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Mukesh Chalise , the general secretary of the Natural History Society of Nepal and an assistant professor of zoology at Kathmandu University, has been engaged in the study of monkeys for the last decade. Honoured with the 1996 American Primatology Award, Chalise shares his views on the conservation and study of primates in Nepal with Deepak Gajurel in Kathmandu
On being honoured with the American Primatology Award:
This award has been given to me by the American Society of Primatology for my study on monkeys in Nepal. I have investigated gender differences among monkeys in the Terai -- the southern plains of Nepal -- and analysed the nutritional value of more than 300 food items consumed by them. This was a novel attempt in the field of primatology as there had been no studies, till then, on the quality, quantity and types of food eaten by monkeys. I have also been engaged in nature conservation activities even though no financial or material support has been granted to me by any organisation for the same.
On the research methodology adopted by him:
I have been maintaining data on Macaca mulatta , a species found in the Kathmandu valley, since 1995. My study reveals that the number of monkeys in the valley has been going down since the last two years. No concrete study had been carried out on the species ever since a team of us scientists conducted research in Pashupatinath and Swoyambhunath in the valley in 1976. Many new localities have been included in my study.
On his recent achievement:
I have discovered a new species of monkey in the Makalu-Barun valley of eastern Nepal. Though it has some characteristics in common with the asmensis species, it is very different from it. The asmensis is olive coloured but the monkeys I traced recently are different in colour, size, body structure and behaviour. However, there is a need for extensive investigation (of the new species).
On whether the primate species found in Nepal need special protection:
As far as my study is concerned, three species of monkeys are found in Nepal. Two of these species -- the Macaca mulatta (also called the Rhesus mulatta ) and the Macaca asmensis -- belong to the macaque group. The Macaca mulatta is found in Nepal's southern plains, at altitudes of 100-1,200 m. It has a golden fur, reddish mouth and back, and a short tail. On the other hand, the asmensis has a velvet face, long tail and a larger body structure. It is found at altitudes of 600-3,000 m. The third species is the langur, with a black face and long tail. Langurs are found both in the southern plains and the Himalaya. Two sub-groups of each species are also found in Nepal. They are different in colour, size, eating behaviour and body structure.
On his conservation strategy for monkeys:
The asmensis has been enlisted as an endangered species in Nepal. The other species are yet to catch the attention of the government. Though Macaca mulatta and langur are not considered endangered, they urgently need protection. Alternately, an enormous endeavour will be needed for their conservation in the future. The attempts and expenditure being undertaken for the conservation of the rhino and tiger can be taken as examples. There are however, some private efforts being made in this direction. University students are actively involved in the conservation of monkeys. This, in turn, is helping create awareness among people for the need to conserve all species of monkeys. But reluctance on the part of government agencies, the media and policymakers is unfortunate. A special action plan should be developed for the conservation of monkeys.
On the overall conservation efforts being undertaken by Nepal:
A huge amount of money is being poured into the conservation of different species of flora and fauna. Several national parks and nature reserves have been formed. Animals like the rhino, tiger, elephant and musk deer have been given special treatment but monkeys and other small creatures have been neglected. We have been successful in preserving the rhino. Three decades ago, rhino conservation was initiated with less than 50 animals and now there are nearly 500 of them in the wild. The same kind of attention, I urge, should be showered on monkeys as well. Nepal and India should work together for the conservation of flora and fauna. Recent joint efforts to promote the transborder movement of wildlife reveal a positive sign.
On the role of politics in conservation:
Political parties and leaders are the main cause for the destruction of the environment, especially in developing countries like ours. Until and unless people are made aware and get involved in environmental protection, conservation efforts will not succeed. Only an informed public can pressurise policymakers to work for the welfare of the environment and people.
On his method of spreading environmental awareness:
I often work with school children to spread awareness. I gather young people and conduct essay competitions, stage plays and foster art on the subject. I hope this will bear fruit in the future. On the other hand, I am persuading educational institutions for the inclusion of a course on primatology in their curriculum. Kathmandu University has already launched a course on primatology.
On his views on the recent 'gifting' of two one-horned baby rhinos by Nepal to the London zoo:
As far as my knowledge goes, animals should be preserved in their local habitats. The trend of transferring endangered wild animals cannot be favourable from the ecological point of view. It will have a negative impact on our tourism industry too. The situation becomes more alarming when there are allegations that money plays a secret role in 'gifting'. Many conservationists and wildlife experts were shocked at the idea that secret deals worth hundreds of thousands of dollars were part of the gifting of the baby rhinos to the London zoo. If there is any truth in these allegations, it is very unfortunate that such a thing should happen.