Young, Wild and Free!

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When asked what he has inked on his arm, 26-year-old Chiranjeevi Khanal smiled, rolled up the sleeve of his t-shirt and showed me a tattoo of a hyena.

Chiranjeevi who hails from Dang is the first person to carry out research on hyenas in Nepal.

“Do anything under the sun but don’t go around catching snakes,” is what his mother would tell him when little Chiranjeevi caught snakes with fire tongs and put them in his school bag to later release them into the jungle. “I think I was a child born for conservation, why else would I have done that,” says Chiranjeevi who is fondly called Chiran by his buddies.

Although back then no one understood Chiran’s love for the wild, fate had a better plan for him. In 2013, Khanal received the Jillian Bowling Scholarship established by WWF Nepal and pursued his career in forestry. Two years later, he was felicitated with the Young Conservation Leader Award instated by WWF Nepal in recognition of individuals and organizations who play exemplary role in conservation. With this, Chiran who never thought of himself as a deserving candidate found fresh energy to carry forward his work in conservation.

Three years later today, Chiranjeevi Khanal, a hyena researcher by profession is the youngest member of the IUCN Wildlife Specialist Group. From being a young animal rescuer to driving plantation campaigns in the community, from tracking down poachers to assisting conservation agencies in planting camera traps, from seeking motivation for a career in conservation to becoming a motivational speaker himself, and from initiating hyena conservation in Nepal to giving Deukhiri the name of a Valley of Hyena, Chiran certainly is an example of young generation in Nepal who are taking stewardship of their environment.

Arjun’s t-shirt reads, ‘Aja ko awashyakta, samrakshan ma yuva sahaabhagita’ which means, ‘Youth is the need of today’s conservation.’ I met Arjun Kurmi, the President of Green Youth of Lumbini (GYL) Initiative at a youth leadership workshop in Madi. Kurmi was one of the storytellers at the event, sharing his conservation experiences with young people with hopes of inspiring them.

As a young conservationist leader himself, Arjun has been organizing and conducting various interactions, rallies, competitions with the sole intention of raising youth awareness on conservation. He was also a social mobilizer at Indreni Rural Development Center, which promotes education for community empowerment. Under his guidance, ‘one youth, five trees’, an annual plantation campaign has been yielding promising results. With support from WWF Nepal, Kurmi drove Saras Conservation movement forward in Lumbini. Besides, Kurmi’s active participation in conservation activities accelerated the formation of an eco-club. For Arjun, young people are the core of conservation. He tells me, “The energy young people bring into conservation is mind-boggling. They are willing, receptive to correction and very driven.” He adds, ‘As a country in a transition phase, Nepal is a land of opportunities. What we see as challenges are actually chances and the youth are always up for taking a chance.’

On the occasion of National Conservation Day, Kurmi bagged The Young Conservation Leader Award in 2014. Recalling the day as one of the most emotional ones, Kurmi says, that day made him realize that after all, the efforts and sacrifices made by those in the field of conservation don’t go unnoticed.

Young people like Chiranjeevi and Arjun by advocating for change in the area they are passionate about have planted a seed for the young generation to follow. And while they may be doing different things in the field, what’s common between them is that they are young, they feel free and they thoroughly love the wild