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Friday, March 7, 2008

Snow Leopards Return to the Top of the World


Source newswise
Newswise — There are only an estimated 300 to 500 snow leopards left in Nepal, and they have not been seen on Mount Everest since the 1960s. Recent sightings by a University of Illinois at Chicago scientist attest to the resilience of the rare cats, and give hope for their future.

Snow leopards are losing ground in many parts of their range across the mountains of Central Asia, such as in China, Afghanistan, and Kazakhstan. There are only an estimated 300 to 500 left in Nepal. It was therefore heartening news when Som Ale, a doctoral candidate at University of Illinois and former Earthwatch principal investigator, photographed the rare cats on the southern slopes of Mount Everest.

Ale photographed two snow leopards, using a Nikon D-70 SLR camera with a 70-300 mm (f/4.5 G) zoom, and saw tracks of two more, the first confirmed sightings of the elusive cats on the Nepal side of Mount Everest since the 1960s. The young biologist, who is originally from Nepal, was investigating whether the national park established here in 1976 to protect habitat for snow leopards is having the desired effect. Apparently it is.

“Snow leopard sightings are very, very rare,” said Ale, former principal investigator of Earthwatch’s Snow Leopards of Nepal project in the early 2000s. “We can easily count them, starting from George Schaller himself, and then Joe Fox (Ale’s former adviser at the University of Tromso, Norway, and former principal investigator of Earthwatch’s snow leopard project in Ladakh, India), and so on.”

Ale has spent the last 15 years looking for snow leopards in the wild expanses of Nepal, without sighting one until now. He managed to photograph these individuals by rising early, at 4:30 am, and observing the behavior of their principal prey in the region, a wild goat called the Himalayan tahr. When Ale heard tahr repeatedly whistling and found them exhibiting “vigilant behavior,” with their heads raised and ears upright, he suspected that a snow leopard was near. One of the main focuses of Ale’s Ph.D. work under the supervision of Dr. Joel Brown (University of Illinois), evolutionary biologist, is to use prey behaviors to make inferences about the population and their community.

From 1999 to 2001, Earthwatch volunteers on Snow Leopards of Nepal helped Ale and Mahesh Gurung (now at Trueman College, Chicago) record the vigilant behavior and habitat use of blue sheep, or bharal, in the Annapurna Conservation Area. Their research was part of an effort to assess the use of this wilderness habitat by snow leopards.

Snow leopards are thinly scattered over some of the remotest ranges in the world, from the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan, across the Himalayas, to the Sayan Mountains near Lake Baikal. A creature of borderlands and hinterlands, snow leopards are distributed across 12 countries and 2 million square kilometers, making their populations difficult to study. Snow leopards are nowhere considered common, and there are an estimated 4,500 to 7,000 left in the wild. Despite being protected in parts of their range, they are still hunted for their pelts, for body parts used in traditional medicine, and to protect livestock.

“It's good that snow leopards are dispersing and expanding their range on the top of the world, in contrast to other places where they are disappearing,” said Ale. His sightings on the south slope of Everest are solid evidence that this elusive species can repopulate suitable habitat, so efforts to stem their decline are not in vain.

In addition to Earthwatch, Ale has received support from the Wildlife Conservation Society, International Snow Leopard Trust, WWF-Nepal, Ev-K2-CNR, and Provost’s Award.

Earthwatch Institute, http://www.earthwatch.org, is an international nonprofit organization that supports scientific field research by offering members of the public unique opportunities to work alongside leading field scientists and researchers. Earthwatch’s mission is to engage people worldwide in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment.

Organ transplant committee formed

Source: The kathmandu post
KATHMANDU, March 6 - The government has formed a nine-member Organ Transplant Coordination Committee as per the Organ Transplant Regulations, 2058.
Minister for Health Giriraj Mani Pokharel announced the formation of the committee at a three-day conference of South Asian nephrologists and urologists that kicked off here Thursday.
Other members of the committee led by Dr Bisho Raj Joshi are Dr Sudha Khakurel, Dr Rishi Kumar Kafle and Dr Prem Gyawali. Similarly, Dr Govinda Prasad Ojha, Director at the Department of Health Services, has been appointed the committee's member-secretary.
Doctors willing to conduct human organ transplants in Nepal have to procure a license from the coordination committee formed by the government.
The committee also decides if a medical facility in Nepal is capable of carrying out organ transplants. The committee had been non-existent for the past two years.
Despite being capable, Nepali doctors have not been able to transplant kidneys due to lack of transplant licenses.
As there is no kidney transplant facility in Nepal, patients seeking transplants go to hospitals and nursing homes in India.
According to nephrologist Dr Rishi Kumar Kafle, a patient spends somewhere between Rs 500,000 and Rs 1,500,000 for a kidney transplant in India. He says that kidney transplants can be done at cheaper rates in Nepal if private medical facilities are given the permission.

Telemedicine eases life for patients

Source : kathmandu Post
DHANKUTA, Feb 29 - Days are gone for locals to walk for days to get to cities and queue up for hours in hospital for their turn. WIth the establishment of telemedicine service at Ramrittha of Leguwa VDC in Dhankuta district has been offering health care to many patients here, without having to visit the hospital on a regular basis.

Patients, who used to travel all the way to BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences (BPKIHS) in Dharan for checkups, now, could reach the doctors at BPKIHS from the village itself, thanks to the telemedicine service. Through internet the doctors conduct medical examination of the patients and also prescribe drugs that could be bought from the local clinic. A health worker is stationed to assist the patients.

With the establishment of this application, 76-year old Dilli Bahadur Katuwal, an asthma patient of Leguwa-4, is joyous as he no longer has to travel all the way to Dharan every month for checkups. "I used to visit Dharan every month for my checkups and usually my expenses would go above Rs. 1,000 every trip but now I can have the same service just for Rs.50," says Katuwal.

People from many areas here are benefiting from this service, established by BPKIHS three months ago