Amphibian Conservation Group
|Amphibian Conservation Dissemination Workshop at Lokpa, Chumchet|
The workshops were attended by local youth, students, teachers, local leaders, villagers, MCAP officials, Mother’s Group and Conservation Area Management Committee (CAMC) members.
|Local kid displaying paha conservation poster|
|Amphibian Conservation Group at Pemathang monastery, Lokpa|
Local people were encouraged to stop paha (stream frogs) collection in their villages and vowed to take necessary actions against those, if found guilty. In coordination with local community and MCAP, we supported the formation of Amphibian Conservation Groups in Sirdibas, Chumchet, Bihi and Prok VDCs.
|Tourists being a part of our workshop in Dyang, Bihi|
|Amphibian Conservation Dissemination Workshop at Prok VDC|
|Locals discussing about paha|
On March 21, we returned to Gorkha city where I gave ‘Amphibian Conservation Talk’ at Choice FM, 90.4 MHz and our conservation effort at Manaslu got the media exposure.
|Choice FM 94.0 MHz studio|
|Snow crest at Prok|
|Meet the himalayan people|
|Farmlands of Prok|
at May 23, 2017
Thursday, May 4, 2017
|Mural Frog Art|
Amphibians around the globe are in real danger with some 250 species have gone extinct forever in the last forty years, while one third species of total diversity (over 7500) are seriously threatened with extinction. These historically resilient animals that emerged very long ago (300 million years old) on this planet have been facing so much trouble recently due to human actions knowingly or unknowingly.
Habitat fragmentation, land use change, pesticides use, over collection for food and pet trade, pollution, dissection classes, climate change, disease and so many other factors either individually or synergistically have challenged the survival of amphibians. Large populations of the general public are still uninformed about the importance of amphibians in ecosystem and the threats they face which have also contributed to the fast decline of these species. That’s why every year on the last Saturday of April, there’s a special day where all the amphibian lovers celebrate ‘International Save The Frogs Day’ in different parts of the world. The reason behind is to educate the uninformed public about amphibians and spread the message of frogs conservation.
|Participants of Save The Frogs Day Session I|
This year 9th Annual Save The Frogs Day was marked in Nepal on April 28 at Resources Himalaya Foundation (RHF), Sanepa, Lalitpur with financial help of WWF Nepal and support from SAVE THE FROGS! USA and EGH. The frog filled event had wider participation of school kids, university students, conservationists, academicians and professionals. Mr Biraj Shrestha, Research Officer of RHF and SAVE THE FROGS! Task force member was the event coordinator and supported by bunch of volunteers from EGH executed the event plan into action. There were stalls of frog face paint, frog tabling, merch and bake sale and lots of other activities which captivated the visitors.
Mural Art - Artists, Mr Karun Dewan and his friend leaded the mural frog art work on a huge white cotton cloth with designs of flowers, mushrooms, plants and amidst was a resting tree frog with a happy face. Later the coloring session was joined by every participant of the event from school kids to students and volunteers. The outcome was splendid.
Face painting - Ms Sabita Gurung with other volunteers represented their artistic frog designs on the body parts of visitors.
Frog Tabling and Merch Sale - This stall was the information centre for amphibians with frog info cards, paha conservation posters, t shirts and other merchandises for sale. All the proceedings go to amphibian conservation endeavors in future.
Photo Exhibition - Total 17 amphibian photographs representing over 8 species were exhibited with their general information and the locality they are known from.
Short Video Clips - In total six
a. Life history of Frog (02:34)
b. Disappearing Frogs (03:47)
c. Frog, Chemical, Water, You (17:28)
d. The Thin Green Line (Chemical Runoff) -06:36
e. Amphibian Ark Appeal (04:59)
f. Disappearing Frogs (03:47)
Bake Sale - Yum! Cream and cherry topping cup cakes designed to resemble like a frog head was at the bake sale. All the proceedings go to amphibian conservation endeavors in future.
Frog Talk & Felicitation - Dr Dinesh Raj Bhuju, General Secretary of RHF highlighted a much neglected fact that people have not actually understood frogs are real friends of human as they help farmers by controlling farm insects and checking the population of vector insects.
We also had announced the open call for ‘SAVE THE FROGS! Junior Art Competition’ with deadline on April 25. We received a total of 39 submissions from grade III to IX students. The top three were awarded with froggy gift hampers from Dr Kamal Adhikari, Director of RHF. Later our guest of honor, Mr Ugan Manandhar, Deputy Director, WWF Nepal shared his few words about how necessary it has become that we need to think about frogs and not forget these tiny creatures amid the charismatic animals’ conservation only.
Video Message from Dr Kerry Kriger - Ecologist and Founder of SAVE THE FROGS!, US based amphibian conservation nonprofit, Dr Kerry Kriger sent a 12 minute video message specially for the Nepalese people for helping to spread out amphibian conservation message in Nepal through bunch of frog loving leaders who have successfully held Save The Frogs Day in past and greeted the organizers of this year’s event at RHF. He shared the history of Save The Frogs Day and how big it has grown in these years with more than 1000 events held since 2009 involving 60 countries.
Closing Remarks - Prof Dr Ram Chhetri, Chair of RHF had his concluding remarks about how anthropogenic activities have ultimately affected every living thing on this planet including frogs this time. Later, he handed certificates of appreciation to our volunteers whose tireless efforts have brought this event into a froggy fruition.
at May 04, 2017
‘We’ve made it safe and sound this time’ , I said it to my friend on the last day of our expedition while we stopped by in a local hotel a...
Mural Frog Art Amphibians around the globe are in real danger with some 250 species have gone extinct forever in the last forty years,...