Preserving Nepal's Endangered Species
June 18, 2001 -- In the Terai region of lowland Nepal, scattered national parks preserve the nation's few remaining habitats for endangered animals, including the Bengal tiger, the rhinoceros and the elephant. If these animals are to survive, they must be able safely to migrate hundreds of miles among the parks. So conservationists have set out to connect the parks with wildlife corridors -- in essence, to "restring" an ecological necklace that has been broken by deforestation, development and poaching.
On Morning Edition, June 18-20, the NPR/National Geographic Society Radio Expeditions team profiles the World Wildlife Fund's Terai Arc Project.
As part of the Terai Arc Project, biologists capture rhinoceros in Nepal's Royal Chitwan National Park, where they are plentiful, and transport them to Royal Bardia National Park to the west, where the rhino population has been depleted by poachers. As NPR Correspondent John Nielsen reports, "The idea is to have 15 elephants surround the rhino, gradually collapse the circle, and then the shooters will hit the rhino with a dart" containing a powerful sedative.
When the roundup riders find their quarry, Nielsen sets the scene: "There's a rhino 20 yards ahead of us. A thousand pounds at least, with skin that looks like armor and a head that belongs on a dinosaur. It's looking right at me. The elephants begin to form a circle. The rhino looks around for a break in the line. It's nice to be riding on the only animal in the world that's capable of facing down an angry rhinoceros."
Hear the first report from NPR's John Nielsen as he rides in a rhino roundup atop a 3½ ton elephant named Queen. When conservationists build these wildlife corridors, what becomes of the humans in them? One of the toughest aspects of creating these buffer zones, Nielsen found, is getting the locals to agree not to graze their animals, cut down trees for firewood or hunt there. In his June 19 report, Nielsen meets with villagers who have benefited from sharing national park revenue, and have become involved with eco-tourism instead of exploiting the parks.
There's a dark side, though, to building corridors that bring wildlife closer to villages. In a June 20 report, NPR/National Geographic Society Radio Expeditions follows an investigation into the killing of a local woman by a tiger.
If the Terai Arc Project is to succeed, wildlife experts know they must balance the needs of the communities with the needs of the large animals. In the final report in this series, Nielsen joins investigators as they set camera traps and try to determine whether this was a freak attack -- or whether they're dealing with a man-eating tiger that must be captured, and possibly destroyed. The Radio Expeditions team also joins a hunt of a different kind, riding with an anti-poaching patrol (left) as it waits to ambush poachers.
While conservationists rounded up rhinos and soldiers pursued poachers, NPR's Bill McQuay was busy capturing the sounds of it all (below, McQuay records a local musician). For the Radio Expeditions team's two-week sojourn in Nepal, McQuay packed scores of batteries and satchels full of audio equipment.
It was his job to outfit Nielsen with a microphone and digital recorder, to capture all Nielsen heard and said during the rhino roundup. And because the elephant drivers figured McQuay would need both hands to hold on during the chase, they wouldn't let him hand-carry a microphone -- so he taped two microphones to his lapels. Exclusively on NPR.org, hear NPR Producer Peter Breslow interview McQuay about the mechanics -- and the magic -- of recording this Radio Expedition.
Also on the Radio Expedition, Breslow traveled by jeep, river and elephant through the Nepalese jungles, in hopes of spotting one majestic, endangered creature: the Bengal tiger. But fewer than 5,000 Bengal tigers exist in the wild -- and conservationists say that a tiger's 100 times more likely to spot a human than the human is to lay eyes on the tiger. On June 23 on Weekend Edition Saturday, follow Breslow's quest.
To learn more about the Terai Arc Project, visit the World Wildlife Fund Web site.