Working in Asia the past two years I have learned a tremendous amount about how culture and tradition affect collaborative conservation efforts. Among the most important lessons is the need to ensure project sustainability. No matter how groundbreaking or beneficial the project promises to be, it must be sustainable to be successful.
Ways to sustain the project must be identified during the planning stage, otherwise the effort put into it will have been wasted. Sustainability determines success and people ensure sustainability.
Before returning to Chitwan, I wondered if our chain-free yard pilot project for Sweetie Kali, aka Prakriti Kali, would prove to be sustainable. Although I prepared myself for less, I hoped the mahouts had truly embraced this welfare project. Success hinged on their acceptance of this approach to elephant care, which is nearly the polar opposite to their tradition.
As I approached the elephant stables I saw Sweetie Kali foraging in her personal forest. The dense scrubs were a faint memory but the mature trees were standing tall, providing shade and enrichment, just as they had when we built the yard last May.
I was pleased and honestly a bit relieved to see that the chain-free fence was in pristine condition. The staff, under the direction of Chiran Pokheral, the officer in charge, did a fabulous job of ensuring the success of our pilot project.
It’s my nature to push headlong into the next project forgetting to take a moment to bask in the glow of a collaborative project well done. It is too easy to get swept away in the excitement of something new and forget to thank the people responsible for making everything happen.
In addition to Paspat and the mahouts, who were completely receptive to the changes in their routine that a chain-free yard required, many other individuals, including Chiran Pokheral, Dr. Gairhe, Ram Kumar, Babu Ram, Nandu, Vishnu and Dibyendu and his crew, made this project possible. Without their support and assistance, this project would never have come to fruition, much less become sustainable.
Special thanks goes to Chiran Pokheral who, after securing the required clearances, made sure I had access to plumbers, electricians and day laborers, and the cooperation of everyone needed to complete the project. Without Chiran we would still be dreaming about a chain-free yard instead of watching Prakriti Kali thrive in it.
Dr. Gairhe, the senior government veterinarian, also played a key role in the project’s success. A true conservationist, Dr. Gairhe’s endorsement and oversight of the project provided the much-needed assurance at the government level.
Now that I am back in Sauraha, it’s time to identify a location for the second chain-free yard. This yard will be for Man Kali and her three-and-a-half month old calf Hem Gaj. Once again we turn to Chiran Sir, Dr. Gairhe and the NTNC staff to lead us in our effort to improve elephant welfare in Nepal.