Chamero, Chiuri, and Chepang

Community Conservation Project

Chiuri (Diploknema butyracea) or the butter tree is medium-sized tree native to Nepal that grows in the sub-Himalayan tracts on steep-sloped ravines and cliffs. For many forest dependent communities, including the marginalized indigenous Chepang community, Chiuri tree is an important source of livelihood. Chiuri seeds is used for oil extraction to produce Chiuri Ghee. Oilseed cakes are used as fertilizer and Chiuri honey is also a popular commodity in the regional and national market.

In recent years, Chiuri trees are decreasing in number. Locals have mentioned that more older chiuri trees remain in the forest in compared to younger ones. Including other different environmental factors, one of the primary reasons has been speculated to be the decline in the population of bats.

Small, fruit-eating bats or Chamero are important pollinators for Chiuri. When bats eat the nectar from Chiuri flowers, a large amount of pollen sticks to their fur. When they fly to another flower of the same or a different tree, they transfer the pollen (a process known as chiropterophily) and help in pollination. These bats also help in seed dispersal through their droppings. In increasingly fragmented Chiuri habitats, bats are essential for long-distance pollen and seed dispersal in order to maintain the genetic continuity.

However, many people are unaware about this essential ecological role of bats. Instead, bats are often portrayed negatively and quoted as a bad omen when sighted. Furthermore, generations of the Chepang community have traditionally hunted bats for food and in recent years there is a trend for commercial hunting in some areas. Overhunting of these small mammals has led to a decrease of bats in Chitwan district.

The goal of this project is to study the ethnobiological interrelationship between the Chepang community, the Chiuri tree and the fruit-eating bats in order to promote awareness and implement conservation programs.

Since 2021, NCSC has been working on a project to document the pollination of chiuri flowers by fruit-eating bats, under the leadership of Ms. Aditi Subba. A survey to understand the vegetation composition baseline data of the project area has also been scheduled for the near future.

Ms. Subba has been studying the interrelationship between Chepang community, chiuri plants and fruit-eating bats since 2019. Her ongoing project to document the pollination of Chiuri flowers by fruit-eating bats, and vegetation survey in the project area is supported by Rufford Foundation.