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.

CLP News Embedded images - Mauricio in the field

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.

CLP News Embedded images - Mauricio frog


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.

CLP News Embedded images - Ambassador Oaxaca

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.

CLP News Embedded images - Edna frog

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

Blood, sweat, frogs and otters

CLP News Embedded images - Anirban otter film

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.

CLP News Embedded images - Anirban rain

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.

CLP News Embedded images - Anirban forest

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!