The tiger is at the top of the food chain, independent, a classically shy animal, noted for its
sophistication and strength
He had only heard of the ‘Gurkha’ land’s Himalayan crown at home. But when Jim Edwards, Chairman of Tiger Mountain Group, drove into the country in his car (Saab-90) back in 1962 from Sweden, he was “wonderfully surprised” to behold other breathtaking charms like the green hills and rich Tarai forests teeming with wildlife.
“Oh, it was this fantastic feeling of being overwhelmed. The place turned out to be far more beautiful and her people far more diverse and charming than what I had ever read and dreamt,” recalled the 71-year-old, who worked in UK Civil Service and banking before coming on a tour to Nepal.
After a year of extensive trekking, exploring the forests, and fishing, Edwards opened the first tourist wildlife company — Nepal Wildlife Adventures in 1964 with American Dr Chuck McDougal.
“Initially it was difficult for us to convince the government on the benefits of tourism to the country,” Edward shared.
Since then Edwards, ensnared by the country’s beauty, has been at the forefront of ecologically responsible and sustainable tourism development, especially in wildlife and adventure sectors.
He aimed to help develop Nepal’s wildlife and adventure tourism with strict conservation practices along with his business. Later they went on to acquire what was till then a small jungle lodge Tiger Tops, and later merge their ventures with retired British Lt Col Jimmy Roberts’ Mountain Travel, a trekking organisation, in 1972 to form the Tiger Mountain Group, which now operates in over four countries, employing a considerable number of underprivileged people. The Group has also worked to enhance the healthcare facilities, education and material well-being of people living in areas they operate in.
Edward has been decorated with the Sagarmatha Award by Nepal Association of Travel Agents in 2002 for pioneering tourism industry in Nepal, Boris Lissanevitch Award for Excellence by Hotel Association of Nepal in 2006 and Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 by the boss magazine for management and business excellence. He is also a Life Fellow of The Explorers’ Club, New York/UK, and honorary member of Gurkha Brigade Association, UK, among others.
Edwards identified poaching as the most gruelling problem facing the wildlife sector today.
“If law and order is in place as expected in the coming days and the national parks are well-guarded, we can act effectively against the scourge. Local and international support should be given in practice to the government bodies to keep up the world-wide reputation of Nepal’s wildlife and national parks,” he added.
He said there are reasons to feel good too. “There has been some success in the sustainable use of the parks by the development of community forests. This is giving animals more space and also giving people access to natural heritage,” he explained.
Along with other conservation enthusiasts, like McDougal, Edwards founded and is the president of International Trust for Nature Conservation (ITNC) UK-Nepal, a UK registered charity that assists conservation bodies and projects in Nepal since 1980s, and also of World Elephant Polo Association-Nepal.
As a wildlife enthusiast, Edwards is very fond of the tiger.
“The tiger is at the top of the food chain, independent, classically shy animal, noted for its sophistication and strength,” he said.
And he said he is not tolerant of any short cuts, striving to be among the top in quality service and going beyond a client’s expectations. This, he said, has been behind his success, and also of the company.
But it has not been an easy journey. “I have walked my path quite well here even as natural jealousies of our success arose in one or two ‘rivals’ who tried to do me harm. But my good Nepali friends told me who they were and to deal with them. However, I bear no grudge against my ‘enemies’, and appreciate Nepal for making me their friend and inviting me to stay here in a country I love. And when I won the Lifetime Achievement award, all these memories came flooding back to me along with the stress sometimes created in the business world, to hold on to what I believe to be true. This made me emotional and proud at the same time.”
He added that he has found the Nepali people to be very patient, kind and “no doubt among the world’s most attractive group of people”.
“People here have so much cultural diversity, which can be positive if people work together, a unique bonding is formed then, while it can be negative if it does not go well,” he said.
Edwards suffered a stroke around three years ago and is semi-retired. He now plans to remain in Nepal for the rest of his life and help his eldest son Kristjan, present CEO of the Group. He will continue as president of ITNC “to continue my true feelings for Nepal and my goals for the Group. Jai Nepal!”