Protect family to protect community and wildlife.
The COVID pandemic has affected countries and people differently. Some countries were badly hit in 2020, others worse hit in 2021. How has life in a time of COVID affected our work in Nepal? Ajay Narsingh Rana leads the Himalayan Mutt Project (HMP) Outreach and Education work in Nepal. He was based in Kathmandu throughout the pandemic, and shares how he has remained optimistic and motivated through the course of the pandemic.
We were preparing for a HMP neutering camp in Manang when news of the outbreak in China was slowly coming in.
It was the about the start of the tourism season in early 2020 when we first learned about the pandemic - this meant that people were beginning to arrive in Nepal from all over the world. The news made us skeptical about our plans for the month ahead, but we had hoped for a scenario where things would get under control and held on to the possibility of moving forward with our plans for the neutering camps as there had been multiple requests from the community. They had reported that more free-roaming dogs were being observed in the villages and that these dogs were causing a nuisance for the community. I felt a real pressure for us to deliver the much needed veterinary services, but the COVID situation was getting out of control globally, and at the time, we had a sense that there would be local lockdowns or restrictions in movements. Getting our team both from abroad and locally would be a huge risk for all people involved.
As the days progressed, news of outbreaks in Italy, USA and across China dominated the news and we knew that it was only a matter of time before something would also happen here. There was confusion everywhere.
There were no two ways of thinking about how to respond to information about the outbreak. For me it was clear - stay at home and limit my movements.
Having all my work outdoors meant that all my assignments and projects would be hampered but nothing could be done or salvaged. The only choice was to stay at home and create new projects that could be done from home. The only concern for me was my family meeting people that had unknown travel history, and who might pose a risk to us being exposed to the virus. This underscored my priority to stay at home.
Like many parts of the world, Nepal has experienced multiple waves of COVID. I felt that Nepal was lucky when it came to the 2020 outbreak as we had some cases but wasn't as out of hand as it was in 2021, when local hospitals struggled to manage COVID19 patients, and ventilators and oxygen were in short supply.
Once again, my family and I responded in the only way possible - staying home and find a way to remain productive from home.
Working from home was particularly challenging for me because all my work happens outdoors and in direct contact with local communities. I knew then that my time ahead was going to be hard, and I can only hope that 2022 will be different.
In retrospect, the 2020 lockdown presented an opportunity for me to work on my personal projects which I had kept on the back burner for years. Blogging about nature, archiving photos from my many field assignments, and organising data became my focus.
As I adjusted to a new normal, life in Kathmandu Valley was slowly recovering from the outbreak. We've had good vaccination rates, and in places like the Solukhumbu (Everest region) have also had almost their entire population vaccinated.
As the world braces for Omicron, people in Manang district, where HMP's work is focussed, and other major districts like Chame and Tal, are recovering from severe damages due to monsoonal floods and landslides.
HMP's work remains important and necessary residents continue to rely on us to manage free-roaming dogs in their villages. Unfortunately, we were not able to organise neutering camps in 2020 and 2021 we now have a lot of work to catch up on. Reports of new puppies in almost every village have been coming in so my worry is that 2022 and a new variant affecting our ability to organise a camp to neuter and spay the feral dogs in the region will be further delayed.
As 2021 comes to an end, I can continue to remain optimistic about HMP being able to organise neutering camps in 2022. How Nepal will continue to move forward in the midst of a pandemic remains unknown. Another fear I have is of the approaching 2022 monsoon season, and the devastation that it might inflict upon the regions in which we work.
A lot has changed, but our mission remains the same. Our mission aim to create a safe landscape for people and wildlife has never been more important. We continue to depend on the willingness of people from Manang to participate in HMP camps, and also people from around Nepal working together to neuter and spay their dogs so that it doesn’t become a problem for humans and wildlife.
Text and photographs by Ajay Narsingh Rana. Discover more of Ajay's personal photographic and nature documentary work at Prakritinepal.com.