Raju Acharya, a pioneering owl conservationist in Nepal, shares his ardour and challenges for learning and defending the nation’s 23 owl species, that are largely uncared for by researchers and funding businesses.Owls face threats corresponding to searching, unlawful commerce, habitat loss and electrocution, however there’s inadequate scientific knowledge to justify their classification as threatened, making a vicious cycle of low conservation precedence, he says.Acharya additionally talks about his initiatives to lift consciousness and appreciation for owls among the many public, corresponding to organizing an annual owl competition, visiting faculties, and interesting with native communities.
KATHMANDU — Nepal’s owls are maybe the least-studied birds within the nation, usually missed by researchers extra centered on the rarer vultures and cranes. Yet owls additionally face the identical threats different birds face throughout the nation, from habitat fragmentation and degradation, to electrocution on energy strains and poaching.
While owls are sometimes perceived as “smart” in different elements of the world, right here they’re often called latokosero, or “chook that’s not intelligent.” None of the owl species present in Nepal are thought of threatened underneath IUCN Red List standards, which suggests there’s much less motivation for researchers to check them, says owl conservationist Raju Acharya.
Acharya has been working within the subject for the previous decade and a half, cataloging the varied species, inspecting their significance to native communities, and figuring out the threats they face.
Nepal’s first owl conservation and analysis staff in 2008. Image © FON Nepal.
Mongabay’s Abhaya Raj Joshi caught up with Acharya in Kathmandu not too long ago to study extra about his work and fervour for owls. The following interview has been translated from Nepali and edited for readability.
Mongabay: Could you inform us how you bought into learning owls?
Raju Acharya: I accomplished my bachelor’s and grasp’s diploma in Environment Management within the late Nineteen Eighties. Basically, each my levels centered on forestry, however the thesis I did for the levels have been on wildlife.
When I used to be working in Mustang district, within the trans-Himalayan area of Nepal, I had the chance to go birdwatching with Rinjan Shrestha, a senior conservationist. That alternative kindled my curiosity in birds of various sizes and styles.
Around 2007, I used to be learning in Germany after I emailed completely different organizations all over the world to collaborate on chook conservation. One of the organizations I wrote to was the World Owl Trust, a London-based group. I instructed them that we now have preliminary data on owls in Nepal and requested them if there was any alternative to collaborate. Within a number of days they wrote again, asking me if I’d have an interest to volunteer as their consultant in Nepal.
I agreed to volunteer, and since then I’ve been engaged on owls in Nepal.
Acharya within the subject accumulating the cultural and different details about owls in Manang. Image © Friends of Nature.
Mongabay: Do you bear in mind the primary few years of your owl conservation profession?
Raju Acharya: The first main survey we carried out was in Manang and Mustang districts in 2008. Back then, round 19 owl species have been recorded in Nepal [the number has gone up to 23 today], and 13 of them have been discovered within the Manang and Mustang areas. That motivated us to go to the realm to search for owls.
This was additionally the primary time we used bioacoustics to survey owls in Nepal. Under this technique we produce owl sounds, and when the owls hear this sound, they reply and we document their presence.
Since then, we now have visited 69 of the 77 districts of the nation and carried out in depth social and cultural surveys in 45 districts.
Mongabay: What’s the distribution of owls like in Nepal’s mountains, hills and plains? How do individuals understand them?
Raju Acharya: We have recorded the presence of owls [at elevations] as much as 5,200 meters [17,000 feet] in Nepal. Generally, the upper up we go, the scale of the owl will increase. The larger owls are discovered at increased areas.
Owls have been discovered to stay in numerous habitats throughout the nation. For instance, the barn owl [Tyto alba] lives near human settlements. Some owls stay on bushes, others construct nests in grasslands. Although we don’t have robust proof, we now have causes to consider that the long-eared owl [Asio otus] visits Nepal throughout the winter from China and Mongolia.
It could be tough to generalize the perceptions of individuals towards owls. For instance, the Tharu individuals aren’t keen on the birds. They consider that in the event that they see an owl close to the home, somebody within the household will quickly die. But in Mustang, they contemplate owls as a good-luck attraction. When the individuals transfer to decrease elevations in winter to flee the chilly, they place a feather of a crow together with a feather of an owl on the door, believing that the crow will take care of their home throughout the day and the owl at night time.
Local communities attending an occasion to find out about owls throughout Nepal owl competition. Image by Raju Acharya.
We have additionally seen inns and eating places rear captive owls, believing that they bring about good luck and cash. Some individuals have a false impression that they’ll earn cash by promoting stay owls.
Owls are a kind of birds which can be shrouded in thriller, not simply in Nepal, however worldwide. If you go dwelling and ask any of your loved ones members, they might know not less than a number of issues about owls. But the issues they know wouldn’t be primarily based on info. Maybe it’s as a result of they arrive out at night time when individuals have gone to mattress.
Some individuals consider that owls can solely see at night time. That’s not the case. They can see throughout the day as properly. But their imaginative and prescient is best at night time. Owls have large eyes in comparison with different birds. The eyes cowl round 5% of the physique and have very energetic rod cells which can be very delicate to gentle. This signifies that they’ll see higher in low gentle.
One of essentially the most attention-grabbing info about owls is their rivalry with crows. This has additionally been documented in numerous Hindu spiritual texts. People consider that owls come out of their resting place solely when the crows fall asleep. However, that’s not all the time the case.
Owl conservation camps for teens on searching and commerce. Image © Suman Sapkota.
Mongabay: You mentioned that analysis into owls in Nepal has been restricted. There’s a dearth of scientific literature. Why do you assume that’s the case?
Raju Acharya: If you observe the development nowadays, each researchers in addition to funding organizations concentrate on charismatic species corresponding to tigers [Panthera tigris] and elephants [Elephas maximus], and smaller animals corresponding to fishing cats [Prionailurus viverrinus] and wild canine [Cuon alpinus]. This signifies that there’s not sufficient funding obtainable for analysis in owls as not one of the 23 species present in Nepal are globally acknowledged as threatened.
Although they face a bunch of threats, there’s not a lot scientific literature to justify their classification as threatened. It works as a vicious cycle. Having mentioned that, two of our research are within the pipeline.
Mongabay: Talking in regards to the threats, what are the most important threats owls face in Nepal?
Raju Acharya: Owls face the identical threats that different birds face within the nation. But searching and unlawful commerce are the most important ones.
Back in 2011, after I was visiting Dhading district, which shares its border with the Kathmandu Valley, I noticed for myself that a few kids had killed an owl and barbequed it to eat with alcohol.
Jiri owl competition, the place native individuals study in regards to the significance of owls. Image © Yagyalal Gyawali.
Mongabay: What in regards to the unlawful commerce?
Raju Acharya: I’ve had the chance to speak to round six or seven merchants throughout my profession. I met one in all them a number of weeks in the past. He instructed me that he made some huge cash by promoting them available in the market, however it’s tough to search out them in his village nowadays.
Owls are worthwhile to merchants solely after they’re alive; they aren’t value something after they’re lifeless.
There’s an energetic community of unlawful merchants in Nepal that ship stay owls to India, the place they’re utilized by conventional “black magic” practitioners. Their feathers are used to deal with nervousness and panic assaults.
Also, till a number of years in the past, it was reported that 1000’s of owls have been sacrificed in India’s capital New Delhi on the event of Tihar [also known as Deepavali in India]. People consider that sacrificing owls earlier than Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, brings them wealth. We have proof to consider that owls from Nepal have been additionally trafficked to New Delhi for the rituals.
They additionally discover their method into neighboring China, the place owls are utilized in conventional drugs.
Based on the knowledge we obtained from merchants, round 2,000 owls have been being faraway from the wild yearly to satisfy the calls for of the pet and unlawful commerce markets. In the previous few years, the quantity has gone right down to round 1,500.
Rescue of an owl. Image courtesy of Friends of Nature.
Mongabay: What are a few of the causes behind the decline?
Raju Acharya: I feel the primary purpose is rising consciousness amongst individuals and legislation enforcement officers. Until a number of years in the past, individuals might simply carry owls, even cross the border, and overtly rear them in inns and eating places. When individuals complained to the police, they didn’t know that it was unlawful. But nowadays, it’s subsequent to unattainable to hold out the commerce within the open. Also, we’ve discovered that the commerce has declined in numerous hotspots throughout the nation.
Mongabay: Let’s discuss in regards to the annual owl competition you manage. How did the concept come about?
Raju Acharya: Around a decade in the past, after I was within the U.S., I received the chance to attend an owl competition there. I used to be amazed that 1000’s of individuals gathered in a single place to debate owls for greater than every week. I puzzled if we might do one thing related in Nepal. That’s how the annual owl competition was born. We manage it within the first week of February yearly. We’ve been organizing the competition for 10 years now and instantly engaged with greater than 60,000 individuals.
The first competition noticed solely 180 individuals take part and it lasted solely three hours. But since then, we’ve had 1000’s of individuals attend the competition, which is normally every week lengthy.
During the competition, we now have individuals dance, sing and play conventional video games, with owl conservation being the most important theme. Ahead of the competition, we go to the native faculties the place we plan to arrange the competition that yr and discuss to the scholars about owls and the way they’ll play their position in conservation. I feel this has helped increase consciousness about owls on an enormous scale in Nepal.
A marketing campaign for college kids to immediate a ban on catapults. Image by Raju Acharya.
Mongabay: You helped put together a nationwide owl conservation motion plan. As the plan enters its third yr, how do you charge its effectiveness?
Raju Acharya: First of all, it’s an enormous achievement that the federal government ready an motion plan for uncared for species corresponding to owls. It took loads of lobbying and convincing to get the federal government to agree.
It took us round a yr to organize the 10-year plan. But the primary few years of its implementation have been misplaced because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The important concern is the funds to implement the plan, which is insufficient. Nepali conservation officers are nonetheless reluctant to think about owls as wild animals.
Mongabay: Finally, do you agree with the Nepali title given to the birds?
Raju Adhikari: [Smiles.] I don’t agree. Owls can do fast math of their heads. They can rotate their heads 270 levels and plan exact assaults on prey corresponding to rodents. They’re very intelligent and correct.
Banner picture: Raju Acharya within the distant subject in Accham district, western Nepal. Image © Bikash Ghimire.
Abhaya Raj Joshi is a employees author for Nepal at Mongabay. Find him on 𝕏 @arj272.
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Biodiversity, Birds, Birds Of Prey, Conservation, Conservation management, Environment, Interviews, Interviews with conservation gamers, Owls, Research, Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation