Nepal is one of the many countries whose tourism sector has started to diversify, park tourism is one of its leading example. In the context of Nepal, the Bardia National Park is home to both domestic and foreign eco-tourism for wildlife observation, bird tourism, jungle safari, wildlife study -research tourism. Bardia National Park is considered the best-kept treasure of Nepal. Therefore, we can say that Bardia is mandatory for those who are interested in park tourism.
The tourism sector of Nepal is adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the number of domestic tourists has increased, post-COVID-19, out of which only a few domestic tourist visits National Park. In the context of Nepal, International tourists are the main pillar of park tourism. (mainly American, French, Spanish, British, and Russian). Nature guide works as a bridge between human and nature, they create the opportunity to experience unique natural phenomena and look beyond the horizon. They must be well aware of the language of foreigners. They must have the ability to ensure the maximum safety of travelers. Nature guides must have in-depth knowledge about the region, its biodiversity, and its natural wonders. It is mandatory to hire a nature guide for the tourist willing to enter Buffer Zone and Bardia National Park.
The park, which is involved in the conservation, promotion, and management of various flora, fauna, and landscapes, has made it mandatory to hire a nature guide, for travelers willing to explore the park. Anyone, having a certificate of Higher Secondary Level along with training of 7-15 days is eligible for the post of nature guide. One can be a nature guide based on experience as well. After the training, a certificate and identity card provided by the park authority validates you as a nature guide. Nature guides can participate in tours through hotels, guide associations, or on the individual level, however, it is mandatory to have one. The remuneration of nature guides is based on the tour period. There are currently 78 Nature Guides working full-time in Bardiya National Park under The Nature Guide Association, Thakurduwara.
This organization has been working for the protection of the professional rights of nature guides since its inception. About 1,500 people have received nature guide training from this organization. Nature Guide Association, Thakurdwara was established in the year 2054. The President of this organization has a tenure of two years. Currently, this position is held by Pawan Kumar Thapa. Here’s a brief excerpt of Tour News’ conversation with Thapa on various topics:
What kind of manpower has been produced by Nature Guide Association, Thakurdwara. ? How satisfied are the tourists with the manpower produced?
The Association prioritizes protecting the collective and professional rights of the local youth who have received training as a nature guide from Bardia National Park and related organizations. Apart from that, conveying accurate information to tourists about the National Park and its features, assisting to increase public awareness of nature and environment conservation, support to develop organized eco-tourism development, are its main activities.
For this, we provide various training to individuals interested in working as a guide under our supervision. Training is a prerequisite for nature guides as it contributes to quality assurance. As most of the guides are local they have a quick understanding and special attachment with wildlife and forests. They are forest and wildlife friendly. We, who work as mediators between the local level and Park are nature workers ourselves, so we are committed to nature conservation.
Therefore, nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers visiting the park for tours and excursions are satisfied with our work. In addition, the association is raising the issue of occupational safety to prevent the migration of skilled manpower.
Working as a mediator between Park and Locals? What kind of ease and discomfort did you experience?
As a mediator, you work along with two disputing parties, and this can often be challenging. As locals are often affected by wildlife terror and we being affiliated with wildlife conservation, sometimes have conflicting opinions. We are trying to work by conveying a positive message among the park authority and the local people, with the protection of the interest of both the party. The increase in Human-tiger conflict is something to worry about. Moreover, by focusing only on positive issues, we cannot promote tourism. From my perspective, as tourism workers are migrating across the country, I see the possibility of Bardia’s tourism business taking a leap. To address this issue, I feel the necessity of various stages of negotiations between the park authority and locals to diminish human-wildlife conflict.
Most tourists visit Bardia to witness the tiger. What kind of expertise is upheld by the guide of Bardia, which makes them different from others?
Nature Guides of Bardia are tiger-savvy. Although they may not have formal degrees, their training provides them with abundant knowledge of wildlife. Nature Guide is a seasonal profession; therefore, people here are not only working as nature guides but also as rafting, trekking, and tour guides. We also organize training from experienced and senior guides which makes our guides competent and trustworthy.
Apart from this, we have considered that the nature guide should be able to clear the curiosity of the guests. Such as, In which season do birds roost more? In which season are animals lively and active? In which season are tigers more active? In which season do forests appear green? Which is a suitable season for crocodile variance? Which season seems more cheerful ? How is the agricultural system over here? How is the seasonal calendar? How is the landscape of the jungle? What kind of species of plants are found here? In which season do herbs, fruits, and flowers bloom and bear fruit? How is the social life and lifestyle of the local community? What is inter-community harmony like? We try our best to answer all the queries of visitors.
The establishment of park tourism also means an increase in employment opportunities at the local level. How much do you think the park authority prioritizes the local community?
While hiring a nature guide, the park authority prioritizes the local community, we too are committed in this regard. However, apart from locals, other people are also found working as nature guides. Tourists visiting the park are further attracted by local Tharu culture and tradition. Tourists visiting Bardia also enjoy locally harvested food, they stay in locally operated personal and community homestays and are guided by local tourists as well. The Association has also been prioritizing locals and has been urging locals to get involved in this profession. To prevent the migration of skilled manpower and to encourage locals to run the business, we have been collecting and allocating funds through Ghumti Fund .
Park authority is making effort to prioritize the local community. Without the support and cooperation of the locals, eco-tourism in Bardia was not possible. Indeed, the park is not able to provide the kind of support which locals are expecting to sustain their livelihood. Due to the lack of timely amendment of the National Parks Act, on the one hand, locals are not able to use the natural resources, on the other hand, they are suffering irreparable damage caused by animal terror in human settlements. The provision of compensating one thousand rupees for the total loss of ten thousand rupees needs a reality check. Therefore, I urge the concerned authorities to address this issue along with other
While working as a bridge between tigers and tourists, How do you deal with Human-tiger conflict? Why is it important to maintain coexistence between humans and tigers?
First of all, we are not yet familiar with the behavior and nature of tigers. A few individuals working within and near the park might be aware but the local communities are unknown of the nature of tigers. Signals usually provided by birds and other animals work as warning calls for the arrival of the tiger but unfortunately due to lack of awareness, its arrival becomes unpredictable. When we are not aware of this warning signal or when we do not pay enough attention to it, there is a high risk of human casualties.
Women are comparatively vulnerable to wildlife attacks. Since 2018 more than 29 human casualties have been reported. When we observe the incident of attack, most of them occurred when humans were found bending over. This is because in this position tigers are unable to differentiate their food and humans. Therefore, I urge every individual to be aware of this matter.
When local communities enter forests without permission from authorities and use the resources for their needs, such as gathering wild vegetables or cutting grass, it can result in human loss even if the intention is to fulfill their basic needs. Tigers are agile creatures and can venture into areas near human settlements in no time. Tigers are shy by nature and have the special hearing ability. They avoid humans and hide in bushes as they hear a strange sound. But when intervened in their private space they don’t hesitate to attack. This is why the conflict between humans and tigers and with other animals continues to exist.
On the other hand, an increase in the number of tigers means in a way an increase in our and not only ours but the world’s wealth. Once tigers reach maturity, they leave their mothers to embrace solitary and independence, for which they venture many kilometers away from their mother, However, this situation cannot exist here as Bardia National Park is only 968 square kilometers wide. In such a situation if they encounter each another, the death of one or sometimes both is inevitable. They may not die immediately, but there is a possibility of their death because of injuries caused by each other.
The negligence of the government has left locals with no option. If the government provides locals with alternatives and if awareness is raised by the organization at the local level, creating curriculums and educating children from nursery to secondary level, and adopting wildlife-friendly practices, conflict can be reduced to some extent and coexistence can be established. Talking about co-existence, tiger plays an important role in maintaining ecological balance. Therefore, its conservation is essential.