Seven days in Little Tibet

One of the world’s most remote and extraordinary places, Nepal’s NarPhu valley has everything: stunning scenery, challenging trekking, Tibetan Buddhist culture, Cold War history. And did we mention the snow leopards? A week of wonder in Snow Leopard Fieldwork Diaries 17.

Snow Leopard Research Nepal

A blow-by-blow account of a week spent in the restricted NarPhu valley searching for snow leopards and their calling cards.

Day 1

Start: Koto 2600m

Finish: Mehta 3560m

Net altitude gain: 960m

Journey time: 8 hours 45 minutes

Armed to the teeth with permits, we were let into the valley by the police without any problems. Immediately a different world: no tourists, no road, hardly any litter. The river gorge we followed was incredible – 1,000m/3,300ft rock walls towering over us on both sides, the sky a sliver of light far above. Sore neck from continually gaping upwards. Below the narrow path a sharp fall to certain death in the ferocious Naar khola (river). Exhausting walk. Out like a light.

Blue sheep, common throughout the valley

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Tax dodging and conservation

With tackling tax loopholes making global headlines, as nations seek to simultaneously finance post-COVID and green economy investments, it’s worth taking a fresh look at the significance of this for conservation, as we seek to stem the loss of genes, species and ecosystems by investing in the global public good that is biodiversity. My blog from 2014, and my subsequent editorial in Oryx, delve deeper.

Thinking like a human

Conservationists should take note of tax dodging and its potential links to biodiversity loss, argues Jonny Hanson, although research is needed to clarify the relationships.

Santa Claus is in trouble.  A recent cover of the satirical British magazine,Private Eye saw him being heckled for living offshore and not paying tax in the UK.  This irreverent take on Father Christmas may have been in jest, but it underscores the magnitude of the issue: tax dodging is highly political.  Especially since the financial crisis of 2007-08, and from the grassroots to the great and the good, it has rarely been out of the public spotlight.

That’s because tax dodging is big business.  Christian Aid, an international development NGO, estimates that $160 billion of tax is lost every year by developing countries due to tax dodging by multinational companies (MNCs) alone. This is 50% more than the entire global aid budget.

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Himalayan Fawlty Towers

In Snow Leopard Fieldwork Diaries 16, Jonny and the team experience the Himalaya’s very own version of Fawlty Towers, and live to tell the tale. There’s never a dull moment in conservation social science research…

Snow Leopard Research Nepal

The worst hotel in town happens to be the only hotel in town. Expect fireworks.

A tired and hungry bunch of snow leopard researchers arrive at their accommodation after seven hours of exhausting hiking in the baking sun. What they don’t realise is that they have arrived at the NarPhu valley’s version of Fawlty Towers, staffed by the venerable manager (let’s call him Basil) and his hapless assistant (let’s call him Manuel). The scene is set for a memorable stay.

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Goldrush

A caterpillar fungus with a street value more than some illicit drugs, for which people will risk life and limb to gather in Asia’s high mountains. Read all about it in Snow Leopard Fieldwork Diaries 15.

Snow Leopard Research Nepal

The extraordinary tale of the extraordinary fungus found widely in some snow leopard habitat.

At this time of year, high up in the Himalayas, multitudes of people can be seen combing the ground beneath them, as if looking for something lost. They proceed slowly on their hands and knees, painstakingly covering every square inch of hillside. Every so often, one stops, pulls out a trowel and digs carefully in the soil. Then they lift their prize to examine it in the light – a small, wizened, root-like object, its pale yellow colour obscured by a dusting of soil. Welcome to yartsagunbu season in Nepal. Welcome to the goldrush.

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No free lunch

In Snow Leopard Fieldwork Diaries 14, Jonny and Maurice discuss the hidden perils of conservation social science research. Seven years on and they’re still publishing journal articles from this work.

Snow Leopard Research Nepal

A bright idea for surveying tourists turns into a lot of extra work. Maurice and Jonny recount the sad story.

Maurice: ‘Rinzin, can you please check with him if he is happy to sell his last bottle of methylated spirits to us…’

Rinzin: ‘Yes, he is more than happy!’

Maurice: ‘Fantastic! And could you check with him that he really doesn’t need it…’

After much dialogue, headshaking and difficult facial expressions, it became clear there was, in fact, a problem.

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Wild Mustang

From its stunning arid landscapes to its Yakdonalds, the world’s deepest valley is full of surprises. Jonny gives a guided tour in Snow Leopard Fieldwork Diaries 13.

Snow Leopard Research Nepal

A short digest of the team’s work over the last month in the western part of Annapurna Conservation Area.

Before it was a muscle-car or a horse breed from the New World, Mustang was a region of mid-western Nepal. It is the true heir to the title. Long before cars were invented or even before horses were introduced to North America by the Spanish, Mustang was the name given to this arid valley that runs south from the Tibetan border. Situated between the towering 8,000metre-plus peaks of Annapurna I and Dhaulagiri, its Kali Gandakhi gorge is the deepest in the world. The vast mountains to the east block the passage of the annual monsoon into the valley so that little rain waters its barren landscape. In fact, moonscape might be a more appropriate description. But in its starkness it is stunning.

Jeeps crossing ancient river beds of Mustang's Kali Gandahki gorge Jeep crossing ancient river beds of Mustang’s Kali Gandahki…

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Stairway to heaven

3 planes, 2 buses, 3 jeeps + 12 hours of walking on the stairway to heaven just to get to snow leopard country, and my closest encounter so far with the mountain ghost. Snow Leopard Fieldwork Diaries 12 explains.

Snow Leopard Research Nepal

Jonny looks back on his exploratory trip to Nepal in the Autumn of 2013 and sets the scene for his return next week.

In October/November of last year I made my first fieldtrip to Nepal. This one was about setting the scene for the main research trips of 2014, which this blog has been describing. I came to do a practice run with the questionnaire I’d devised, to conduct interviews with locals on a range of background issues relevant to my study, and to check out the areas where the team and I would be collecting data later on: Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park (SNP) and Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA). As my government research permit hadn’t come through by then (or till a lot later – see Hakuna Matata), I wasn’t able to visit SNP. But I had got my research permit from the organisation that operates ACA – the

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Something old, something new

In Snow Leopard Fieldwork Diaries 11, I reflect on the ins and outs of doing a PhD. Health warning: can cause Permanent Head Damage.

Snow Leopard Research Nepal

Doing a PhD is a bit like getting married: it’s a big commitment. Jonny explains, with a little help from an old wedding rhyme.

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21st century conservation

Diverse, interdisciplinary, inclusive, digital: this is 21st century conservation in action, understanding nature and human nature to save the world, its people and its places. This is Snow Leopard Fieldwork Diaries 10…

Snow Leopard Research Nepal

Jonny suggests that studying the study’s research team can tell us a lot about conservation today.

Conservation has come a long way since 1903. Back then, a group of British statesmen and naturalists formed the world’s first international conservation organisation, calling it ‘The Society for the Preservation of the Wild Fauna of the Empire’. These be-whiskered Anglo-Saxon gentlemen, with their guns and safari suits, lived in a very different world to the one we inhabit today, albeit in the twilight of an era that was to be extinguished by the cataclysm of World War I. The safari suits, if not the guns, may have mostly gone since then but conservation has not. Over a century later, the microcosm that is our research team provides a window on a changed world.

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