From the Himalayas to the Czech Republic

By: Martina Anandam (India)

Martina with owlets © Martina Anandam

Last year I hosted my friend and fellow CLP alumnus, Felipe Ennes Silva, for a CLP Learning Exchange Programme in India. The experience provided many stories to tell over dinner and on rainy nights. This year, I won a CLP Travel Grant to present at two conferences in the Czech Republic. I resolved to make this trip a lasting adventure and an experience equally fit enough to be etched in my memory.

Petr Colas, my friend and Director of Ostrava Zoo in the Czech Republic invited me to attend the Old World Monkeys Meeting at Ostrava Zoo and the Prosimian Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) Meeting. I readily accepted his invitation. After a 20 hour flight, I was very happy to shed off the accumulated claustrophobia and march into Prague.  Lined with historical sites on one side and graffiti ridden walls on the other, the city is a perfect conglomeration of the present and days gone by. Jana, the primate curator of Ostrava Zoo picked me up and kindly drove me to Prague Zoo. We were to spend the day there and be amused! I enjoyed looking at the polar bears, orang-utans and the nocturnal primate exhibits. I am not much of a zoo enthusiast but this was an extraordinary experience. After a tired day at the zoo, Jana drove me to my destination, Ostrava Zoo.

Ostrava is a city about 280 km from Prague and a good four hour drive away. I was only too happy to settle down to sleep when my interest was piqued by the sound of a constant chatter. I soon discovered that I was right next to the flamingo exhibit. The beautiful Ostrava Zoo, established back in 1948 was then 6 hectare property. It is now a booming zoological park of 350 animal species spread over 100 hectares. The speciality of Ostrava Zoo is its Himalayan exhibit, Chitwan, which houses Himalayan black bears and Himalayan langurs. All langurs were faithfully christened with Indian names such as Shiela, Delhi and Balachandra with the fair exception of Baruska, Balachandra’s mom. This is a good example of globalization, a Czech mom with an Indian son!

The Old World Monkey conference was a wonderful opportunity to meet and interact with zoo keepers and zoo biologists from all over the country. It was insightful to learn the nuances of captive breeding and management and opened up a whole new vista for me. The opportunity to present my work on the Himalayan langur and reiterate the importance of on-the-ground conservation was encouraging. The Prosimian TAG Meeting was equally interesting and I got to meet up with some of my old professors at the lovely Plzen Zoo. The conference offered an opportunity to meet with potential donors from zoos from all over Europe, providing me with a platform to make my case for conservation in the Himalaya. I am extremely thankful for the fundraising opportunity.

Basilica in Olomouc © Martina Anandam

While the conferences demanded my attention, I managed little escapades to Zlin and Olomouc zoos. Zlin is a beautiful city and the heart of the world famous Bata factory.  My time in Zlin was further spiced up when the zoo keepers kindly allowed me to feed the Bactrian camels and the gentle tapirs as well as tape the ‘behind-the-scenes’ action as they vaccinated meerkats and bathed elephants. A visit to Olomouc Zoo was the cherry on my travel cake. Olomouc Zoo, located right next to a world famous Basilica, is set right in the middle of a postcard town. I took a break from the zoo and had a little sojourn to the Basilica. The old age church, built to fulfil a promise to a patron saint, was full of history and art and more than I could have asked for to complete my eventful afternoon.

I was happy to get back to my mountains in India as we have a lot to do there from keeping black bears from farms to studying new species of langurs across the Himalaya! (Read more of our work here).

The places I’ve been to visit, the people I met and the lovely memories will forever linger in my mind.  A CLP Travel Grant made this possible and I am forever grateful. I hope all CLP alumni get to realize such adventures and experiences through these useful grants! Thank you, CLP!

Being part of CLP’s International Training Course

By: Dilek Sahin (Turkey)

Dilek Sahin with fellow CLP alumni
I can’t believe that I am writing this blog only a short while after attending CLP’s Conservation Management & Leadership Training course as a winner of a CLP Team Conservation Award. It took two years to get ready for submitting a proposal to CLP and another year to get an approved project. This may seem like a short time as you read this but not so when you live it.

So, why is this training so impactful? Is this really such a big deal? The answer is yes! You can find many courses on leadership, project planning and communication individually. But remember, you need to allocate extra energy to thinking about it all in a conservation context when processing the information given by these courses. In CLP’s training these topics are presented and every single detail is all about conservation- a unique opportunity.

Not convinced about how unique it is? Imagine that you are in the same room with 21 young people from 12 different countries who all have common purpose, passion and motivation. And imagine that these people have different backgrounds, experiences and cultures to share. Add some extra beauty by 5 conservation experts in different subjects, each is serving to you, each is there for you, doing everything to help you understand the concepts and apply them in your own projects and careers. And finally 5 more people; the CLP Staff, organizing and facilitating the training, not from the office, but from inside the room with you in order to experience every moment again and again. They do this year after year, to learn from the experiences and make improvements to the future trainings. It is such a great room, full of experienced molecules that enter your blood sooner or later.

This training has actually just one aim: to make you sustainable and impactful in conservation. This is done by providing you necessary skills in leadership, project planning, communication and fundraising and by expecting you to spread the word.

This is not a typical training where someone gives information and you listen. You cannot predict what activity you will be a part of in five minutes; it is so interactive and so alive! You suddenly find yourself dancing, browsing donors for a real project on the Internet, interviewing in front of a camera, singing a silly song or designing a drama. All activities have certain take home messages that push your limits in thinking.

I think the best part of this training is getting to know CLP. To realize that your one-year project is not their only focus, but you are! CLP is not only investing in projects, but is also investing in people, in you. I personally feel very strong by knowing this. That’s a great way to feel special. Long live CLP!

Voices of rare ‘talking’ turtles may prevent their extinction

Turtles breeding & Camila © Camila Ferrara

Camila Ferrara is an aquatic turtle specialist with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Brazil Programme. Here she tells us about her ground-breaking work to conserve Brazil’s most threatened river turtles.

Years ago in the Brazilian Amazon, I was exposed to an unexpected but prevalent philosophy for how humans viewed animals. To the indigenous riverine people I encountered, an animal’s primary purpose was for food. Many of these people had never considered that such animals could become extinct. This perspective both scared and motivated me.

I made the decision to move to Manaus in the Amazon and have since devoted myself to working with science colleagues and local communities to conserve wildlife, especially turtles. Since the time of the Portuguese Empire, Amazonian turtles have been an important source of protein in the Amazon, but due to the uncontrolled consumption of their eggs and meat, turtles are now among the most threatened animals in the region.

Turtles that “talk”

Studying the reproductive behaviour and sexual selection of red-headed Amazon River turtles (Podocnemis erythrocephala), one of the five most endangered species in the Amazon, fuelled my interest in these species and I began research on the acoustic communication of giant South American River turtles (Podocnemis expansa).

During this study, my colleagues and I found that these aquatic turtles use several different kinds of vocal communication. After two years collecting 2,122 vocalizations we realized the turtles were using sounds to coordinate social behaviours, including female turtles calling to newly hatched offspring. Such communication begins as early as the turtles’ embryonic stage, about 36 hours before the babies leave their eggs. This discovery led to a second, as this is the first time scientists have identified post-hatchling parental care in turtles.

We also discovered that hatchlings call to synchronize their births as well to their mothers, and adults call to synchronize reproductive behaviour when migrating to common nesting and feeding areas. We are now developing a growing body of evidence that suggests that sound is essential for this species to exchange information.

Hatchlings © Camila Ferrara

Can river turtles be saved?

These new findings are supporting and strengthening conservation models for the river turtles, now considered Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Since 2013, I have worked for WCS Brazil as an aquatic wildlife ecologist with an emphasis on saving the Podocnemididae family of turtles. This family is not only native to northern South America but also Madagascar. It includes the giant South American River turtle, the red-headed Amazon River turtle, the yellow-spotted Amazon River turtle, the six-tubercled Amazon turtle and the big-headed side neck turtle, the most commercialized species in the Amazon.

Amazon turtles are a major source of protein for riverine communities, but turtle dishes are also very popular in northern Brazil. There are now laws prohibiting people from eating turtles but demand has not ceased, particularly in big cities.

Preserving populations

Early in my work in the Amazon, I had the opportunity to develop a turtle conservation project in the Unini River, a tributary of the Rio Negro in Brazil. The purpose of the project was to implement a conservation programme for freshwater turtles at breeding sites. The project was funded by the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) and I received their support to help develop my project and undergo training in Beijing, China.

In addition to studying the Rio Negro turtles, I worked with youngsters in the region to teach them about the importance of conservation. Five years after completing the project, people still remember and understand the unique role of turtles in their environment. Recently CLP also supported me again with a scientific writing course in São Paulo, Brazil.

Through turtle population monitoring, beach management and environmental education work in the Abufari Biological Reserve (located in the Purus River, another tributary of the Amazon) my colleagues and I at WCS are now helping protect the largest turtle reproduction area in the Amazonas. Incorporating an important waterway connecting the western Amazon to Manaus, the reserve hosts nearly 2,000 nesting females annually, a number that has remained steady in the last few years.

In several protected areas along the nearby Negro River, monitoring involves local residents as their involvement is essential to conservation. Working with all ages we educate people in these areas about the importance of biodiversity, building upon local traditions with the aim of shrinking the turtle trade.

I am just beginning my career as a conservationist and while it may take years, one day I hope to see the status of turtle populations in the Amazon move from declining to stable and hopefully, expand. To get there requires more than my work; the next generation of conservationists in the Amazon region will need inspiration to become more aware of the environment and to have respect for the myriad of species here. Without this, conservation cannot continue.

Turtles sunning © Camila Ferrara