Dr Chandra Prasad Gurung, who was 56 when he tragically died, was born in Sikles, a remote village in Kaski district, Nepal. He gained two master's degrees, one from the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand and another one from Tribhuvan University, Nepal. After completing his PhD at the University of Hawaii in the United States of America, he returned to Nepal to carry out a pilot study in the Annapurna region area where he had grown up. He then went on to pioneer the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) as Conservation Education Chief and worked with Mingma Norbu Sherpa one of the architects and first Director of ACAP.
ACAP was the first integrated conservation and development project in Nepal and recognised the importance of putting people at the heart of conservation initiatives. As Chandra once said: "When my people have food to eat on their plates, then they can think of conservation”.
Established in 1986, ACAP has been considered to be the most successful and innovative pioneering integrated conservation and development programme models not only in Nepal but around the globe. ACAP's activities are guided by three principles: 1. Promoting sustainability; 2. Fostering local participation; and 3. Acting a catalyst (or Lami or a match-maker). ACAP has been the subject of numerous studies, and these have focused on understanding the conservation issues and challenges in the Annapurna region, the impacts of trekking tourism, and conservation benefits to local people.
Dr Chandra Prasad Gurung was a charismatic conservation leader. He experienced the reality of life and the value of education while growing up in the remote village of Sikles, Kaski, and while travelling overland from London, UK to Nepal during 1970s.
He worked as Project Director of ACAP and Member Secretary of King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation (now National Trust for Nature Conservation), Project Coordinator for the Quality Tourism Project at the United Nations Development Programme until 1999 when he joined World Wildlife Fund as the Country Representative for Nepal. Chandra played a crucial role in decentralising the management of the protected area system in Nepal through a series of policy and legislative changes. He worked for WWF to mobilise global resources and support. Among the honours awarded to Chandra was the Order of the Golden Arc, for his outstanding contribution to furthering nature conservation. The Most Excellent Order of the Golden Ark (Dutch: Orde van de Gouden Ark) is a Dutch order of merit established in 1971 by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands. It is awarded to people for major contributions to nature conservation around the globe.
Dr Chandra Gurung was one of 24 people killed when their helicopter crashed in Ghunsha, eastern Nepal on 23 September 2006. A charismatic conservationist, he was a champion of community participation, convincing conservation partners and local communities to work together. Chandra, along with the renowned geographer, planner and Nepal’s first tourism minister Dr Harka Gurung, Mingma Norbu Sherpa, Director of WWF’s Eastern Himalayas Programme and his fellow conservationists who died in the tragic crash, were on their way home after handing over the 2,035 square km Kangchenjunga Conservation Area, site of Mount Kangchenjunga, the world's third highest mountain, to its local communities in the eastern Nepal. It was a tragic loss for the nation, leaving a massive void in the conservation community.
Established in 2007 in memory of the late Dr Chandra Prasad Gurung, the Chandra Gurung Conservation Foundation (CGCF) has focused on inspiring a new generation of conservation leaders – after the 23 September 2006 tragedy that cost Nepal and the world some of the most of dedicated conservationists. Dr Gurung himself was a pioneer of people-centered biodiversity conservation, that all began with the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP).
CGCF has been mentoring new generations of conservationists focusing on promoting biodiversity conservation with a human face. Over 100 young people have been awarded conservation scholarships in the memories of conservation heroes and sheroes. Protected Area Networks have expanded, wildlife poaching activities have been drastically reduced, wetlands have been designated and community livelihoods have been improved. A new hope has been created through the green generations. Dr Gurung will be remembered forever for his legacy to people-centred biodiversity conservation.
The people of Joshipur, a small village in Dhangadi, Kailali in far-western Nepal, were so inspired by late Dr Chandra Gurung that they dedicated a community forest in his memory in October 2006.
Manjushree Thapa (a Nepali writer) who grew up in Nepal, Canada and the USA worked with Dr Chandra Gurung in the Annapurna Conservation Area Project in Upper Mustang during early 1990s decided to write a biography of Dr Gurung. She spent six months in the field researching the life and times of Dr Chandra Gurung. Her book, A Boy from Siklis, was first published in 2009 by Penguin Books. Starting with his birth as the son of the headman of the small village of Sikles, Manjushree Thapa follows the arc of his career as he achieved remarkable breakthrough after another in the conservation movement under royal patronage, where the royal family expected environmentalists to pander to their every whim. Offering a historical view into Nepal’s conservation movement ‘A Boy from Siklis’ is the portrait of a man of his times, and of a nation made and unmade and made a new in its quest for democracy. The biography was translated to Nepali as Siklesko Thito by Deepak Adhikari for the wider Nepali readers in 2010.
he book has been reviewed by a number of international readers. Maulik Maharjan said “I had been to Annapurna region once and I was surprised to see how well managed it was. Little did I know that it was the contribution and dedication of Late Mr. Chandra Gurung. I came across this book randomly in a university library and I’m quite amazed by the way Manjushree Thapa presents us his story, struggle days and energetic “Bhaihalcha” (can do spirit). This book certainly does make me want to see Sikles and rest of Annapurna region with my own eyes.”
Sophiya noted “A well-rounded and well-written account of Chandra Gurung's life and his work. Unlike most biographies that revolve around greatness of the person in focus, this book contains a well-rounded narration of Chandra's life both professionally and personally. Appreciate how the author not only raves about Chandra's accomplishments but also shares the flaws he had based on real account of people who have seen him through thick and thin. In addition to shedding light on the catalytic work around conservation in Nepal, this book gives a succinct summary of how community engagement is rudimentary to community development. And how political lobbying/rallying come into play while deciding fate of any individual as well as program, no matter how qualified and pertinent they are. Overall, a must read for anyone keen about conservation landscape in Nepal.”
Lhavanya Dl reflected “I enjoyed this book for several reasons. Firstly, it was on the topic of environmental conservation which I am passionate about and was good as an introductory book to one of the strategies in environmental conservation: community involvement projects (or something along those lines). Also, I happened to be writing an article on a somewhat similar topic, empowering the poor, but with relation to public transport in Sarawak and I found there were quite a few lessons learnt there that could translated into the situation I was writing about. Secondly, I like to read about 'big' people, people who made a difference in the lives of others; revolutionary people and I would definitely consider Chandra Gurung one of them. I like to try to gain insights into their lives and figure out what were the factors that enabled them to become what they are and what lessons I could learn from them”. Third, I also like reading about different countries and cultures (and like a lot of people my dream is to one day travel the world) so this book was good as a first-timer book about the culture, history, social and political system in Nepal.”
Dr Chandra Gurung always enjoyed singing and dancing, and the song 'Sora Barse Umeraima' was his favourite. He sang this song and danced in most of the social gatherings including the night before the helicopter crash. The original song which was first recorded 42 years ago by popular folk singers Kalyan Sherchan, Cheetra Gurung and Purna Nepali was recreated in 2021 as part of Chandra Docudrama (26) CHANDRA - A Docu-drama of late Dr. Chandra Prasad Gurung with Sora Barse Umeraima - YouTube to honour and remember Dr Chandra Gurung. One of the singers of the original song Cheetra Gurung (also a good friend of Dr Chandra Prasad Gurung) visited Sikles during the Chandra Docudrama shooting event remembered Chandra that he always used to sing his most favourite ‘Sora Barse Umeraima’ song and invited his close friends in many social gatherings. Chandra Gurung inspired young Nepali conservationists by entertaining them through dancing and singing the ‘Sora Barse Umeraima’ Kauda folk song.
Dr Chandra Gurung was a person who could sit comfortably with a King or with a Shepherd. He possessed a rare combination of qualities including humility, kindness, compassion, wisdom, intellect and honesty that together define gravitas. Let’s cherish the life and times of charismatic Chandra in the 17th death anniversary of conservation heroes on 23 September 2023!
(Hum Gurung received a PhD in Conservation Tourism/Protected Area Management from Griffith University, Australia. He is Board Member of Chandra Gurung Conservation Foundation)