A future for Dhanushadham Forest

In December 2012 Dev Narayan Mandal climbed onto a tourist bus in Delhi. This marked the start of a 24-hour journey back home to Dhanusha, south Nepal. In spite of the wearing journey that lay ahead, he was excited as he had timed his return visit so that he could combine his annual leave allowances for 2012 and 2013, giving him a dream eight-week long break. He was looking forward to seeing his parents, older brother and, of course, his beloved Dhanushadham forest that lay close to his home.

Dev Narayan Mandal

Dev had spent the past nine years in India, finding expression for his passion for wildlife through working for the SOS Animal Rescue organisation. Although strictly speaking employed as an accountant, he had managed to escape the office to become directly involved in animal rescue and rehabilitation. The animals included everything from snakes to Sloth Bears that SOS Animal Rescue had freed from “dancing bear” travelling shows.

Some people never change. For eschewing dull office duties in favour of direct exposure to wildlife was consistent with Dev’s childhood. As a boy he had bunked school each mid-day to roam in the wilds of the Dhanushadham forest. He’d return home at the normal after-school time to dupe his parents that he had been at school all day. In spite of his reduced daily school attendance, Dev had still managed to obtain top results in the 10th Grade examinations. But at that point family poverty forced him to drop out of education to seek a better life and find a job in Delhi.

Dev’s excitement turned to horror when he finally got to see the damage that had been inflicted on the forest during his absence in India. For the first time he could see clean through the forest from south to north, the barren landscape bearing testimony to the greed and indifference of loggers. He vowed there and then to leave his job in Delhi and do all that he could to restore the 176 hectares (1.76km2) of the 360 hectares that had been destroyed. And, given the dearth of conservation organisations working on Nepal’s southern plains (the Terai), he set up The Mithila Wildlife Trust to fill a vital gap in provision.

This would be no small challenge. All of Dev’s initial approaches to potential funders in Kathmandu drew a blank. Therefore, he decided to just get on with it, liaising with the local village communities to explain to them the need for conservation followed by restoration. Dev’s research indicated that it had been 3% of the population that had been involved in illegal tree felling; his mission, realised through over 200 interaction meetings, was to convince the other 97% to take ownership of their forest.

To do so, he worked closely with the Department of Forestry and recruited an unusual – and sizeable – band of volunteers that consisted of retired forestry workers who shared his love of the forest. This community mobilisation has been one of Dev’s early successes, with villagers these days gladly treating the forest with respect and ensuring that their foraging is sustainable. On this foundation of community goodwill and volunteer spirit, in 2017 Dev was able to begin planting 30 hectares of saplings per year.

For Dev, this is no mere nostalgic attempt to retrieve something that he would not allow to become a childhood memory. Instead, he knows how nationally important the Dhanushadham Protected Forest (DPF) is as a wildlife reserve.

DPF is the last patch of original forest in south central Nepal and provides a home, breeding grounds or a migratory route for large mammals including wild elephant, boar, leopards, monkeys, Sloth Bear and several species of deer, including the elusive Blue Bull, and 300 species of fabulous birds. This must not only be restored to its former glory but ideally extended to connect with other major forests.

Dev’s vision is firmly linked to sustainability as he looks to create jobs locally through eco-tourism. The forest is very close to a major Hindu pilgrimage site that attracts 100,000 visitors per year. Tapping into just a small proportion of these numbers could make all the difference and preserve this magical place for generations to come while making a useful contribution to mitigating the impact of climate change. Through our carbon-offset scheme, Pipal Tree is proud to support Dev and the Mithila Wildlife Trust in turning vision into reality.

The Mithila Wildlife Trust