Last year, Livermore resident Larry Thompson established Birds Nepal, a nonprofit conservation organization that operates near Chitwan National Park in Nepal.
Birds Nepal aims to promote sustainable lifestyles, eco-tourism and scientific animal studies in the Chitwan area. It also began construction of a bird sanctuary this year.
“This all started when I did a birding trip there three years ago, and I met a young conservationist who just really impressed me as a person,” said Thompson. “He was very poor, but he had a very strong motivation to learn and do something with his life.”
The young conservationist was Seejan Gyawali, a naturalist who was guiding bird tours when he and Thompson met.
“One of the things that was remarkable to me when I met Seejan was that his binoculars were broken,” said Thompson. “And, he had never owned a computer, even though he had a master's degree in zoology.”
Thompson took a deep interest in Gyawali’s career and eventually partnered with him and his wife, Shanta Buhsal, to start Birds Nepal. The conservation organization focuses on educating school-age children ― taking them bird watching, running safari tours and teaching nature-themed drawing classes.
To further their efforts, Thompson had also planned to help Gyawali attend graduate school at Oregon State University. However, when Gyawali’s visa application was rejected this year, the team put those plans on hold, and Thompson decided instead to use the funds earmarked for tuition to buy land for a bird sanctuary.
Situated on two acres near Chitwan, the sanctuary will provide a pond surrounded by grasslands and heavy forest to attract a variety of birds and wildlife. The team will also build a public bird learning and research center on the land.
Birds, however, were not always Thompson’s focus. A former molecular biologist for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, he found the need to reinvent himself when he retired about 10 years ago.
“As a scientist, I got my gratification from my research and all of that, and when it came to an end, I started trying to find new ways to make my life meaningful,” he said.
He started photographing hummingbirds in his Livermore yard. The photography led to travel, which led to an interest in the people driving nature conservation in foreign countries. When he met Gyawali, conservation became intertwined with helping the people associated with it — both the naturalists and those just becoming interested.
“When you take students out, and they're very excited about seeing rhinos, then that's to me, that's success,” said Thompson.
For more information, visit birdsnepal.org.