First Forest Guardians in New Red Panda Conservation Districts

July 14, 2023 / 5 mins read
First Forest Guardians in New Red Panda Conservation Districts

Forest Guardians are more than just red panda protectors — they are the heart of red panda conservation — and we have new members in Bhojpur, Solukhumbu, and Khotang districts!

Devi Kala Rai is one of eight new Forest Guardians in our new districts in Nepal. She monitors and protects red pandas and their habitat in Nayakharka Community Forest (CF) in Bhojpur district.

New Forest Guardian, Devi Kala Rai, from Nepal's Bhojpur district.

Bhojpur is one of three new districts in eastern Nepal (along with Solukhumbu and Khotang), where we recently started working with local people to save red pandas.

Three new Forest Guardians (FGs) in the new districts are women: Devi Kala Rai, Renuka Rai, and Pasi Sherpa. As female FGs, Devi, Renuka, and Pasi are challenging gender stereotypes, bias, and inequalities and paving the way for future female conservationists in Nepal. Learn more about our economic empowerment for women campaign!

New FG, Renuka Rai, from Tyamke CF, Bhojpur district.

The other new FGs are Aai Kumar Rai from Tyamke CF, Bhojpur district; Madhi Kumar Rai from Nayakharka CF, Bhojpur; Nuru Sherpa from Ghyankharna Budumta CF, Solukhumbu district; Pandip Kulung Gurung from Goilu Wange CF, Solukhumbu; Udaya Man Rai from Goilu Wange CF, Solukhumbu.

The recruited FGs were trained in red panda absence presence survey and monitoring block establishment. In 2022, we trained 58 FGs in red panda population and habitat monitoring.

New FGs during red panda monitoring training in new districts.

FGs are our "green soldiers." They are the stewards of the Eastern Himalayan Broadleaf Forest Ecoregion — a global biodiversity hotspot — and advocates for red panda conservation. FGs are community members who patrol local forests and collect data on red panda populations and changes in the habitat.

It has been quite the journey. Our FG program started in 2010 with sixteen members in two red panda range districts in eastern Nepal. Thanks to the support of our amazing members and partners, this national team of 128 people now expands 95 CFs in twelve districts in eastern and western Nepal! Our FGs currently monitor 82 permanent monitoring blocks throughout red panda habitat in Nepal.

Madhi Kumar Rai is a new FG working in Nayakharka CF, Bhojpur district.

How do we recruit FGs? We work with Community Forest User Groups in Nepal to identify the best local candidates. We also utilize citizen science methods to engage and empower hundreds of community members to safeguard their forests and protect red pandas. As citizen scientists, they develop skills and experience in wildlife monitoring and conservation that help build their capacity for sustainable income and livelihoods.

Many of these citizen scientists become FGs.

We recruit former poachers to help us with red panda conservation! Why? Because these local people have invaluable insight that can help us stop the illegal red panda trade in Nepal.

And, just as important, this experience helps to foster red panda stewardship and offers sustainable livelihood opportunities that encourage them not to return to poaching. If they continue demonstrating their conservation commitment, we may even hire them as FGs and members of anti-poaching networks!

Members of anti-poaching network in a forest in Nepal.

Wildlife crime is causing a precarious situation for red pandas in Nepal. One of the most pressing threats to red panda survival is illegal poaching and trade — and it’s getting worse. But RPN is fighting back with the No Panda Poaching campaign! Our anti-poaching networks are patrolling red panda habitat, and we’re providing capacity-building training to enforcement agencies and other stakeholders.

We currently have 122 members of anti-poaching networks who patrolled 304 km of forest habitat in 2022. Last year, 42 CFs were patrolled for poaching activities.

These important conservation milestones are made possible by FGs like Devi, one of the green soldiers in our new districts in eastern Nepal.

Interested in supporting sustainable livelihood initiatives like our FG and anti-poaching programs? Join our team of Panda Guardians today!

PG_2023_V1.jpgMake a difference by becoming a Panda Guardian today! Design by Laura Siu.