Nepal has the longest elevation gradient in the world i.e. 8000 meters vertical ascend within horizontal distance of 200km. The Himalayan country is known for majestic mountain peaks of which eight peaks cross 8000 meter above sea level (masl) but it also has land as below as 60 masl. Jalthal forest is the forest located in the lowest elevation in Nepal in the south eastern corner of the country in Jhapa district. Jalthal is a relict and remnant forest island in the densely populated region of eastern lowland of Nepal in Jhapa district. The forest gets its name from a nearby area called Jalthal. ‘Jalthal’ refers to waterlogged or marshy area. It is the largest forest island in lowland of Nepal. I had opportunity to learn about the wealth of flora of the forest from different people who have been there earlier. Two year back, I along with colleagues organized a quick visit of the forest and interacted with local people on various issues around the status and management of forest, which further helped me understand the uniqueness, importance and challenges of the forest. After the visit and the interaction, I realized the need for conservation and comprehensive assessment of forest so that we can get better idea about forest status and biodiversity for its evidence based management. With new project supported by Darwin Initiative UK, our plan to work for conservation of Jalthal forest became possible. After completing preparation, I decided to undertake fieldwork to sample the vegetation of the forest in the beginning of 2020.
I was excited and worried simultaneously for the fieldwork! Compared to mountain, no doubt Tarai topography is certainly a comfort to work with. Wildlife is a threat not to underestimate in some of the Terai forest. I had worked in the core area of Chitwan National Park. I was much worried to sample Jalthal than Chitwan National park. Jalthal forest has become a habitat of a heard wild elephants. Jhapa district is the worst affected by elephant attack. During the last one decade, so far over forty people were already killed in elephant attack of which over half dozen were from Jalthal area. Local reported that elephant roam throughout the forest.
Bigger team for fieldwork
After initial planning I called a community forest leader to discuss about the field work. I requested him to find some local helper for us and informed him that we go deep inside the jungle to work . When I said we are four and want two local helpers. He asked me ‘ is not this group small to go and work inside the core of the forest? I understood the level of threat and fear. After discussion with locals we decided to work in relatively larger group. Being in larger group would increase our confidence and feeling of safety. It would also allow us to invigilate on the way and around while working. Making too large group of course had resource limitation. As part of the sampling, we also had plan to engage locals in our team so that there will be mutual learning and sharing.
We decided to work in a group of 7-10 people depending on the location. In the team we four were researchers and other four to five people from local community. For the ease of sampling, we have two local youths who would work with us for the entire sampling while other three were from respective community forest. Two locals in our team would work with us during entire period of sampling. Purpose of bringing local people was to share learning and experiences of local people and technicians. In the team three were Master students namely Yogendra, Ramu and Shankar from Tribhuvan University. They are expected to develop their master thesis out of the plot data.