Mingma Norbu Sherpa

WWF conservationist


Mingma Norbu Sherpa, conservationist: born Khunde, Nepal 1955; married (two children); died Ghunsa, Nepal 23 September 2006.

Born in the shadow of Everest, Mingma Norbu Sherpa learned to read at the three-room Khumjung schoolhouse founded for Sherpa children by the mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary in 1960. He went on to gain international acclaim as a conservationist, eventually managing programmes in 20 different Asian countries for the World Wide Fund for Nature.

He died on Saturday after the chartered Russian helicopter in which he was travelling crashed in swirling mists on the slopes of Kangchenjunga, the world's third highest mountain, near the Nepalese frontier with Sikkim. He had just completed a million-dollar WWF bio-diversity programme in the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area, and the group on board was returning from a ceremony marking the handover of the conservation area from Nepal's government to the local community, meeting the village elders who will manage this ambitious "Sacred Himalayan Landscape" scheme. All 24 passengers, including WWF staff and Nepalese officials, perished.

"When I was a child, I had the opportunity to meet one of the most remarkable and extraordinary men of this century. His name is Sir Edmund Hillary," he told US Congressmen two years ago, while seeking their support to counter global warming and conserve the glaciers on the world's highest peaks.

After studying abroad with the support of the Hillary Foundation - at the universities of Canterbury, New Zealand, and Manitoba, Canada - Mingma Norbu returned to Nepal in 1985 and was the first Sherpa to be appointed Warden of the Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park. He went on to direct conservation in Annapurna, and then joined WWF to supervise wildlife conservation in Nepal and Bhutan. In 1998, Mingma moved to Washington DC to direct all of WWF's programmes in Nepal and Bhutan. He worked out pragmatic means to bring basic health care and education to the impoverished villagers who shared his beloved Eastern Himalayas with the endangered snow leopards, tigers, and one-horned rhinos that captivated more donors.

The messenger turned out to be just as crucial as the message. Dismayed at the litter and sewage left by Western trekkers and climbers on the roof of the world, Mingma Norbu explained why he was running his Khumbu clean-up programme through a Buddhist monastery at Tengboche. "We were sick of hearing that Everest is a toilet bowl," he recalled. "If the Lama talks, everybody listens. If it's a politician, nobody does."

He took this notion further last year after studies revealed that Tibetan tiger traders in Lhasa were wiping out the 5,000 big cats remaining in the wild. Mingma Norbu personally approached the Dalai Lama and persuaded him to condemn the shameful black market in tiger pelts used for folk rituals or tiger bone and organs ground up by the hundredweight for arcane Chinese aphrodisiacs and unguents. After the Dalai Lama publicly denounced the use of exotic furs and the sale of tiger parts in February 2006, it ignited a firestorm. At monasteries across Tibet, villagers converged to set heaps of vintage fur-trimmed garments ablaze and fetid bonfires smudged the sky.

To spread environmental awareness, Mingma Norbu reached out to backpackers as well as industrialists. For an MTV travelogue, Trippin' (2005), the actress Cameron Diaz trailed after Mingma Norbu on anti-poaching patrol and rode with him on elephant-back.

Only once did he contradict his mentor, Sir Edmund Hillary, who famously abandoned a search for the Abominable Snowman, or yeti, and concluded the high-altitude hominid was most likely a bear. Last year, when pressed by an Italian reporter for his opinion about an alleged yeti scalp, Mingma Norbu Sherpa, who had studied the natural history of the creature, replied that the "yeti is definitely not a brown bear, because bears cannot go higher than 3,500m".

The American crypto-zoologist Loren Coleman said, "The crash of a helicopter in Nepal could have a far-reaching impact on Abominable Snowmen habitat efforts and studies."

Jan McGirk

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map