Nepal is a small country, money poor for the most part but rich in its lovely people, incredible landscape and generous nature.
My work there was two fold:
(1) working to assist the captive management programme saving vultures from extinction and (2) advisory work at the Central Zoo in Kathmandu
The vultures are one of the biggest man made tragedies in modern times however as they are not tigers or elephants they don't get the press or public support they need. Natures binmen they scavenged throughout Asia but due to widespread use of a simple veterinary drug Diclofenac 99% of the world population of three species of vulture have died out.
See http://www.vulturerescue.org/index.html for more information.
As a last ditch attempt to save the vultures from imminent extinction birds have been collected from the wild and being kept in aviaries in order to hold them and breed them so at some stage in the future when all chances of the drug being removed from the environment are realised, birds can be released back into their natural habitat.
Young oriental white-backed vultures at the Rescue
Captive breeding centres already exist in India and Pakistan and recently Nepal began its own programme.
My job, along with ZSL Head Vet Andrew Routh was to run a workshop on the captive management and veterinary care of vultures as well as looking at the work being done in Nepal.
It was a hugely inspirational time and the people we worked with ranged from the vulture keepers to field workers to vets to park rangers - all deeply committed to saving vultures and having a real understanding of the plight of the birds.
Adult oriental white-backed vulture in the wild
I was deeply impressed with the work being done and I have to say it was a great pleasure to visit a vulture restaurant "Jataya" where the vultures are fed carcasses safe from drug contamination. The most encouraging signs were that the area where the vulture feeding place is situated is now "drug free" and that vultures are actually nesting around the area where the safe food is placed. The most incredible thing is that vultures are seen as messengers of bad tidings but the entire local community has really taken to getting behind and supporting the recovery of the vultures. The vultures still totter on the edge of extinction, lost forever but if what I saw in Nepal was anything to go by I feel hugely encouraged.
Me on elephant back
The vulture work was carried out at the Chitwan National Park where I also had the pleasure of going out early in the morning on elephant back to try and see Asian one-horned rhino. Once you get a hang of the rolling gait of the elephant you realise what an amazing platform they make for wildlife watching. I am truly happy to say that we did manage to see some of these incredible rhinos.
Asian one-horned rhino in the wild - mum and babySecondly was work at the Central Zoo in Kathmandu. It has over a million visitors a year but charges a tiny amount and urgently needs funds. The money is needed for raising the standard of life for the animals held in the zoo, to support the hard working and dedicated staff and ensure through education and interpretation (in all its forms) the Nepali people come to appreciate the incredible creatures that live in their wonderful country.
Discussing work on the rhino enclosure at the zoo - and a chance to get up close
Discussing bird husbandry with the hornbill listening as wellMost people think that Nepal is cold, snowy and tottering on the edge of the Himalaya and Everest. Think again, down in Chitwan where the vulture centre is, it's positively tropical with elephants wandering down the streets, rhinos and tiger in the Chitwan National Park and gharials (tropical fish eating crocodiles for the want of a better description). Even in Kathmandu, where the name conjure images of a snowy mountain-top hidden city, its very warm even in November and snow is as rare as hens teeth!