An animal species and a sub species documented for the first time in Nepal
The two new animals, namely Steppe polecat (Mustela evermanii) and Tibetan wolf, scientific name Canis lupus chanco (a sub-species of the grey wolf) were documented for the first time in Nepal in the Trans-Himalaya of Upper Mustang of the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA). The principal investigator is Madhu Chetri, PhD fellow and Senior Conservation Officer at the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC).
They were documented during a study on other animals – snow leopard and grey wolf – that was initiated with support of the USAID funded Hariyo Ban Program as part of its efforts for biodiversity conservation. The long term ecological research project aims to assess the status of snow leopard and grey wolf in the Annapurna-Manaslu area of the Chitwan Annapurna Landscape (CHAL). The research has been carried out in this area since September 2013 using various methods like camera trapping and genomic analysis of animal scats. It has been further supported by Panthera-Kaplan Graduate Awards and Hedmark University College, Norway. The documentation of the animal species and sub-species brings the number of mammal species in Nepal to 211. The discovery of these animals is heartening news for conservationists.
Eminent scientist Prof. Dr. Karan Shah, who helped in the identification of the polecat, said that discovering two new species of mammals was a wonderful contribution to the scientific and environmental field. “The presence of such animals not only helps to maintain ecological balance, but also attracts a lot of interest because of their rareness factor,” he said. According to him, efforts should now be made to study the animals through a scientific, academic and cultural lens – which will perhaps even give rise to ecotourism as more researchers flock in to study the species.
Speaking about the discovery, Chetri said, “We were lucky that the camera trapped these two animals new to Nepal when we were researching snow leopard and grey wolf. It is essential to conduct research about them, and work hand in hand with the local community to conserve them in the best possible manner.” It took him nearly two months and plenty of research and scientific interaction to establish the identity of the species.
Meanwhile, concern about the possible links between climate change and the future conservation of these species was raised by Judy Oglethorpe, Chief of Party, Hariyo Ban Program. She said, “There is a need to study these species and understand their requirements and threats, so we can manage them well. For example, we need to know the potential impacts of climate change – Madhu has told us climate change is enabling livestock to graze at higher altitudes, risking an increase in human-wildlife conflict. There are many areas in upper CHAL, especially the Trans-Himalayan region, which have not been surveyed. Such surveys and research should continue since we need better understanding of these and other species to understand their distribution and status in Nepal, along with threats.”
Agreeing with her viewpoint, John Stamm, Director of the Social, Environmental and Economic Development Office (SEED), USAID, praised Nepal’s efforts to conserve even controversial species. He expressed hope that the discovery of these new species would also be recognized by the Government of Nepal and the outer world in the upcoming days. Renowned ecologist Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal said, “It is for the scientists to generate knowledge and for the government to acknowledge and use it.” Adding to this opinion was Dr. Ghana Shyam Gurung, Senior Conservation Program Director of WWF Nepal, who said, “This discovery should be made as visible as possible, which will garner further support for research and studies. Science and management should merge with local community efforts for best conservation results.”
Concluding with the event organized to mark the discovery of the species, Govinda Gajurel, Member Secretary of NTNC, suggested the creation of a platform for scientists to meet and discuss the latest developments of the environmental world.