Close encounter of the first kind

Zoya Irshad Tyabji, 2017 CLP award winner, shares some of her memories of the training course that she recently attended, including the unforgettable moment when she came face to face with a live shark.

Just a few months have passed since we received the news of winning the Future Conservationist Award from the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP). A few months is a short time, but for us those months were packed!

In July, I had the opportunity to represent my team at the CLP training held in Indonesia. During the workshop, we had sessions where various modules were covered – leadership skills, project planning, behaviour change and communication, and gender and equality. These modules were held unconventionally with activities, ice-breakers and interactions that honed and developed skills both personally and professionally. As a result, I am more confident, aware and motivated, and I definitely took away more than I came with. I will also be implementing most of what we have learnt in order to take our work forward.

Additionally, it was inspiring for me to spend time networking, sharing ideas and listening to the experiences of like-minded people, coming from different places in the world and facing difficult issues – some the same and some different, be it development, management or pollution. I am thankful for the CLP facilitators – Stu, Christina, Laura and Charlotte – who made it comfortable for us and encouraged us every step of the way, to share and be ourselves so that we could take the best from this experience. I am also thankful to the rest of the CLP participants – now alumni and my friends for a lifetime, who have all contributed tremendously to my personal and professional growth and memories during the workshop.

After the CLP training, I got an opportunity to visit Bunaken, a marine national park in Indonesia. Growing up in India, experiences like these are far-removed from everyday life and I have only experienced them while watching the overly dramatic Bollywood films, so I cannot thank CLP enough for giving me this opportunity to star in my own movie. While scuba-diving at Bunaken, we were suspended in the blue, awestruck by the psychedelic colours that the reef threw at us – I was imagining how my friends and colleagues would conduct fish transects here, as the diversity and abundance was baffling. And then, by chance, I happened to look down into the unending depths – and saw something cut through the water gracefully with its white flank and black tips. It was a blacktip reef shark and my first live shark ever!

After sampling over a thousand dead sharks harvested by fishermen at fish-landing sites (which is what my work entails), I had seen my first live shark underwater! The shark was a contrast to the reef in its simplicity of colours and conveyed power and grace as only an apex predator and a keystone species. The moment was a fleeting one, but powerful enough to motivate me to get back to sampling dead sharks in the Andamans in the hope that I can make a difference and enjoy sightings like this one in future during the course of my work there.

Apart from the CLP training and grant, being a CLP alumna and joining the CLP network has opened up tremendous opportunities for my team and me. I recently attended a statistics workshop held by the CLP alumni network of India in Bangalore. Apart from learning statistics, I met other alumni and we discussed past experiences, dealing with multidisciplinary conservation issues, growing as a team and taking away memories. My team members interacted with other CLP alumni from India during the CLP meeting at SCCS Bangalore, in turn developing a good network of conservationists. One of our guides is a CLP alumnus who has provided advice not only with developing our CLP proposal but also for other projects. Networking and collaboration form an important part in any conservation-oriented field and we thank CLP for bringing us all together in order to achieve this efficiently, fruitfully and with a fun-filled journey.

Zoya’s CLP Future Conservationist Award and participation at CLP’s Conservation Management & Leadership training course was made possible thanks to the generous support of Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.

Conservation Agreements: A win-win in the Western Ghats, India  

By: Jayant Sarnaik

People of the indigenous community ‘Mahadeo Koli’ have lived within the Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary (BWLS) for hundreds of years. They have rich traditional knowledge and rely on the land and forests for food and income. As an Important Bird Area in the northern Western Ghats of India, the sanctuary is also home to abundant biodiversity including hundreds of endemic plants, birds and mammals.

In recent years, pressure has been increasing both on the local people and on the local biodiversity. When the sanctuary was established in 1985, shifting cultivation became illegal. Shifting cultivation is a practice where an area of land is clear-cut and farmed until the land is no longer fertile. At that stage, a new area is cleared and farming shifts while the first plot is naturally restored. If not managed properly, the practice has negative consequences for conservation: key habitat can be lost and species suffer. In addition, BWLS is a famous pilgrim destination. Every year, over 500,000 tourists from all over India visit the sanctuary. These pilgrimages put additional pressure on the forests.

Communities that were dependent on harvests from shifting agriculture became economically vulnerable. For the younger generation, job options can be further limited due to lack of education. As a result, many young people migrate to nearby urban areas to seek employment.

Since 2007, a team of four people working for the Applied Environmental Research Foundation (AERF), with many other partners (the S. P. Jain Institute for Management Research, Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology (DICE) and Credit Suisse volunteers), have developed new approaches to balance the needs of communities with conservation in Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary. Having won all three awards from CLP (2007, 2009, 2016) the team has used its training and funding to develop and implement an innovative strategy that helps conserve wildlife and provides economic benefits to vulnerable indigenous community members.

This strategy involves asking community members to be part of a Conservation Agreement. By signing an agreement, communities gain access to alternative livelihood opportunities. In return, community members agree to let their land regenerate and to use resources from it in such a way that sustains, rather than degrades, the forest. An example of this occurred in early 2017 when the CLP team proposed a Conservation Agreement to Mr Devram Sagaji Lohokare (age 65) and his family, who had lost the right to practise shifting cultivation on their land in the sanctuary and were searching for a new livelihood.

The CLP team had already undertaken a detailed biodiversity survey of the forest with a focus on the presence of endemic birds. Part of this area included Mr Lohokare’s land. The team sighted 46 bird species during the survey, four of which were endemic – the white-cheeked barbet, white-bellied blue flycatcher, crimson-backed sunbird and Nilgiri wood pigeon.  They found evidence of other important wildlife in the forest, too, including several nesting sites of the Indian giant squirrel and natural beehives. Most importantly, the forest has a water body used by many species. Having discovered that the land was vital for so many species, the CLP team approached Mr Lohokare and his family to consult with them about the prospect of entering into a Conservation Agreement.

During the conversation, the CLP team learned that one of the family members, Tanaji Dhondu Lohokare, was looking for employment. The family was also in need of some vital household utensils. Under the terms of the Conservation Agreement, in return for letting his land regenerate, the team was able to assist Mr. Lohokare and his family with their needs. The CLP team agreed to help train Tanaji Lohokare in conservation and ecotourism and thereby assist him with finding employment. They also agreed to provide the family with much needed utensils including a household stove-heater and solar-powered battery chargers. The agreement was prepared in the local language so that everyone would be able to understand it, and so that Mr Lohokare could help spread the message to others about this approach.

In March 2017, Laura Owens, a CLP staff member based at Fauna & Flora International, visited BWLS. She watched as this agreement was signed. She reflects: “I enjoyed seeing the beautiful bird species already flourishing there and saw first-hand how the land is already starting to regenerate into a good secondary forest.” Through this Conservation Agreement, the CLP team has ensured the conservation of 57 acres of community forest for the next ten years. The team is slowly setting up and entering into new agreements with other community members to create a system that benefits both people and wildlife. To date, 100 acres of land have been protected by seven agreements.

As a separate but related initiative, the CLP team, in collaboration with AERF and DICE, set up an international certification scheme called FAIRWILD in 2015. Local community members who follow certain practices to protect biodiversity achieve the certification and can thereby sell non-timber forest products for a price that is about 70% greater than for non-certified products. Together with the Conservation Agreements, this certification scheme will continue to improve income opportunities for local families going forward.

Leaders rising

I had the pleasure of managing the Conservation Leadership Programme’s (CLP) 2017 Conservation Management & Leadership Workshop in Sulawesi, Indonesia from June 28 – July 13. This training course brought together 21 rising conservation leaders who, throughout two weeks, gained not only practical skills and knowledge, but an increase in confidence, motivation, and an awareness of their strengths as leaders in this field. Allow me to introduce you to a few of our rising leaders who use their strengths to inspire change from the roots up. Meeting them has certainly inspired me!

Niomi Pridina is a rising conservation leader in Indonesia

“I bring a sense of excitement to face challenges in my work. This allows me to stay positive throughout the project as I adapt to changes. The CLP training course helped me understand my inner strength and build a strong global network with other leaders in conservation.” Niomi is part of the 2017 CLP project “Using light to reduce mobula ray by-catch in Indonesia’s small-scale fisheries.”

Alfonso Hernández Ríos is a rising conservation leader in Mexico

“I bring passion and innovation to my work. These strengths allow me to try different paths as I look for new solutions to current conservation issues. I appreciated the CLP training course because it provided me with tools to improve my conservation decisions and allowed me to build bridges within a network of committed conservationists.” Alfonso is part of the 2017 CLP project “Conservation status of Craveri’s murrelet in Mexico.”

Zoya Irshad Tyabji is a rising conservation leader in India

“I bring commitment and focus to my work. These strengths allow me to be diligent and pursue my goals, especially in difficult situations when the odds are against me. The CLP training course helped in both my personal and professional growth. I became more confident, aware and appreciative. I also gained valuable knowledge about leadership styles, project planning, stakeholder engagement, and behavior change which will help in the current project and future endeavors.” Zoya is part of the 2017 CLP project “Assessing the status of threatened elasmobranchs in the Andamans, India,” funded by Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.

Abdulrahman Rashid Mubarak Al Hinai is a rising conservation leader in Oman

“Two of my leadership strengths are self-motivation and the ability to work as a team player. These qualities allow me to motivate other project members to achieve the best results we can. I appreciated the CLP training course because it gave me the opportunity to identify my strengths and share them with the group. The training provided tools that helped me become a better leader, for example by understanding the unique strengths of each person on the team and the value of using these strengths to improve the project.” Abdulrahman is part of the 2017 CLP project “Conservation assessment of Arabian dragon tree (Dracaena serrulata) in Oman,” funded by the Global Trees Campaign.

Chaona Gertrude Phiri is a rising conservation leader in Zambia

“I bring focus, determination, and persistence to my work. These strengths allow me to get my hands dirty with my team and keep pushing until we achieve our goal. I appreciated the CLP training course because it proved a very rare opportunity to be with people within my age group, with the same passion I have for biodiversity conservation and facing the same challenges that I face. Although we are all working in different countries, our problems are the same. In addition to having the training itself, I also got a lot of helpful tips from my new friends on how to deal with some of my challenges.” Chaona is part of a 2017 project funded by the BirdLife/Birdfair Young Conservation Leaders Award. The title of her project is “Assessing breeding probability of slaty egrets (Egretta vinaceigula) on the Barotse Floodplain, Zambia.”

The Conservation Leadership Programme is a partnership of three non-government organizations including the Wildlife Conservation Society, Fauna & Flora International, and BirdLife International. Drawing upon the expertise of conservation professionals from across the globe, CLP directs project funding and training to early career leaders from developing countries who are tackling priority conservation challenges. Over more than 30 years, CLP has provided important career stepping stones to over 2,600 individuals who now form an extensive global network of conservation practitioners.

We appreciate the support of our donors whose investment has made this training possible. Our donors include: BP plc, American Express Foundation, Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, the Global Trees Campaign, and the British Birdfair.

A cross-border exchange to benefit vultures

Asian vultures have undergone a catastrophic decline in recent decades, with populations crashing by as much as 99%. In India and Nepal, four of nine vulture species are Critically Endangered, largely as a result of poisoning by a drug commonly used to treat livestock, diclofenac.  The Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) funded projects in both Nepal, in 2010 and 2013, and India, in 2016, to improve the outlook for these overlooked species. In March this year, a CLP Learning Exchange brought a project team member from each country together to share their knowledge.

Khima Nand Balodi, who led a project to assess the population status and threats facing vultures in Uttarakhand, India, in 2016, visited Bhupal Nepali, who was part of a team working to strengthen Vulture Safe Zones in Nawalparasi, in 2010, and to enhance community-based conservation in western Nepal in 2013. Here, Khima shares his Learning Exchange experiences.

As part of my CLP’s Future Conservationist Award my team and I have been conducting field surveys to assess the population status of several vulture species. We have also been trying to fully understand what is threatening vultures in the lowland of Uttarakhand state, which is a potential site for a Vulture Safe Zone (VSZ). I’m interested in this work because vultures play a crucial role within ecosystems, by eating carrion and helping prevent the spread of disease. But they also suffer from being maligned and misunderstood, which has hindered their survival.

© Monirul Khan

I spent my first few days in Nepal learning about the work being done by Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN), with Krishna Bhusal in Kathmandu. Krishna was also part of the 2013 CLP project team alongside Bhupal Nepali, and is now BCN’s Vulture Conservation Program Officer. Nepal has initiated successful in-situ vulture conservation interventions, such as community-managed Vulture Safe Zones, and the declaration of Diclofenac Free Districts, both of which emphasise the importance of cooperation between multiple stakeholders. We discussed the work we’re involved with in our respective countries, including my ongoing CLP project, and came up with a plan for the rest of the trip so I could learn as much as possible about what’s been effective in Nepal.

I then headed west to Butwal to join Bhupal, who had arranged for us to meet with lots of different people and organisations over the next few days. We met with para-vet associations, and with government officials from the veterinary and forestry departments, who are concerned about vulture conservation. We spoke with community forestry associations about their role in monitoring nests and raising awareness, and with vulture restaurant (special sites where carcasses are left out to feed vultures) management committees about their work in ensuring safe food is available. We met district livestock service officers and pharmacists to discuss the use of diclofenac and alternative drugs, and also held discussions about transboundary issues relating to drug use and monitoring in cases where safe zones span the India-Nepal border. Everyone shared a lot of information with me and I found it all very useful.

We also visited three safe feeding sites — in Gaindatel, Pithauli and Dhachuk — to observe how these were managed, and a municipal waste site to see how this was run and which species could be found there. Finally, we visited two nesting colonies of the Critically Endangered white-rumped vulture, where we were able to see chicks in the nest.

The Learning Exchange was also useful in deepening my understanding of Nepal’s cultural heritage — for example, we visited Lumbini, the birth place of Buddha — and its close linkages with India. I also gained insight into the potential for using the religious and philosophical connections that vultures have in South Asia in their conservation.

The field visits, and the interactions with different stakeholders, gave me lots of ideas to take back to India, and to use in the advocacy, education and outreach plan I’m developing for Uttarakhand. I ended my trip in Kathmandu, working on that plan from the BCN office, and I’m putting it into action now that I’m back in India. I’m also in the process of organising a meeting about transboundary vulture conservation, to share and discuss these issues further with state institutions in both countries, and working on an action plan for vulture conservation in Uttarakhand state which can be incorporated into the Vulture Conservation Action Plan of India. I am very thankful to CLP for supporting this excellent experience, and for the opportunity to develop a collaboration with BCN team members.

Since returning to India, I have continued with our project work in Uttarakhand. We have collected 100 tissue samples from livestock to assess the use of diclofenac, and we have also recorded very small, scattered populations of two Critically Endangered species, the white-rumped vulture and the red-headed vulture, in Uttarakhand state. But electrocution risk seems to be the major existing threat to these vultures, as we recorded more than 100 dead electrocuted birds, including vultures and steppe eagles, at various carcass dumping sites. These are often situated close to transmission lines, making collisions likely, so we are working to shift all unsafe sites to safer locations.

We have also conducted several meetings with various stakeholders in the state and have organised 15 awareness camps in various districts of Uttarakhand, as per the plan prepared during the learning exchange. To celebrate International Vulture Awareness Day 2017, we are conducting around 20 events in different locations through local NGOs, schools, volunteers and our Vulture Mitra (Friends of the Vulture) initiative.

Thanks to Claire Salisbury for support preparing this blog. Images © Khima Nand Balodi unless otherwise indicated.

A small tree with stronger roots

From March 10-14, 2017 the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) ran a leadership training course for conservationists in Asia. We gathered in the misty, karst peaks of Yangshuo, China. Twenty-two participants from the Wildlife Conservation Society, BirdLife International, Fauna & Flora International, National Geographic Society, and the CLP alumni network contributed valuable experience and left with a set of tools to take more leadership action for conservation. Participants also went home with a stronger network of conservation peers. Read this blog by participant Huang Qiaowen for a taste of her experience in Yangshuo.

How time flies! Since our departure from the CLP leadership course in Yangshuo two months ago, we have gone back to our daily lives. I have returned to my fieldwork, fund-raising and communications responsibilities, and everything seems normal. But deep in my mind, something has changed as a result of my experience with CLP. I can still remember the days we spent together.

To wake up awareness of ourselves on the first day, Mo, the lead facilitator, asked us to answer two questions: “How do you feel today?” and “What are you looking forward to today?” It happened to be my 30th birthday. Red-whiskered bulbuls were singing outside, unfamiliar classmates sat around me, and I felt that it was a fresh and meaningful start for me.

I have been a conservationist with the Chinese Felid Conservation Alliance (CFCA) since April 2016, taking charge of communication and funding work. As a fresh bird in this field, I used to be unsure of myself, and question whether I was qualified enough to be a good leader. Could I be a good leader after the course?

Contrary to my expectations, Mo offered me a different perspective:

  • Not everyone will be in a leadership position, but everyone is a leader;
  • Leadership doesn’t come from a title, but from every single action;
  • There are thousands of good leaders out there, but everyone has their own leadership style.

Mo is such a wonderful tutor with good methods and an inspiring character. Before illustrating these interesting ideas, she would raise questions first. On the very first day, she asked us to carry out a Q&A process in pairs.

I asked my partner Yanjing: “What is exciting about being a leader?” “I could organise things as I want,” she said. Now it was my turn to answer the same question. “Erm……”. I had never really thought about why I would like to be a leader, but Yanjing’s answer inspired me. “I think the power of title does interest me, the ability to make decisions, to dictate schedules, and to reduce the pressure I feel.”

We found a new partner for the next question and Mo asked loudly: “What is really exciting about being a leader?” My partner was Xiaoxi. This time, I had a clue and replied, “Exploring and working with good colleagues is the one side that’s really appealing to me.”

After everyone had a turn to answer the questions we went back to our large circle. Everyone could feel the effect of asking the same question twice. Mo explained: “The first answer you give is usually general, what most people think about. When the question is asked again you are pushed another step forward and you can come to realise what you are really interested in. The communication between partners can offer you a different way to think.”

Mo led us through another exercise to help us think about our personal leadership style. Before the course, I didn’t think there was more than one kind of leadership style.

As an introduction, we were asked to list qualities of a good leader. We quickly came to see that the ideal leader looks different to each person. Our imagination quickly covered an A3 sheet of paper with traits like: gives direction, well-organised, encouraging, idea generator, healthy, responsible, understanding, resourceful, influential, etc. Without doubt, these qualities couldn’t all be found in one person. So, what kind of qualities does each of us have? What kind of potential leadership style are we striving for?

Mo asked us a series of questions that allowed us to align ourselves with one of four leadership styles: driver, analyst/architect, relationship master and spontaneous motivator.

What the exercise explained was such a relief to me. I can be a good leader by being myself – there are strengths to my personal style and I can adapt and grow by trying different styles. We used this tool to think about the strengths and weakness in our teams. It helped us think of more constructive ways to work together.

Instead of selling us the theory, Mo always encouraged us to explore answers based on our experiences, to search for our own strengths. Sometimes in class, I would feel myself grow, like a small tree with stronger roots. Through this exercise, and others, I have come to appreciate that I can always be inspired by others’ thoughts and suggestions. The magic power of this programme came not only from Mo, but from the sharing and mutual learning process among all the participants.

Environmental protection is a complicated mission. All participants are facing similar problems about development direction, relationship management, as well as funding issues. Our common challenges and goals made sharing experiences so useful for all of us on the course.

Thank you Mo and Christina, and all of my classmates. I am 100% sure that was a perfect start for the rest of my life after 30.

Maureen ‘Mo’ Ryan of Conservation Science Partners was the lead instructor on the course. Facilitation and logistical support was provided by Christina Imrich, WCS staff. This course was made possible thanks to the generous support of the American Express Foundation.

An impact in Africa

Who wants to read about workshops, training, and the minutiae of how to plan and fund a conservation project? In the eyes of the uninitiated, the interest value of subjects like that is up there with watching grass grow. And yet, they represent the nuts and bolts of conservation, without which there would be far fewer people out there equipped to help safeguard those very species that tend to pique the interest of the typical wildlife enthusiast.

Capacity building may not be at the glamorous end of the conservation spectrum, but try telling that to the participants of the three consecutive annual workshops on project planning and fundraising that the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) has co-led with Fauna & Flora International (FFI).

Funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), this trio of workshops was aimed at early-career conservationists working, or planning to work, in Key Biodiversity Areas across the so-called Eastern Afromontane Hotspot. Held respectively in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Rwanda from 2014 to 2016, these five-day intensive programmes have been instrumental in transforming the career prospects of participants from a dozen countries across Africa and had a demonstrable impact on their ability to generate additional funding for their vital work.

The training provided a unique opportunity for aspiring conservation leaders to come face to face to discuss their research, meet and ‘sell’ their projects to real donors, and provide each other with new perspectives on how to tackle the challenges they routinely encounter. The outcomes for conservation are tangible, bringing in funding where it is most urgently needed and thereby enabling high-priority conservation projects to be delivered.

Crowning glory

Dessalegn Obsi Gemeda, head of the Department of Natural Resource Management at Jimma University College of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, participated in the 2014 Ethiopia workshop. The opportunity to network with other conservation working groups has since proved invaluable, particularly for peer review of proposals before submission. He subsequently used the skills and knowledge he acquired at the workshop to apply for funding from Rufford Small Grants for Nature Conservation. In February 2015 Rufford approved his application for a project entitled Enhancing the Conservation of the Vulnerable Black Crowned Crane in Limu Districts of Jimma Zone. The Case of Ethiopia. The following year, Rufford was sufficiently impressed with the results to approve a follow-up project on the same species.

“I am proud of my project,” says Dessalegn, who addressed the issue of black-crowned crane conservation through public outreach work that included training, workshops and focused group discussions. “Several hundred community members, several governmental authorities from Chora Boter District and thousands of students at different levels gained awareness about the importance of conserving the black-crowned crane and its habitat. Above all, I [was able to send a strong] message to several million people on the issue of conservation by getting national media coverage through television and radio via the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation.”

Show me the Chimanimani money

Mike Nyamucherera, Research Associate and Stakeholder Engagement Manager at the University of Zimbabwe’s Centre for Applied Social Sciences, attended the Maputo workshop in 2015. Mike’s work is currently focused on one of Zimbabwe’s three cycad species, all of which are threatened with extinction: “Zimbabwean cycads have had a rather sad story because of the mushrooming of the lucrative landscaping industry. There has been a silent scramble for many years in the Eastern Highlands to collect these cycads and some collectors even smuggled cycads out of the country.”

As its name implies, Encephalartos chimanimaniensis is mainly confined to the Chimanimani Mountains on the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique, though it also occurs in the adjacent Chipinge Highlands. In an effort to gain a better understanding of its distribution, abundance and long-term survival prospects, Mike is undertaking a comprehensive survey of the Chimanimani cycad’s population status, and has succeeded in raising almost £5,000 from the Rufford Small Grants programme in support of this work.

“Participating in the 2015 workshop was a unique experience that helped me to rearrange my priorities as a young social ecologist. The workshop has helped me to be proactive in seeking conservation funding to make a difference, a responsibility usually relegated to government departments and non-governmental organisations that have natural resources management mandates. Apart from unlocking my skills in fundraising for conservation, my network is now richer with young conservationists from both the Southern African region and my country, [which allows] cross pollination of conservation ideas.”

Changing the destiny of Providence

Providence Akayezu, a lecturer at Kitabi College of Conservation and Environmental Management in Rwanda, was a participant in the most recent workshop in October 2016: ‘’It was great to sharpen my skills in developing a smart project proposal, and find out more about project development phases and activities, and searching and staying in touch with a warm donor.’’ Following the workshop, Providence has continually networked with fellow participants and with FFI staff in order gain access to more funding opportunities. She has also delivered a wildlife management course to around 100 hundred students at her college. She is now in a position to submit a project proposal to National Geographic Society that aims to evaluate the impact of the revenue sharing programme on people’s livelihoods around Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park. We wish her every success.

With every passing year, the network has grown wider and stronger, enabling more and more early-career conservationists like Providence, Mike and Dessalegn to compare notes on the tools of their trade, share best practice and generate vital funding for their work. Try asking them whether workshops are interesting!