Mahseer Trust Education and Outreach Officer, Steve Lockett, reports on his recent trip to Nepal where he presented a keynote talk at the National River Summit.
“Replicating studies is a misuse of resources”, Ram Devi said to me during the NRCT 3rd National River Summit on Karnali River. This honest opinion fits neatly with my own beliefs about scientific work across mahseer range countries, it also sparked some healthy debate between the two of us in another surrounding once back in Kathmandu.
Along with husband, Deep Bahadur Shah, Ram Devi, an entomologist working for Kathmandu University, has run many of the fish population studies undertaken in recent years on the Karnali River and its tributaries.
Her two presentations at the National River Summit were on the importance of aquatic invertebrates on freshwater health and biodiversity, (following on from my keynote) and then, on the final day, an insight into a study on Thuligad, a tributary of Karnali River and potential mahseer spawning site.
After the event, she invited me to give a presentation to one of her classes of bachelor-level students at Naaya Aayam Multi-Disciplinary Institute (NAMI) College, in Jorpati, near the historic town of Bhouda, just east of Kathmandu.The course followed is a B.Sc. in Environmental Science, accredited through Northampton University, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a ratio of almost 75% females to 25% males in the class of 27 students. Ram Devi told me that this is because Environmental Science is seen as a “soft” subject compared to engineering, computing or other ‘hard’ sciences.
For 30 minutes, I spoke, off script, about the history of mahseer species in the Ganges basin, the need for better identification of species, threats from development and aquaculture, the importance of biodiversity, and finished with some suggestions for research into wild populations as an opportunity, and then with ‘real world’ applications for qualified students of river ecosystem function and biodiversity.
A Q&A followed, with the normal routine of all the audience sitting on their hands. Ram Devi tried to start some debate by asking a few questions of her own, and I then conducted a straw poll through show of hands to see what had been important takeaways for the students. All said they had found at least one element of the presentation of interest to them. About half were very interested to know more about mahseer and other fish species. There were fewer interested in community and cultural issues, but these were by no means only one or two students, more like five or six.
Ram Devi spoke for a little while about the importance of rivers in Hindu ritual, and suggested that this is a feature unique to Indian and Nepali heritage. I responded by saying that Hinduism and Christianity clearly share a common heritage with stories such as ‘the flood’ a link between them. I continued by saying that it is my opinion that worship of water pre-dates organised religion, and is reflected in water use in ritual in all major faiths. Roman water/river goddesses and the throwing of coins into wells and springs is a precursor of the move to baptism in early Christianity.
We concluded that Hinduism is the only religion where water ritual is so overt, but that all major religions still show aspects of river worship. Ram Devi graciously conceded that I had changed her mind on the relative importance, and I replied that she had opened my mind to changes within Hinduism due to increasing pollution of rivers. Between us, we demonstrated to the students that their ‘seniors’ are capable of reasoned debate, and may also be open to new ideas, if they are presented in the right way.