Volume 38, Issue 1, 2019

Motivating Change

Educating citizen scientists for local conservation


Rai strings up a mist net over Charnawati River
Courtesy of Varsha Rai

Varsha Rai is an early-career conservationist, wildlife researcher, and BCI Student Scholar studying at the Central Department of Environmental Science, Tribhuvan University in Nepal. As part of her studies, Rai travels to schools to give presentations to raise awareness about the importance of bats in Nepal and to plant the seeds of grassroots conservation.

We sat down with Rai to learn more about the rewards and challenges of her work.

Bats: How do you plan to change public perception of bats?

Rai: As part of my research, I reach out to people and students in schools around Sailung, Nepal, to discuss the importance of bats through lectures, posters, documentaries and other fun activities, like bat walks. I collect data on local species and their diets with camera traps and mist nets. I believe that direct involvement of local people and schools in bat research and conservation activities helps raise awareness of bats by motivating people to appreciate and take care of them.

Bats: What are some challenges?

Rai: It is not easy to challenge beliefs that people have held for a long time. Bats are one of the least studied mammals in Nepal and we lack information on their diversity, distribution and ecology. Conservation of bats and their ecosystems takes time and patience but is worth it for these beautiful creatures. I believe educating people will help develop citizen scientists that can help conserve bats and nature at the local level.

Bats: What are some highlights of your research?

Rai: It is always fun and adventurous to learn and work with bats. As part of my awareness programs, I held a drawing competition in which I had students draw a bat based on what they understood from my lecture and documentary. One of the primary school students made a beautiful drawing of a free-tailed bat. I was amazed by the astonishing details he included in his drawing of the bat. I discovered how young children are enthusiastic about learning new things and can be encouraged toward conservation and appreciating nature from a young age.

Bats: What advice do you have for any aspiring bat researchers?

Rai: Conducting research on nocturnal species, like bats, is very challenging, especially in developing countries, where you might not have resources and access to equipment and technologies to study bats. But it does not mean you cannot succeed. These days, there are many opportunities for support from various sources to make bat research projects possible. Follow your interests and live for your passion to conserve these species.

 

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