We have taught field ecology courses in the Himalayan region for many years now and are very proud of our continuing work in Nepal. We plan to return to eastern Nepal where large tracts of forest and alpine habitat intermingle with some of the highest mountains in the world. Our program will explore mountain areas that are only accessible on foot and are of significant importance to conservation. We’ll be trekking and camping for most of the time, at a variety of elevations that range from near sea level to 15,000 feet or more. Details of our route will be finalized a few weeks before the program start date.
The broad focus of our Nepal program is the Himalayan ecology: environmental processes that shape Earth’s highest and most dynamic mountains and the diverse communities of organisms that inhabit this magnificent landscape. Mountain building, erosion, and climate are linked in many ways that affect the Himalayan biota, and our ecological studies will examine and research these types of physical processes. We will also investigate the human cultural landscape of the Nepal Himalaya, and the conservation strategies of its many habitats, especially at the community level.
Our Nepal program is primarily a study in mountain ecosystems, but we will also study and investigate Himalayan wildlife. A few species, like the red panda, snow leopard, or fire-tailed myzornis, are so charismatic that people will conserve habitat for their sake alone. But there are untallied legions of other species as well. Some are fascinating but obscure (ostracods, bioluminescent fungi), disagreeable but capable (land leeches), or just plain problematic (invasive plants). Steep slopes and dense forests make it easy for shy, alert mammals to hide from pungent, vocal, stick-crunching humans, therefore, seeing a wild mammal will be very special experience for us, often possible, never assured. Much of what we learn about Himalayan wildlife comes to us indirectly: footprints in the sand or snow, animal droppings shot through with fur and bones, or the insights and observations of villagers whose daily routine takes them deep into the forests and alpine meadows.
Currently, people who live in the foothills and high valleys of eastern Nepal face rapid cultural change. The older generation relied on timber, tree fodder, and wild game—subsistence lifestyles rich in tradition but poor in material wealth. Younger generations are more worldly, relying on Nepal’s growing road network and information technology to seek wage labor. If they farm, it’s more often about the market than getting by until the next harvest. These kinds of transitions are happening worldwide, but there is no better place to discover all the realities and nuances of being a mountain-dweller in the twenty-first century than in eastern Nepal.