A 'self-made scientist'

2014-04-05

Himalayan News Service

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Only a few people are sure of what they want to do since their childhood. Hari Saran Nepali is one such name that discovered a life-long passion at an early age and made that his profession.

Known as ‘Kazi’ among his acquaintances, he is the first and the most well-known and a dedicated ornithologist of Nepal. He did not study this subject; rather his passion to know about birds of his country and an ‘ego’ to make the valuable birds of Nepal recognised before the world, made him an ornithologist.

Roaming around forests of Nepal and discovering the birds’ species, the contribution of Kazi is invaluable in the history of bird conservation in Nepal. Stepping into birds’ world

Born to father Ram Saran Shrestha and mother Jog Maya Shrestha in the year 1931 (1988 BS), Nepali had developed an interest toward birds when he was at school. He would roam around the nearby forests, hills and river banks with a catapult. “I don’t know how such interest developed in me. But I was so much into it that I used to miss classes at school,” he recalls with a smile.

And wouldn’t he be punished for his deeds? “The problem would be during the examinations. The school would not let me sit for exams as my attendance would be less than the required. Every time somebody from my family would request the school to allow me to sit in the exams,” adds Nepali who spent his school life at Durbar High School.

Absence from classrooms didn’t mean that he was a poor in academics. Instead “he always managed to secure good positions during the examinations.”

His formal education came to a full stop when was in Class IX. “I was more fascinated towards birds than studying,” he reveals.

Spirit to work for Nepal Kazi, though is unsure of why he loved birds, developed a feeling of nationality when he was about 20 years old. Since 1952 (2008 BS), Nepali started collecting specimens of birds found in Nepal. “Till then I was aware that the then British Ambassador to Nepal, Houghton Hodgson had collected over 10,000 specimens of birds from Nepal and kept in the museum in his country. I was sad that not a single Nepali had taken any step towards conservation of birds till that time. So, I was more interested into this sector,” argues Nepali whose major sites to discover birds used to be Sundarijal, Shivapuri, Taudhaha, riverbanks of Bagmati and Bishnumati et cetera.

But how would he preserve the collected specimen of the birds? “I did not have scientific knowledge, still I consulted a compounder and later on developed the techniques of preserving the collected samples of birds,” shares Nepali who loves to call himself a “self made scientist.”

“I never attended a university or college. I learnt everything from experimentation,” he adds.

Later on, his attention also turned to other parts of Nepal. And to date, he has been to “14 zones and 75 districts of Nepal to research birds’ species of Nepal.”

By 1975, he had collected enough specimens of his own and gathered necessary information to put on a solo exhibition of stuffed birds. As such Dr R L Flemming loaned 550 specimens from him for illustration and later on published a book called Birds of Nepal in 1976.

To date, he has collected around 750 specimens of birds of Nepal and they are preserved in the Natural History Museum, Swayambhu. Guiding the nature researchers Every time Nepali would accumulate some amount of money that would be sufficient for his bird research expedition, he would pack his bag pack, hire porters and set off on the journey. And this persona never complemented any government jobs. So, how did he manage the fund required for his research? “I used to guide those tourists who would come to Nepal for studying on different aspects of nature and the money collected from them would be the only source of my income,” he clarifies with pride.

And during one such expedition, he got acquainted with Tom Preitzker, President of Hyatt Hotels. This “rich friend” in the year 1979, invited him to visit the USA and Europe. “I also visited the White House when Jimmy Carter was the then president. Though I could not meet Carter at that time, he promised to go bird watching with me in Nepal,” Kazi shares with excitement. Keeping his promise Carter went for bird watching with Nepali at Shivapuri hills, Nepal in 2007.

Bitter-sweet memories In his pursuit to research birds found in Nepal, he trekked the country from Mechi, East to Mahakali, far west. However, not all his days were equally encouraging during this journey.

One of his happiest moments was in the year 1977 when he first discovered three birds in one day in Mustang, near Nechungla border of Tibet. Credit for discovering birds; Mandelli’s Snow Finch, Red –necked Snow Finch and Blandford’s Snow Finch for the first time goes to Nepali, who had waited for two whole days leaving behind his friends.

“Every time we made major discoveries, we would have a feast,” shares Nepali who is credited for discovering over 25 rare bird species of Nepal for the first time.

But his story does not end here. Once on his way to Langtang for an excursion, he ran out of food and fuel supplies. “Giving some money, I sent porters to get the necessary stuff, but they ran away with food and fuel supplies,” reveals the elderly man who then “had to cancel the trip.”

If you enter his room, you can see plenty certificates of appreciation, photographs and books related to birds. Kazi, enjoying a retired life, feels people interested in bird conservation today are increasing in number. However, the work on bird conservation in Nepal should be developed in the days to come!

(Source: The Himalayantimes: Published in January 6, 2012)