Feb 18, 2009

US-Nepal Partnership yields fruits in Conservation

KATHMANDU, Nepal, June 7, 2007 (ENS) - For almost a decade two internationally-known scientists have been working together to establish a broad-based program in research, education and outreach that will have far-reaching benefits for human health and the conservation of biodiversity in Nepal and around the world. The collaborative team includes Dr. Mukesh Kumar Chalise, Nepal’s eminent wildlife biologist and primatologist, and Dr. Randall C. Kyes, an internationally-known and respected primatologist from the USA. Together, they have built a collaborative program that serves as a model of international partnership. Dr. Chalise, President of the Nepal Biodiversity Research Society (NEBORS) and Associate Professor at Tribhuvan University, is well-known for his long-standing efforts in the conservation of Nepal’s wildlife with particular focus on non-human primates. Likewise, Dr. Kyes, Associate Professor at the University of Washington and Head of the Division of International Programs at the Washington National Primate Research Center, has worked for close to 20 years helping to promote the conservation of natural populations of primates around the world. Their international partnership blossomed during their collaborative work as Fulbright Scholars at each other’s institutions during 2001-2002. Included among their collaborative activities is an annual Training Program in Conservation Biology that has been offered since 2002. This unique educational opportunity provides classroom lecture as well as field-based training that focus on the conservation of Nepal’s most endangered wildlife (e.g., Assamese macaque, snow leopard, red panda, musk deer, etc.). The program has provided education and field training for more than 100 university students, park rangers and wildlife journalists from around Nepal. Additionally, this collaborative effort had helped facilitate the completion of close to a dozen Masters Degrees. An important component of the training program involves providing community outreach education in conservation for elementary and middle school students from Kathmandu to remote mountain villages in Langtang National Park. As Kyes and Chalise point out, the outreach not only helps shape the children’s way of thinking about their environment and the need for conservation, but also teaches the training program participants about the critical importance of generating public support and engaging the local people in conservation programs. To date, outreach education has been provided for more than 300 children in seven different schools. In addition to their ongoing training activities, Drs. Chalise and Kyes maintain and active range of research projects including population surveys of Nepal’s primate species (Assamese macaque, rhesus macaque, and Hanuman Langur) and an ongoing study of the snow leopards in the Himalaya. During their recent field training program in Langtang National Park (February 2007), Chalise and Kyes witnessed a confirmed sighting of a snow leopard stalking a herd of Himalayan thar on the cliffs in Langtang village. This was a significant observation that further confirms the presence of snow leopards in the park. The success of this scientific partnership is perhaps best represented in terms of its productivity. Over the past few years, Chalise, Kyes and their colleagues have published more than 15 scientific articles and abstracts and presented more than 10 papers at scientific meetings. While both Drs. Kyes and Chalise are best known for their conservation-based field research, their collaborative vision has expanded to include a focus on human health. To that end, they have initiated a major international program that is dedicated to supporting the study of some of most pressing health concerns in Nepal and around the world (i.e., HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, tuberculosis, etc.). As part of this collaborative program, Nepal’s first Primate Research Center will be established that will facilitate the study of disease progression and treatment in Nepal and the U.S. The primate center will support the captive breeding of Nepal’s common rhesus monkeys. The offspring that are bred in captivity will then be available for research addressing human health. As Kyes points out, the rhesus monkey is a species common throughout Asia and has been used for more than a half century in the study of human disease. This common species has contributed to some of our earliest vaccine discoveries for viruses such as polio and yellow fever, and is the primate model of choice for much of the research on human AIDS. Permission for the collaborative breeding program was granted in 2003 by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) following enactment of the government’s Wildlife Farming, Breeding and Research Working Policy. The policy allows for the captive breeding of a variety of species (including rhesus monkeys) but stipulates that only the captive-bred animals may be used for scientific research. Both Chalise and Kyes note that the Nepal Primate Research Center will adhere to the highest standards and strictest guidelines regarding animal care and use and will follow the principles of sustainable use that have been outlined by the IUCN (World Conservation Union) and the World Health Organization. This primate breeding program was the first to receive official approval in Nepal. Although the two scientists are modest when discussing their accomplishments, they speak with passion and conviction when it comes to the need for further support for human health. Their approach is one of balance and reason, acknowledging that the only way to help ease human suffering from devastating diseases must come, in part, from the humane use of animals for research. Both are committed to the conservation of wildlife but understand that conservation also involves support of the human species. Only by striking a balance between the needs of humans and sustainable management of the world’s natural resources can we ensure the future of both.

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