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Conservation in Nepal - Monthly Update: August-September 2014
These past 2 months we conducted our bird, mammal, reptile and amphibian surveys. In September, we also began our much anticipated butterfly surveys, which are conducted each year from September to early December and then again from March to May. We also began installing camera traps in a different region which was suggested by our local partner the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP). For our mammal surveys we set up camera traps along transect lines in this area. As these locations are new areas for our camera traps, we conducted habitat surveys at each camera trap point. These past two months’ surveys have some interesting results!
Reptiles and Amphibian Survey
With a delayed monsoon this year the weather continued similar to monsoon throughout the first half of September. This meant that reptiles and amphibians were still active and during this period our opportunistic searches for reptiles, in particular snakes, has been quite successful. Snakes found on these surveys and identified included the Mountain Keelback (Amphiesma platyceps), Buff Striped Keelback (Amphiesma stolatum), Himalayan Keelback (Rhabdophis himalayanus), Collared Black Headed Snake (Sibynophis collaris) and the Olive Oriental Slender Snake (Trachischium laeve peracca).
Reports also came to our attention of locals regularly encountering a very large black snake in a village about a 40 minute hike below our placement, known as Kimche. According to the descriptions provided by the locals and the literature available to us, we thought this could be a King Cobra. If this was the case it would be a major find for the conservation team as King Cobras are rarely recorded above 1000m in altitude, and Kimche is at an altitude between 1600m-1700m. As well as a major find it is a potentially lethal find, as King Cobra's neurotoxic venom is one of the most lethal venom types to humans. It was planned to produce warning posters for the potential cobra, and distribute them throughout the village. These posters warned readers not to approach the animal if seen under any circumstances, and to remain calm and stay out of reach of the animal while slowly create as much distance as possible between them and the snake. The phone numbers of the conservation staff were also placed on the poster and it was advised they call one of the numbers immediately to give a description of the snake and location where it was sighted. We also stayed two nights in Kimche to survey for the snake. A group of volunteers stayed one night and then a swapped with another group the second night. The survey was done with the strictest protocols in place where everyone had to wear long trousers, carry a large stick and wear hiking boots. The ground ahead was always brushed with the stick and no one was allowed walk anywhere where they couldn’t see where they were placing their feet, or what was directly ahead of them. In the event of the animal being located volunteers were advised to gain the attention of a member of staff immediately and to slowly create as much distance as possible between them and the snake. Unfortunately, in the end, the snake was not located on these surveys, but the warning posters remain in the village and it is hoped the survey can again begin in spring 2015.
On nocturnal surveys of the streams, adult Paa Liebigs frogs were recorded and it was the first time adults were recorded this year.
We try to locate the birds by using the McKinnon’s list method. This means that we try to locate 10 different bird species along a pre-chosen route or transect line. The identification of birds is done through call identification and/or sight (visual encounter). Once ten species have been recorded, the stop time and GPS coordinates are recorded and a fresh McKinnons list begins, this procedure continues in this format until the transect line is completed. There are 488 species recorded in the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) and two new species found since July, namely the Pied Cuckoo (Jacobin cuckoo) and the Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica). These new species were officially recorded by Seejan Gyawali, the Project Abroad Conservation staff bird specialist, and the ACAP respectively. With the change in weather to far less cloud better viewing conditions were created, particularly for the vultures and the eagles. Surveying in middle to late September took centre stage with some surveys lasting the entire day, as different and far longer transect lines were chosen. This meant surveying a transect line and then a much deserved lunch out at a different village and surveying back to Ghandruk village along a different transect line. During September, the first Common Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) were recorded for the year and examination of the Nepal House Martin (Delichon nipalense) and Himalayan Swiftlet (Collocalia brevirostris) colonies began. These surveys are conducted at two recognised colony sites and are conducted in the early morning or late afternoon, when the birds are leaving the colonies to feed and returning to roost respectively. These birds are excellent flying insect pest controllers and therefore monitoring the colonies for used and abandoned nests is very important for getting an indication of the colonies health.
The camera traps this time were placed in an area where they have not previously been placed. This area was suggested by our local partner ACAP, and we were happy to place them there as we were also very curious as to which medium to large size mammals were present in the area. This area was at a lower altitude than the normal altitude at which we place our camera traps. We try to place the camera traps at high altitudes to avoid getting footage of domestic livestock such as mules and buffalos. although these altitudes were between 2000m and 2400m, the area was undisturbed forest with little or no signs of domestic livestock. To try get an idea of abundance of certain species, some camera trap points had two camera's placed on opposite sides of a potential mammal trail. This meant we could have a photo of both sides of the animal making it easier to identify and separate individuals, giving us an idea of the presence and abundance of species in the area. When the camera traps were collected at these sites findings included large Indian Civets (Viverra zibetha) as well as some Nepal Grey Langurs (Semnopithecus schistaceus) on the ground, which is very irregular for this species as they spend most of their lives in trees. This could indicate that the animals did not feel threatened and therefore came down to the forest floor. Also most promising was that there was no recording of mules and only one camera recorded buffalo.
We also have a Nursery project where we grow our own organic vegetables. Mainly volunteers are involved from the beginning i.e. from preparing the nursery field to the harvesting or in distributing the small saplings to the local villagers. The saplings mainly include pumpkins, cabbages, cauliflowers, spinach and cucumbers. For this project, we own a greenhouse, where we grow all kinds of vegetables, like carrots and pumpkins. The vegetable saplings are given to the local farmers and, of course, we also enjoy from the organic vegetables from the garden. In September, some of our crops were ready for harvesting and we collected the produce, others will be ready for harvesting later so currently the gardening project includes evening/afternoon watering, weeding.
A Butterfly survey is carried out in seven sites in Ghandruk Village Development Committee (VDC), running from March to June and again from September to early December. In each of the seven sites, the survey is repeated twice and each survey lasts one hour. The method used was a Fix Point method. Last year's results indicated 29 species of butterflies which are included in seven families (Papilionidae, Nymphhalidae, Lycaenidae, Pieridae, Nemeobidae, Hesperidae and Satyridae). From Hesperidae family 2 species, from Papilionidae 6 species, from Nymphilidae 10 species, from Lycaenidae 6 species, from Satyridae 1 species, from Pieridae 3 species and from Nemobidae 1 species were observed. The family which had the largest number of species was Nymphilidae with 10 species, whereas family’s which recoded on one species were Nemobidae and Satyridae. The number of different family’s indicated shows the height of the diversity in the area.
Since beginning the survey this year we have collected the same family groups. It was also decided this time to do non-invasive surveying. Previously butterflies were caught with nets and this sometimes led to damaged wings which are extremely delicate. The method now was to patiently wait and track the butterfly till it landed and take a high quality image with a good quality camera. To date this method seems to be just as successful as the net approach, as we are catching as many species as we previously were.
The past two months have been busy and successful and volunteers still look forward to their weekend break where they can partake on separate hikes not involved in the projects, like the trek to Poon Hill and the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC). Or just chill out and enjoy the slow and relaxing pace of Ghandruk Village. We look forward to our busy volunteer season and look forward to working with them and teaching them about the conservation work of the area as well as learning from them and their experience and opinions on the work and area here.