Bikash Ghimire/Suman Sapkota
Example one: A group of students in Jalapa, Khotang district in eastern Nepal rescue captive owls and release in the nature. It was highlighted by the national media.
Example two: Local people allocated a small forest patch to owls in their locality in Syaulibazaar, Dhading district in central Nepal. It was the first time when local people set aside some land for ‘Owl Conservation’.
There are many other examples of positive influence of ‘Nepal Owl Festival’, which is a fusion of culture, conservation and entertainment together. There are only four countries in the world which organize a festival dedicated for the conservation of owls.
Replicated from the International Festival of Owls, which takes place at Houston, Minnesota, USA, Nepal owl festival has been evolving and progressing for nine years now since its inception in March 2012, Mr. Raju Acharya, a well-known owl conservationist and a master mind of festival, said ‘When we initiated first owl festival in Nepal, we never thought that the festival would have been a successful event. However, it is one of the major conservation events now in Nepal.
Many communities have banned catapult, declared owl conservation area and some have been replicating owl festival with their own efforts which is amazing to know. It is heartening to know that this festival is changing people’s attitude on how they are treating owls. Besides, this festival has also helped to conserve many cultural practices (folk dance, folk songs) which are an integral part of local people’s life’.
The major aim of Nepal owl festival was to impart conservation awareness to people in the beginning but has now become an astounding yearly event with convergence of culture, conservation education and entertainment. With this history of nine long years, festival has successfully been able to discourage the poaching and trade of owls in Nepal via conservation awareness to local people, media and political leaders, upliftment of the local capacity in owl conservation, felicitating people for their contribution to conservation and promoting eco-tourism in the festival sites.
Recently a study was conducted to examine the overall impact of owl festival, in the locality where the festival was organized, using semi structure questionnaire survey with key informants. The event has been able to bring about many affirmative changes in the areas where it has been conducted. After organizing owl festival, the rate of domesticating owls has been decreasing gradually in the area and the illegal owl trade also dropped significantly.
Although not many owl related programs have been replicated further, there has been slight improvements in the preservation of the culture as the locals have started playing ancient games, hymning to old tunes, traditional dancing practices and finally a slight increment of 25% in the local tourism as well.
Interestingly, locals have started to consider owls as a friendly bird despite of the negative shades the birds are due to superstitions. This has proven to decease hunting and consumption of them by the locals. Thus the overall repercussions of the event on the residents have been on a positive note. In addition to that, the event was able to positively shape the student’s perception on owl conservation along with comparative reduction of usages of catapults.
From Syaulibazaar, Dhading to Rangabhang, Syangja approximately 50000 people have been the direct part of the festival which includes local residents, neighboring villagers, media persons, tourists, representatives from Government,District Forest Officers, FON, students and local leaders. From its inception, Nepal Owl Festival has become one of a kind exemplary annual event which is flourishing and branded itself as a popular event in the conservation scenario.
Some communities have taken steps to form forest and biodiversity conservation committee, increase patrolling in forest area, banning catapult, and strictly monitoring hunting and illicit activities in their neighboring forests. The biggest nature related festival of Nepal has proven to integrate people from all chores of lives, which has yielded considerable amount of nature friendly supports and commitments from all level of people. If such festivals and models get replicated to whole Nepal, we can still have hopes to save these magnificent creatures as well as overall biodiversity.