Chitwan’s nature guides worry about the future

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Born and raised in Sauraha, one of the country’s major wildlife tourism hubs, Rajendra Dhami grew up listening to stories of wild animals and wild adventures. As almost everyone in the neighborhood depended in one way or another on wildlife tourism, Dhami, now 32, couldn’t stay unscathed.

Having an older brother as a nature guide and seeing others in the same locality also working as nature guides inspired him to choose the same path.

In 2010, Dhami started working as a nature guide in Sauraha. With an impressive academic background, it didn’t take long for him to excel in the profession.

“As I was good at studying, I had the necessary information. All I needed was some skills that I had to learn from other older people who had years of experience, ”Dhami told the Post by phone from Sauraha. “There has always been the motivation to choose this profession which is also worthy. Nature guides like me also feel a responsibility to protect wild animals, which are our assets. I am proud to tell tourists about the wildlife which is rare and not found elsewhere.

All these years, Dhami has become one of the most sought after nature guides in the tourist town.

Its responsibility, like any other nature guide, is to accompany tourists – nationals or foreigners – on trips in and around Chitwan National Park and to inform them about biodiversity and its importance.

But since the start of the pandemic last year, which hit the economy hard, including the tourism industry, things have changed for Dhami, a resident of Ratananagar-6, Chitwan.

As tourist arrivals to the city fell sharply, nearly 700 tour guides like Dhami lost their source of income. The restrictions induced by Covid-19 and the suspension of tourist activities in Chitwan National Park have made life difficult for these tour guides.

It was the first week of April when Dhami had taken a group for a walk in the jungle. He has been out of work ever since.

“There is nothing to do so I stay at home. It is not known when tourism will rebound and visitors will start coming to Sauraha again, ”Dhami said. “Everything is empty and frustrating.

Dhami is not alone in his situation.

Ramgir Prasad Chaudhary de Sauraha has been a nature guide for two years. His interest in wildlife conservation and the influence of his childhood in Sauraha also made him a nature guide in 2001.

But, he said, he had never seen moments like these in his two-decade career.

“I had seen obstacles when there were occasional protests and protests, and natural disasters like the 2015 earthquake,” Chaudhary, 47, told the Post. “Things would improve in a few months, but this pandemic is endless. “

Chaudhary said he had been out of work for several months and his savings were quickly running out.

Chaudhary, the sole breadwinner in the family of five, took out loans to meet daily expenses and started working odd jobs, but even such jobs are hard to come by these days, he says.

His last trip to the jungle was on Nepalese New Year’s Day, which was April 14th this time.

“There is no work. The park is closed to foreigners, so tourists don’t come,” Chaudhary said. “I’m waiting for everything to return to normal.

But there is a much greater concern for the wildlife tourist town, except for the hardships faced by Dhami and Chaudhary.

After having suffered in quick succession two waves of pandemic which put them out of work for more than a year, nature guides have started either to change jobs or to migrate abroad.

There are around 700 nature guides who are registered with Chitwan National Park. Among them, 400 are actively engaged and around 300 are highly qualified with years of experience.

According to the Nature Guide Association, a group of nature guides working around Chitwan National Park, nearly 25 guides have already migrated abroad.

“After being unemployed for a long time, they had to turn to alternative jobs. Others are engaged in daily paid work or survive on loans, ”said Dhami, who is also the association’s president. “Besides their departure, another worry is that qualified human resources such as nature guides, who have in-depth knowledge of wildlife and biodiversity as well as local culture, are disappearing. After spending so many years, they quit the profession.

The daily income of a nature guide varies between Rs 1,500 and Rs 2,000, excluding tips, although the income also depends on individual skills and experience. In addition, there are also salaried guides associated with travel agencies and hotels.

“Some would even earn $ 100 per day while others would earn around Rs 20,000 to 22,000 per month,” Dhami said. “If a guide is able to work regularly for 30 days, he could earn up to Rs 60,000 in a month, which is not bad.”

Beaten by the pandemic, the association has made several demands to the government.

The demands include the Covid-19 vaccine for nature guides, the waiver of annual license renewal fees, alternative employment opportunities for them, the formulation and application of guidelines to make the profession worthy and managed as well as the ‘introduction of strict criteria for the issuance of nature guide licenses.

“The renewal fee is only 2,000 rupees, but if the government waives it then it can send a positive message to nature guides. Although they have been unemployed for a long time, they could still be encouraged to renew their licenses and stay in business, ”Dhami said. “Since tourist activities cannot resume without vaccinating all stakeholders in the sector, nature guides should be vaccinated so that arriving tourists, as well as wild animals, can be safe. “

The association also called on the government to explore the possibility of employing the unemployed guides in other similar jobs so that their experience is not wasted.

“It takes around five years for a nature guide to master his profession. They are knowledgeable about biodiversity and conservation as the guides don’t just talk about wildlife, but explain their importance. In this way, they also educate visitors about conservation and help protect biodiversity, ”Dhami said. “These people are also involved in conservation activities in the buffer zones of the park. Nature guides are qualified people and can be used in other conservation related activities.

According to Dhami, they can be used to remove invasive alien plants like parthenium, which grows quickly inside the park, or to clean up the river.

A few months of resumption of tourist activities after the first wave of the pandemic had given respite to the nature guides of the town.

Although the influx of tourists did not look like in pre-pandemic times, the arrival of domestic tourists has generated income for tourism entrepreneurs like hoteliers, transport providers and elephant back safari. and nature guides.

The association said nearly 100 nature guides found work when things were normal before the second wave hit.

But things got even worse after districts began enforcing ban orders in the wake of the second wave of the pandemic. Protected areas across the country have again been closed to foreigners and tourist activities suspended.

“The 2015 earthquake disrupted tourism activities across the country, including in Sauraha. However, after a few months, it resumed because of domestic tourists, ”Dhami said. “This time things are different because of the fear of the virus. The second wave of the pandemic only made it worse. People only go out to visit places when they are happy. Right now everyone is worried and lives in fear so we don’t know when things will get better for us.

Unlike other nature guides, Chaudhary has not given up on hope. He has not yet thought of changing jobs.

His hopes are based on a massive deployment of vaccines when everyone can get vaccinated against Covid-19.

“If people get vaccinated, they will start coming to Sauraha again. I didn’t think about quitting my job as a nature guide, ”said Chaudhary. “I am waiting for the new tourist season, which begins in October. If things don’t improve by then, then I’ll have to find other jobs.


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