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2024 Whitley Award
Raju Sharma Nepal Terrestrial
An action plan to safeguard Central Nepal’s owls

Central Nepal comprises of forest, farmland, glaciers and grassland, providing habitat for 19 species of owl. Recognising they are a low conservation priority in the country, Raju Acharya led on the development of the ‘Owl Conservation Action Plan for Nepal’ in 2020. The Action Plan identifies the major threats to owls as hunting, illegal trade, habitat loss and degradation.


Raju’s project area, covering 11 districts of Central Nepal, is inhabited by ten major ethnic groups, each with distinct socio-cultural norms that often-cast owls in a bad light. Some groups associate their calls and presence with the occurrence of death, leading to negative perceptions, and as a result they are chased away or hunted with catapults. Conversely, in other areas, owl feathers are regarded as sacred, capable of warding off evil from homes. The goal of the project is to collaborate with members of all these ethnic groups to foster broader acceptance and understanding. Since 2012, Raju has been organising the Nepal Owl Festival, which attracts around 5,000 annual visitors and has become one of the country’s largest conservation events.  


Nepal has become a hub for the illicit owl trade, with approximately 1,500 owls hunted or traded annually. Drivers include low stakeholder awareness, inadequate law enforcement, illegal hunting for meat and profit, and prevailing myths and traditional beliefs. The 19 species of owl which can be found in the project area include barn owl, rock eagle owl, spot-bellied eagle owl, brown fish owl, mountain scops owl, Eurasian eagle owl, little owl, jungle owlet and brown hawk owl. While all species are currently listed as being of Least Concern by the IUCN, some are Data-Deficient or under threat within Nepal. Raju recognises the danger of focusing conservation efforts solely on highly threatened flagship species and the need to be proactive when other species are also at risk. A holistic approach that targets resources towards less prominent species is necessary for maintaining biodiversity. 


Indiscriminate felling of old trees and the absence of nesting locations in semi-urban areas further exacerbate the risks to owls. Cavities in mature or old trees can serve as natural nesting, breeding, roosting and hibernation sites. The abundance of birds significantly increases in those areas with a larger number of mature trees. To address this, the project will train ‘owl envoys’ to protect 500 old trees and install 100 artificial nests, allowing owls space to thrive.

Using his Whitley Award, Raju and his team will:

  • Conduct 11 training events to increase the capacity of law enforcement agencies, policy makers, and local owl envoys to reduce the rate of hunting and trade
  • Raise awareness among students and the public with 100 conservation camps to change negative perceptions of owls
  • Create five designated catapult free zones, which will safeguard owls across 250km2
  • Restore and rehabilitate 1,200 hectares of owl habitat by protecting old trees and installing artificial nests

top facts:

  • Raju is known throughout Nepal as ‘Owl Sir’, the country’s leading owl expert.
  • Owls can rotate their head up to 270 degrees and fly with complete silence at night.
  • Owls are often associated with ‘laziness’ in Nepal.