Building bridges and breaking down barriers


Pramod Kumar Yadav, recipient of a 2015 CLP Team Award, recounts how a recent CLP-funded training opportunity in China helped him to broaden his conservation network and improve his technical skills.

I am always grateful to the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) for its continuous support and mentorship, which are contributing to the implementation of our caterpillar fungus conservation project, and to my own professional development. But this time the CLP management team made an exceptional decision for me by awarding a travel grant to attend an ‘Advanced Field Course in Ecology and Conservation’ in China at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences. For me, it was a great motivational award to get trained with modern conservation skills and build strong professional networks across Asia.

Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) is situated in Mengla County, Yunnan province of south-west China. It is a recognised research organisation for biodiversity conservation and natural resource management, working to mitigate a range of conservation issues in tropical Asia. XTBG has magnificent tropical rainforest, limestone forest and various man-made ecosystems that provide a natural laboratory for the conservation biologist.


The field course in ecology and conservation is conducted by XTBG every year for young conservation professionals to equip them with modern research skills in ecology and conservation. The six-week course ran from 9th October to 20th November. It opened with the participants introducing themselves and exchanging cultural gifts within 36 young conservationists from 14 different countries and 19 instructors. The course was based on very diverse themes like climate change, invasive biology, plant ecology, paleontology, dendrochronology, soil science, animal ecology, statistics and species distribution modelling. The course was mainly based at XTBG, with excursions organised to different field sites like tropical rainforest, limestone forest and a canopy crane tower in Booben.

During the course, I learnt how to use modern techniques like GIS, remote sensing, camera trapping, thermal imaging and drones for conservation and natural resource management. The course also aims to facilitate the formation of conservation networks with peers, improve research capability and build a regional consortium to encourage and educate young conservation biologists in tropical Asia. In addition, the participants were trained in different skills like facilitation, effective communication, presentation preparation and presenting the research work through organising town hall meetings and symposia. The statistical programme R was also introduced for the data analysis throughout the course.

The best part of the course was group presentations and an independent project, which provided the opportunity to share innovative ideas, knowledge and build long-lasting understanding. Participants also took part in established long-term field monitoring experiments and gained experience of independent project design. With valuable advice from mentors, participants developed research proposals and conducted field-based data collection and analysis. The course concluded with a symposium, where participants presented the results of their research to peers and instructors.


I had an opportunity to present my current work entitled ‘Conserving Ophiocordyceps sinensis in the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, India’ and received valuable comments and suggestions from various professors of XTBG. I was also fortunate to have discussions and benefit from their feedback about my other research projects and my future plans to implement a lot of new innovative ideas in the Himalaya.

Apart from the course curriculum, it was also a chance for me to gain first-hand experience of Chinese culture and food. Food is a huge part of Chinese traditions; people eat together and sharing is part of custom. They serve green tea with food instead of drinking water. Although the course schedule was very tight, I often managed to spend some time with friends around the barbecue, enjoying local food, debating different international issues and sharing experiences late into the night. Outside XTBG, language was a significant barrier to communication, but people were very helpful and supportive. It was really a great experience to understand local culture and learn a new eating skill (using chopsticks).

For me, one of the biggest achievements from the course is building a strong network with interdisciplinary conservation professionals across Asia. Although we (course participants and instructors) are working in different parts of the world with different expertise, we were able to develop stronger bonds and are now in a much better position to help and support each other in achieving our goals for a sustainable future for Asia. I am really thankful to CLP and XTBG for providing this wonderful opportunity to get trained with modern skills in conservation and connect with brilliant people throughout Asia. The knowledge I acquired and the networks I developed on the course have enhanced my leadership skills and inspired me to pursue other biodiversity conservation initiatives in the Himalaya. I am now looking forward to future collaborations with professionals in this wider network that will allow knowledge sharing and a more holistic approach to the conservation and sustainable management of caterpillar fungus among Ophiocordyceps range countries (Bhutan, China, India and Nepal). These initiatives would play a key role in alleviating poverty among the local communities, as well as conserving the alpine meadow habitat of caterpillar fungus, which also supports many other threatened species including the snow leopard.


Turning dreams into reality

CLP News Embedded images - Chandra blog credit

Chandra Rasiardhy is a member of the Indonesia team that won a 2016 Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) Follow-up Award for its project, Promoting sustainable fishing in Sumbawa. Translated into English by his colleague Ida Ansharyani, this is Chandra’s personal account of his experience during the two-week international training course in which he recently participated.

It makes me very happy when I look back on the CLP training in Canada – a very beautiful country. Meeting other fantastic people concerned with the environment who had come from all over the world was an extraordinary life journey. This was beyond the wildest dreams and expectations of the son of a fisherman like me, living on the undeveloped Sumbawa Island in Indonesia. Of course, I was worried a lot about joining the training. This was my first overseas trip and my first experience of international training, and my English is not good. My head kept telling me to abandon the whole idea, but deep inside my heart, I wanted to just close my eyes and jump in, and enjoy the experience for what it was. I wanted to have something great to tell my little brothers, to make my late mother proud of me, and to have lots of funny and ridiculous stories to tell my fisher family and friends, but also to prove to myself and to others that everything in life is possible, no matter who you are.

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The two weeks of CLP training was the best experience of my life, for sure. I will always recall the warm feeling of socialising with new friends from other countries who were very kind to me. I always looked forward to waking up in the morning, having breakfast and then checking in before starting to study. I really liked the check-in activities: games, yoga and sharing with others what’s in our heart and mind. I would have never thought that such simple activities as those could really energise you despite the long hours of studying. Remembering all of the new and very kind friends that I made there, I miss them so much now. I keep hoping that there will be a chance someday in my life to meet them all again.

This was truly a life-changing experience for me. I learned many new important things from this training about leadership and other skills. The methods of learning were so easy to understand and to apply in real conservation work. I learned about project planning, how gender issues should be incorporated into conservation, how to work with other stakeholders, and much more besides. One thing that I really enjoyed was that we always had games after class sessions, which was such fun.

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After the training I felt really energised and motivated to apply all the things I had learned to our ongoing CLP project. I am more confident now to take on a bigger role in our project and in other conservation initiatives. I would like to share many of my experiences and the knowledge gained from this training with my team members and other young people. I have a vision that many young people will be more knowledgeable and aware of the need to protect their marine resources and that they will be more capable of initiating conservation action that will improve the lives of the fisher community as well as conserving the marine environment. I hope that I can keep achieving things for conservation in the future. I hope that, in time, I will also improve my English, so that the language will become much easier for me.

Oh my! I still cannot believe that this CLP training experience was real! I often think that I must have been dreaming and that it was a very nice and long dream from which I never wanted to wake up. This is totally crazy! Thanks so much, CLP!

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A leap in the right direction

CLP News Embedded images - Edna Oaxaca 2016

Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) Ambassadors play a valuable role in helping first-time CLP Team Award applicants to improve the quality of their proposals and maximise the chances of their project being funded. Before applying for a 2016 Future Conservationist Award, Edna Leticia González Bernal, team leader of the award-winning project, Preventing the disappearance of three frog species from Oaxaca, Mexico, sought help from Mauricio Sebastián Akmentins. A CLP Alumni Ambassador and a fellow Spanish-speaking amphibian specialist, Mauricio was leader of the 2013 award-winning project, Saving the Endangered marsupial frogs in Yungas forests of Argentina. We asked them both to describe the process from their respective viewpoints.


When I applied for a Future Conservationist Award, I received some valuable advice from a former CLP alumnus in an informal way. Later, when the Ambassador programme was established in 2013, I saw the opportunity to help other young conservationists to reach their conservation objectives. That’s why I chose to volunteer as an Ambassador. To date I have helped six CLP applicants, and two of these projects have won awards.

For me, the most rewarding parts of the programme are the feedback generated from the applicants, sharing my personal experiences as a conservationist, and the possibility of learning about different points of view and approaches in conservation. I find that very stimulating.

The Ambassador programme has made it possible for me to put into practice most of skills learned at the CLP international training course, which is one of the benefits of winning a CLP award. At the same time, it shows me new perspectives about how to address conservation problems. The latest one proved very useful at a time when I was applying for further funds for my own conservation projects.

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My advice to future CLP applicants is that it is a good idea to ask for Ambassadors’ advice! It is the best way of identifying the conservation problem that you are attempting to confront (the most common mistake), and helps you to set the conservation priorities and clearly express your project objective.

I would also definitely recommend the Ambassador programme to other CLP alumni who might be thinking of volunteering; it’s a very rewarding experience. I’m sure other alumni would take on the role of Ambassador if they knew about this opportunity. I think that sharing this kind of experience in the blog is a good way of making the programme more visible.

I believe that encouraging applicants and alumni to participate and use the resources provided by CLP (such as the Ambassador programme and alumni travel grants) is the best way to ensure the success of these conservation projects.

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I actually discovered the Ambassador programme through the CLP website. I chose to participate because I thought it was a great opportunity that someone could read my proposal and send me feedback before I submitted it. I’ve always thought that having supporting people around you is an important aspect to achieve your goals. My goal in this case was to get my proposal financed and it was such a big opportunity to get it read and commented on by someone who was an expert in amphibians, a previous award-winner, but more than anything someone keen to help others in an altruistic way.

I picked Mauricio and sent him my proposal both because he works with frogs and he speaks my native language, which is Spanish. When I sent him the first e-mail I was very formal, you know, the usual way to write when you don’t really know someone. It took just a single reply from him to break this stiffness. Straight away, Mauricio was so friendly and easy to communicate with that I felt that I knew him personally – and had done for years!

It was clear that his main interest was to read my document and send me feedback, which by the way was full of good ideas. Maybe the most impressive comment that I got from him was that finding funding is actually about establishing a collaborative relationship with your funders rather than just asking donors for money.

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To be honest, I didn’t seek advice from any other reviewers or colleagues in a very formal way before submitting my application to CLP, but on several occasions I found myself talking about the project during mealtimes shared with colleagues, and I’m sure those conversations brought enriching ideas.

I would definitely recommend the Ambassador programme to future applicants! I think the programme is a great opportunity to get comments from other experienced peers. It is often common that after working on your proposal for a period of time you start overlooking important details that can be improved, sometimes as simple as making an idea clearer. Getting someone else to read it is an ideal way to get unbiased and thought-provoking observations that might contribute significantly to the success of your application.

If you ask me what advice I now have for future CLP applicants, I would like to pass on Mauricio’s comment – the idea that finding a funder is about establishing a collaborative relationship. It is important to understand that this is a key aspect when choosing funders and sending a proposal. Are you going to be able to collaborate with your funders? Do you share perceptions about the best way to solve the issue that you are trying to solve? Why are you interested in getting their support? Why should they be interested in supporting you? It is all about establishing a win-win situation, in this case for conservation.

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Details of the programme, and how to contact a CLP Alumni Ambassador, can be found here.

Blood, sweat, frogs and otters

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A Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) networking grant award enabled alumnus Anirban Dutta Gupta and fellow film-maker Priyanka Kuriakose to meet CLP project teams in India and create two short conservation films. This is their account of how that journey unfolded.

As the millionth leech slowly and determinedly climbed up my leg looking for a succulent spot to sink its teeth, I wondered – not for the first time – whether it would have been better to sit in an air-conditioned office making PowerPoint presentations. No sooner had the thought wandered into my mind than it was shot down. Being a film-maker may have its challenges, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

On this particular shoot I was lying flat on my stomach on the side of the Anaimalai Hills in Western Ghats, India, waiting with bated breath to spot one of the rarest frogs in the world. The rain pattered down with ominous determination, the leeches had settled into their favourite spots, the cicadas raised their screeches in a crescendo and the mist wafted up the hill slope covering everything in a blanket of white. My partner in crime Priyanka Kuriakose valiantly tried to keep the camera dry while hopping from leg to leg, a vain attempt to confuse the leeches.

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Filming wildlife is never easy and this shoot was no different. But how did we find ourselves here?

Like most beginnings in Mumbai, our journey started on a local suburban train that India’s entire population seemed to be trying to board. Amidst this sea of humanity, we hit on the idea of making series of short films on some very special people who have been working for months – and sometimes years – to help protect unique flora and fauna on the cusp of extinction. At the forefront of this effort has been the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP), supporting these conservationists with funds and training.

As a CLP alumnus myself, I am familiar with the challenges of fieldwork and achieving change for biodiversity. During our 2008 CLP project to protect the lesser florican through community participation, we experienced the power of film. Combined with other audio-visual formats, film works impressively well in imparting complex and often intangible conservation messages in India, a country with high illiteracy rates and a culture engrained in moving media.

Priyanka and I had a vision to film CLP projects to record for posterity the great work done by dedicated individuals and to use these films for environmental education, fundraising and awareness raising. With CLP networking grant support, we had our chance to do just this. We had enough funds to feature two of the 50 Indian projects that have been supported by CLP since 1985. Like a kid in a candy shop, we wanted to film them all! We eventually made a shortlist and contacted the project teams to check on the feasibility of filming with regard to location, season, scope of the project and permissions.

The two projects finally selected were ‘Conservation of otters through community participation in River Moyar, Tamil Nadu’ led by Kannadasan Narsimmarajan, and ‘Conservation of the Critically Endangered toad-skinned frog in India’ led by Arun Kanagavel.

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Both Kannadasan and Arun were extremely excited about the film shoots and didn’t hesitate to offer their help. At the time they did not realise that this would entail waking up every day at the crack of dawn, climbing trees and sliding down rocks and being damp and hungry for extended periods of time. We kept quiet about the hardship bits, naturally.

The subjects and their terrain were different, and so were the challenges. The otters are dynamic subjects, full of life and energy but extremely challenging to shoot as they are fast moving and sensitive to human presence. While not as nimble as otters, toad-skinned frogs are very difficult to spot and occur only in a few places.

However, the biggest challenge was the weather. Arun informed us that we needed a few good monsoon showers to see the frogs. Kannadasan worried that too much rain would flood the Moyar River, making it difficult to shoot the otters. A bit of meteorological brainstorming fortified with cups of strong coffee gave us a few best-guess dates for filming. Alongside this, the final script was developed with essential inputs from Arun, Kannadasan and CLP.

Script: check. Equipment: check. Tickets: check. Permissions: check. Weather: umm…

Our first stop was Masengudi near Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, through which the serene Moyar River flows. Kannadasan and his team are plotting the occupancy of otters along this river to better understand and plan the conservation policy. And so we waited for the otters to show up. By the dam, by the river, between the boulders, behind the bush, between leeches and amongst flies…. We waited.

CLP News Embedded images - Anirban otter swim

In between the vigils we covered our other shoots – the outreach programme, the interviews, the landscape. But there were no otters in sight and time was running out. As a last hope, we set up by the old watchtower and as the late afternoon heat was having its soporific effect, an excited yell from Kannadasan woke us up. The otters had been sighted! A large group swam into view, dipping in and out of the water for a magical show that lasted the whole afternoon. The hours of frustrated waiting had been worthwhile.

With this experience still in our mind we reluctantly packed up and headed off to film the second project in the mist-covered Anaimalai hills, amidst the tea estates and the ‘shola’ forests. Our rendezvous was with Arun Kanagavel, the young researcher leading the effort to study the myriad amphibians of the Western Ghats and in particular the toad-skinned frog, found only in this part of the hills.

Small and toad-like, the frogs were extremely difficult to find and, once spotted, their small size made them a technically challenging subject to shoot. Reaching the location was another task in itself – Arun and Sethu Parvathy made the steep climb look maddeningly easy while we huffed and puffed one step at a time. Every rest was an invitation for a leech invasion.

CLP News Embedded images - Anirban frog filming

As with the otters, it was only on the last day that we managed to find the toad-skinned frog. With the footage wrapped up we headed back to Mumbai to edit and create short films. Once completed, the final versions were shared online and on social media. Soon after we finished the otter film it was shown by Kannadasan and his team at the 13th International Otter Congress in Singapore.

For us, these films were an opportunity to put our theories into action – create structured and designed communication about conservation projects for impactful dissemination. We made wonderful friends, experienced incredible landscapes and came face to face with some of the most enigmatic species on the planet.

We hope you enjoy our films: Waterdogs of Moyar and The Frog Chronicles.

We cannot wait to pack for the next trip and another set of films – leeches and all!

Glittering prizes help to shine spotlight on vital conservation work

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You’ve all heard the joke about buses; you wait ages for one to arrive, then several turn up at once. For the vast majority of conservationists, however, awards tend to be more like telephone engineers; you wait years for one to arrive…and they never turn up at all. In this context, it is gratifying to witness so many people with Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) connections bucking the trend, particularly in the first half of 2016.

In recent years, CLP alumni have regularly picked up awards. Julie Hanta Razafimanahaka, Director of Madagasikara Voakajy, first joined this Malagasy NGO as a volunteer researcher on a CLP-funded bat conservation project. She quickly established herself as one of Madagascar’s most promising conservationists, a reputation cemented in her current role. Julie was the recipient of a 2014 Marsh Award, which recognises inspiring individuals who are having a profound impact in their chosen conservation sphere, and won the 2015 Young Women in Conservation Biology Award.


Patricia Davis, another 2014 Marsh Award winner, co-founded ‘Community Centred Conservation’ (known as C3), whose ‘Dugongs for Life’ project received a coveted Conservation Leadership Award worth US$50,000.

President and co-founder of Peruvian NGO ProDelphinus and recipient of three successive CLP awards, Joanna Alfaro Shigueto (2015 Marsh Award for Marine Conservation Leadership) has led the way in the development of sustainable small-scale fisheries and protection of marine wildlife throughout the south-eastern Pacific Ocean.

Mirza Kusrini, another 2015 Marsh Award winner, has gradually metamorphosed into one of the leading authorities on amphibians in Indonesia, greatly increasing awareness in her home country about the importance of frogs and their role in the ecosystem.

Golden year

This year has seen CLP alumni positively showered with glittering prizes.

Yufang Gao, a dynamic young conservationist whose meteoric rise to prominence began with a CLP internship at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in 2008, is currently at the helm of an NGO in his native China, a country sorely in need of environmental enthusiasts. The year of the monkey is rapidly evolving into the year of the award ceremony for Gao, who has picked up a 2016 Marsh Award and National Geographic Society’s coveted Emerging Explorer award in quick succession.

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Uruguay’s Alejandro Fallabrino, winner of the 2016 Marsh Award for Marine Conservation Leadership, is a more seasoned campaigner with three successive CLP awards to his name. He has been making waves in marine conservation for nearly 30 years, and founded local NGO Karumbé, which played a key role in establishing his country’s first Marine Protected Area.

Three CLP alumni – Gilbert Adum, Alex Rukhaia and Makala Jasper – featured among the winners of this year’s Whitley Fund for Nature Awards, affectionately known as the ‘Green Oscars’.

Co-founder of SAVE THE FROGS! Ghana, Gilbert Adum was born into a hunting community, but broke the mould by dedicating himself to the conservation of endangered amphibians like the giant squeaker frog.

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Alex Rukhaia, the first Georgian ever nominated for a Whitley Award, is working with local communities in his home country to change attitudes to migrating raptors that are traditionally shot or captured for falconry.

Co-founder and CEO of the Mpingo Conservation & Development initiative, Makala Jasper is at the forefront of efforts to conserve Tanzania’s forest and woodland habitats. Makala barely had time to polish his 2016 Whitley Award before he found himself flying to Washington DC, where he collected the National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in African Conservation. Appropriately enough, the size of the prize matched the enormous prestige attached to it, presenting Makala with a novel conservation challenge – how to squeeze the award into his carry-on baggage on the return flight.

Geographically widespread and taxonomically varied, the projects that gave rise to all these awards underline CLP’s global reach and broad species remit – turtles in South America, snow leopards in China, raptors in Georgia, East African forests and West African amphibians are among the many beneficiaries of the individual dedication and collective commitment that these awards serve to highlight.

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Conservation is the real winner

Ultimately, it is this collective commitment that makes the difference. Makala and Gao would be the first to acknowledge the countless unsung conservation heroes who go above and beyond the call of duty without ever receiving the recognition their efforts deserve. That includes the local communities in whose hands the long-term fate of all these species and habitats ultimately lies.

But these people need to be inspired in the first place, and it is individuals like Gao and Makala who provide the spark to ignite others’ enthusiasm and galvanise them into collective action. That is what makes them special.

Conservationists do not need awards to tell them that they are doing a valuable job, and you would struggle to find anyone working in this field whose primary motivation was to garner plaudits. But these public tokens of esteem don’t just recognise the recipients. By putting conservationists and their projects in the global spotlight, they raise local, national and international awareness about the vital importance of doing this work in the first place.

They also, it is worth noting, enhance reputations and open doors to new sources of funding, which in turn enables conservationists like Makala and Gao to do more of what they do best. In that sense, these awards are worth their weight in gold.

Snow leopard conservation measures win female friends in high places

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Radhika Timbadia reveals how a second Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) award is helping to support her team’s innovative wildlife protection work in the Himalayas.

It was three years ago, after a long, tiring journey up the road from Leh to Kaza, that I first visited Spiti, in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Having heard countless stories about its pristine beauty, I was excited to explore its fauna and high mountains. We were mesmerised at 4,590m by Kunzum-La, the pass that connects Kullu and Lahaul valleys with Spiti valley. After travelling for more than 24 hours, I received a phone call with the news of my niece’s birth, which made this trip unforgettable for me. Ever since my first visit I have fallen in love with the people who are always sunny, positive and cheerful despite the remoteness and biting cold.

Nature Conservation Foundation, with support from the Snow Leopard Trust, has been working exceptionally hard to conserve and protect snow leopards and their prey species on the Indian side of the Trans-Himalayan landscape for more than 15 years. A CLP Future Conservationist Award in 2011 helped our team identify some of the main reasons for negative attitudes towards snow leopards and wolves in the region. Our CLP Conservation Follow-Up Award in 2015 is now allowing our team to test multi-pronged approaches that aim to reduce the impact of conflict with snow leopards, and improve attitudes of local pastoralists.

Snow Leopard Enterprises, working under the local name of Shen, is one such conservation programme that has generated interest among the local women, a key focus group that typically gets left out of conservation dialogues. Shen, meaning snow leopard in the local Spitian dialect, is an enterprise to increase income and safeguard wildlife in the region. The enterprise involves 50 women from two villages, Kibber and Chichim, in the Spiti valley. The kind and talented Dr Mala Srikanth, an experienced knitter, braved the frigid November temperature (-4 to -14 degrees Celsius) to provide them with handicraft training.

Livelihood enterprise_Chichim_Radhika Timbadia

Conducted over a two-week period, the training focused on crochet and knitting skills enabling the women to make well finished contemporary products like hand-crocheted red fox bookmarks, sheep hot pot holders, jute baskets and knitted cowls, socks and many other items. This was followed by a further seven days of training, held in Bangalore in early January, which focused on block printing and embroidery. Thanks to support from CLP these training sessions were provided at no cost to the women. The trainers have now gone back to their respective villages to teach other women.

The products have been sold in exhibitions in the cities of Bangalore and Delhi in the last year. They sell for up to Rs. 800 (approximately US$12). In the coming year we hope to sell online and in shops, in addition to targeted exhibitions. We expect the women to make at least US$2,000 in total from conservation-friendly sales in 2016, and we expect to start working with one more village that has shown interest in the past.

Dastkar_Radhika Timbadia

The sale proceeds from these products will help diversify their income and provide an incentive for them to participate in the conservation of species like the snow leopard, wolf, fox, bharal and ibex. To strengthen the conservation linkage we have had several conversations with the women culminating in an agreement to have a strict no poaching rule in both villages.

Hunting is already illegal, but it happens occasionally, usually because people coming from outside these villages are unaware of the law. The women now take the responsibility to make them aware, and to report any incidences of poaching to the relevant authorities. The women are paid for the products they make irrespective of poaching activity, but they receive a 20% conservation bonus at the end of the year if there has been no poaching or if the right preventative steps have been taken. It is similar to the system used successfully in Mongolia for the past 10 years.

The warm, loving, funny and vibrant women are making this enterprise come together. We participated in our first big exhibition, Dastkar, over Christmas in New Delhi. It was an enlightening experience and we were touched by the support given to us. Together we have learned and achieved many things, but we still have a long way to go. Our aim is simple: to protect and ensure a bright future for the wildlife and local communities of the Trans-Himalayan landscape.