Peter Cyril Byrne
August 22, 1925 - July 28, 2023
It is with heavy heart, that I announce the passing of Peter Byrne, a beloved adventurer, wildlife conservationist, and cherished friend.
I first heard of Peter through some American guests who I trekked with in Annapurna. One of my guests on this trip, gifted Tula Hatti, a book written by Peter on the largest wild male elephant in Asia. This elephant survived for a number of years in Suklaphanta National Park. Peter called it Sukila Phanta, the white grass plains. This was Peter's home and a secluded kingdom away from Nepal's capital Kathmandu. Here Peter reigned for many years together with its most beautiful wildlife!
I met Peter through the late Lt. Col. Hikmat Bisht in his beloved Silent Safari Camp. I was studying birds in Suklaphanta and staying not far from this luxury camp. The camp was managed by Peter and Hikmat, best buddies for a long time. Silent Safari was the only lodge operated inside the core area of Suklaphanta catering to the needs of visitors who looked for real jungle experiences. Later, a shift in government policy closed this area and other lodges that had obtained special concessions to stay in the core of the parks, including Chitwan and Bardia.
Early 1990s, while working on birds of Shukla, one morning Peter visited me as I had only just gotten up after sleeping in a concrete match box type room of a literally a ruin, a fractured deserted cement house. I had ingested quite a lot of black carbon on my nostril-lining from the kerosene lamp that was my reading light at night. This concrete building in Singhpur was destroyed soon after my stay. I carried an old tatty sleeping bag, bird book, notebook, a mosquito net, and some personal belongings in a rucksack. I had a CarlZeiss 8x30 Deltrintem made in Jena, East Germany—my descent pair of binoculars! I did not own a camera at that time. My most important assets were here with me.
After initial examination of my living environment, Peter thought I lived in a pathetic condition and as a young researcher, deserved a better place to stay. I was lifted up and promoted as an honorary guest at Silent Safari. This camp became my home for many of my west Nepal visits, as late as, early 2000. This was also my camp from where I completed study on grassland birds as part of my Ph.D. in the late 90s. Sitting with two seniors, Hikmat Bisht and Peter Byrne and quietly listening to their conversation, I learned important skills for my life. Till this day I carry and navigate myself with some of the knowledge they instilled in me. So grateful to the duo, for their sharing teaching!
Peter started coming to Nepal at times when tourists were rare. He led mountaineering expeditions, trekking, white-water rafting, fishing, hunting and jungle safari to name a few---always special interest tours. He explored off-the-beaten tracks and wanted to gain the first-hand experience of the area with his style of adventure. He authored more than a dozen books and in one of them he describes Nepal during his first travel and his acquaintances with many including members of the royal family, the POSH members of Nepali society, one or two expats who lived in Kathmandu. This included the legendary Boris Lissanevitch, the kingmaker of that very era in Nepal. Peter was also a friend to Jimmy Roberts and Jim Edwards, pioneers of Nepal's tourism, who believed in providing quality experiences to visitors to Nepal.
In his memoirs, Peter describes his struggle to set up what is now known as the Suklaphanta National Park. I shall not describe any more here, as I encourage readers to read many of his books to find out more about his work. These books nicely portray the life and work of Peter in Nepal. He was a very good friend of late Dr Tirtha Man Maskey, who was the Director General of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation for a number of times and served many years.
Peter set up International Wildlife Conservation Society (IWCS) in the 1960s– a charity engaged in habitat management in Nepal, primarily through the park heavyweight Dr Tirtha Man Maskey and the NGO Institute of Nature Conservation and Rural Development the latter founded by the late Hikmat Bisht. The last project I worked on with this venture was for the restoration of the Rani Tal Lake as an adviser. I met up with Peter several times in Kathmandu when not travelling to Suklaphanta in later years until his last visit to Kathmandu. He was in his 80s when he last visited Kathmandu. One time we were in Bardia together!
We stayed in touch for a number of years. Exchanging emails ---I remember when he turned 80, then using larger fonts to send him an email so that it's easier to read. I used the same style CAPITALISING LETTERS for him to read messages better. Almost every book he wrote and published ---he would always send me a copy! I was fortunate to be acknowledged with regard to information I supplied on birds in one of his books on Suklaphanta. Peter's last email to me was on 20 February 2021 … soon after this he was grabbed by the illness preventing further communication. I spoke with him last year with Cathy Griffin's support. Cathy is Peter's partner whom I met in Suklaphanta in the mid-1990s. We have stayed in touch via several means of communication and till now she has been my main connection with Peter in the US.
According to Nepal time, Peter left this world on 28 July Saturday. I have been deeply saddened and shocked to hear the news that he is no longer with us. He lived a happy and illustrious life throughout his career. His dedication to wildlife conservation will always be remembered, especially for setting up of Suklaphanta National Park, as a protected area. Peter was a very special person to all the nature conservationists of Nepal for our generation and to me personally.
Peter is survived by his daughter Rara Byrne who now lives in Perth, Australia and his sister Beryl who now lives in Maidenhead, near London, England. Cathy remains in the cabin she shared with Peter in Pacific City, Oregon.
Himalayan Nature with support from IWCS will be launching a scholarship program in Peter's memory for students who wish to study the wild west of Nepal, especially Peter's beloved Suklaphanta. Announcement will follow. For contributions towards supporting more students in Nepal, please contact email@example.com.
On behalf of Peter's friends in Nepal, we send our thoughts, prayers and sincere condolences to his family and friends. We hope good memories can help ease the pain of this irreparable loss.
by Dr Hem Sagar Baral