Legacy of leadersNepal has no dearth of conservation heroes, from one era to the next
The world needs heroes—people who look and work beyond self, who possess the fire to ignite change and use it as a light to guide a movement, who create hope when many may not be able to see.
And yet, these are not people with extraordinary powers; rather they are people who instil power to make the extraordinary happen. These are not people who challenge the without; rather they are people who challenge the within and their own status quo.
A fateful day
Every time people ask me who my heroes are and what inspires me, I look back at the fateful day of September 23, 2006. This day was a black spot in Nepal’s conservation history. As many as 20 passionate conservationists lost their lives in a tragic helicopter accident in Kangchenjunga while etching a major conservation landmark—the handover of Kangchenjunga Conservation Area to the local communities by the government as Nepal’s first community-managed conservation area.
Among them were my mentors and colleagues, whom I rightfully call Nepal’s conservation heroes. They were leaders for a living planet, helping shape Nepal’s broader conservation landscape. For a country marred by innumerable challenges, from political unrest and instability to mounting pressures on natural resources, they were the stalwarts of environmental change, inspiring conservationists in every strata of society from the national to the grassroots level and creating hope for iconic species on the brink of extinction.
That fateful day of September created an irreplaceable void, and loss of an era of conservation thinkers and doers. But as all heroes do, they lived beyond their years, to serve as an inspiration for Nepal to build on the foundations of conservation impact that could withstand the test of time.
Many people thought Nepal would not be able to survive this loss, and that its days in conservation were numbered. And yet today, the country stands as one of the finest examples in conservation across the globe.
Common conservation purpose
This is all on account of the legacy of our conservation heroes against the backdrop of an evolving conservation landscape where iconic wildlife have grown in numbers together with habitats that have expanded over time, where conservation ownership is being built at all levels, with standards being set in conservation excellence, where enabling policies, empowered institutions and supportive financing mechanisms are building sustainability into conservation programming, and where it is no longer about a few but the many working together to make conservation successes possible.
I have spent more than 25 years in conservation, and nearly each day I get to see and hear about a new generation of conservation leaders. I am inspired by the women who are breaking social barriers to work shoulder to shoulder with men in conserving the forests and the resources they provide. I see hope in the young people who are carving their own niche in conservation stewardship as leaders of the future. I salute the brave who work on the frontlines as guardians of wildlife who will not bow down to the threats of poaching. I am in awe of the local communities who are showing that it is possible to live in harmony with nature. I am encouraged by our government and that of our neighbours that are working towards a common conservation purpose.
Yes, the conservation world does need heroes. And I feel proud to know Nepal has no dearth of them, from one era to the next.
Manandhar is the Country Representative of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Nepal