Where do the threshers go?

By: Rafid Shidqi

“Hey, someone has a shark! It’s Bapak Tami!”

I barely heard the fisher’s shout. The wind was quite strong and the noise from the small solar-engine in our wooden boat made it hard to hear anything clearly. Pak Mark Erdmann, our supervisor from Conservation International Asia Pacific, was here that day, along with Sarah Lewis my professional supervisor from the Manta Trust. Both were helping us with the trip we organized to tag thresher sharks in Alor, Indonesia, as part of our CLP project.

I gave signal to the other fisher, Bapak Sahlul, who rolled back his string with no catch, and headed to Bapak Tami’s boat. Bapak Tami was still moving his hands, up and up, as he tried to get the shark to shallower depths. Pak Mark and Sarah joined us in their boat. We were three boats moving in a circle, waiting to see if it was the shark we were looking for.

Thresher sharks are listed as vulnerable from International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In Indonesia, they are become common catch within big tuna fisheries but the information about the species is very limited, especially regarding their habitat and movement for the conservation measures. Their population has declined in Indonesia by more than 80% and it continues to decrease. The Indonesian government is planning to improve the conservation management of this species and data from this project will help us make recommendations on how the thresher can be well-protected.

I was feeling desperate to see a thresher. We had spent almost four hours under the scorching sun, sometimes without wind, waiting for the fisher to catch something. When someone shouted that a shark was caught, I almost exploded in joy!

I couldn’t wait any longer to get into the water. After I filled the survey form, I grabbed my underwater camera and jumped.

“Is it up now?” I asked Bapak Tami as he continued to pull up the lines. A few minutes later I put my head in the water and looked into the dark, deep sea. The rays of the sun faded as I traced the fishing lines with my eyes, deeper and deeper.

There it is!

I couldn’t believe what I saw in that moment; a long tail wiggled up and down. It was indeed a thresher shark! It seemed to be very exhausted after being pulled up from the depths and it moved sideways very slowly tried to disentangle itself from the strings that gripped its long tail.

That’s how people in Alor catch the shark; they learned how to modify their fishing lines so they target thresher sharks specifically. People in Alor rely on this species as a source of livelihood, where meats of threshers consumed locally and distributed within local markets. Fishers join multiple hooks into one and tie colorful strings in each of the sides so the shape mimics that of its prey. The string color is not random. When a thresher shark is caught the day before, they cut the gut and find out what kind of food the shark had eaten. Black strings are to mimic small black anchovies, red to mimic squid and chicken feathers to mimic small mackerels. Fishers have to change the bait every day to match the shark’s desired meals.

Thresher sharks use their long tail to stun fish before eating them. When the shark slaps the joined-hooks, its tail can become stuck, immobilizing the shark and making it difficult to fight back.

Pak Mark prepared our satellite tag and the spear pole used to sink the dart into the shark’s musculature. Once the shark is tagged, we will be able trace its movements via satellite.

Sarah and I were swimming in a circle, trying to catch good images and videos. Meanwhile, the fishers on the boat lifted the shark to the surface and tied the tail with a rope so we could take measurements. We waited a few minutes for the shark to recover before measuring its length. Afterwards, Pak Mark aimed the tag at the base of the dorsal fin where the satellite tag will be deployed. I was waiting very nervously with my camera. When the current started to change, waves began to rock the boat, setting all of us on edge.


I saw bubbles and heard a short sound from the pole as the tag was transferred to the dorsal fin of the thresher. The shark showed little sign of being hurt when the tag was secured, aside from a little blood. It wasn’t long before the shark began to opened and closed its gills. Once stabilized, Pak Mark checked the response and untied the rope so it was able to swim back to the deep. It swam very slowly at first, but picked up speed as it descended out of sight.

The sun had already set and the wind was picking up so we headed back to the village. I took a deep breath, relieved that we finally tagged the shark. We tagged the shark!

Not only that, it was my first time to see a live thresher shark. And, this was our very first thresher shark to be satellite-tagged in Indonesia! I couldn’t hide my excitement!

I can’t wait to see what data the tag will generate. Hopefully our work can help solve a little mystery about the shark: where are they going….? With this data we will be one step closer to recommendations that help could help conserve this amazing creature.

The colours of CLP

By Reshu Bashyal, Executive Member of Greenhood Nepal

With my coffee mug, I stand on the balcony looking at deep coconut forests, and beyond the trees a wonderful beach. My desire! I feel like I am drinking in joy. I am filled with an overwhelming sense of peace and how lucky I am to be here. Meanwhile, I hear somebody calling “time is up guys!”. The scenery around is so striking that I feel like our 20-minute break passes in just a second. Okay, let’s go back. I want to tell you why I was here in wonderful Sulawesi, Indonesia.

I was representing our Taxus team in the 2018 Conservation Management and Leadership training organised by the Conservation Leadership Programme. The training arrived quickly and before I knew it I was packing my bags and on a Malaysian Airlines flight from Nepal. This was my first international flight. I felt a bit excited and a bit nervous. When we were about to reach Jakarta, a fascinating view of small islands caught my attention and I realised I had reached the island country! I was travelling with Devendra, another CLP trainee from Nepal. We had three hours transit in Jakarta so I had plenty time to hover around.

It was evening when we reached Manado and I felt all my energy drained from the journey. We were picked up at the airport by a wonderful lady, Charlotte, from the CLP staff. We drove through traditional villages to reach Botanica Nature Resort, the course venue. My first impression was of rustic simplicity. The room I shared with Janet and Van was homely and comfortable. The classroom was on a hill, a seven-minute hike up a steep road. It offered beautiful views of a beach. The breeze set the petals of flowers fluttering. It was a perfect training venue for conservationists.

The course offered us different modules on leadership, project planning, gender and conservation, behaviour change, fundraising and monitoring and evaluation. The sessions were very effective, I must say. And, throughout the sessions there were four amazing faces from the CLP management team – Christina, Stu, Laura and Charlotte – who never got tired of motivating us. I got to explore my own leadership style with the help of Mo and I learned the value of stakeholder mapping and peer consultation. Over three days, Martin helped us build a logical framework using a giant blue sticky wall. The main message from the gender session was clear: effective conservation requires the participation of all. Sari showed us that information does not equal behaviour change. She helped us organise an event for our class, modelling what community engagement and material preparation should include. I have another new lesson from the fundraising session: fundraising is not about asking for money, but it is all about selling ideas.

Besides these regular modules, our time was filled with group work, presentation sessions, field activities, culture nights and an alter-ego party. Our first field trip was the exploration of Tongkoko nature reserve. After walking for almost an hour, we encountered the black-crested macaques; one of them welcomed us with pee! It was fun watching them pose with us.

Our next break was a morning trip to the beach. All of us were excited, but my level of excitement was a bit higher as it was my first time visiting the ocean. When we arrived I saw its beauty –  the long sandy beach, the deep blue water. Being from a landlocked country, I guess anyone can imagine the level of excitement I felt at seeing the glistening blue sea for the first time.

Another adventurous part of this training was our day trip. We started with a hike to see Mahawu crater. I was thrilled to see a volcanic mountain in front of my eyes, again for the first time! We walked through the cloud forest, which offered views of different orchid varieties and well-managed agricultural land. We stopped at a museum and saw the world’s largest playable trumpet! It took me some time to learn how to play it, but I did!  Our last destination for the day was Lake Linow, a sulphurous lake. The scent of sulphur perfumed the air, and bursts of steam came from the deep blue water. This beautiful moment was accompanied by banana chips and sips of dark coffee.

Thinking back on my time in Sulawesi, I remember all that I learned through sessions that kept us engaged and energised. This training allowed me to both reflect on conservation issues and also to identify innovative and effective ways to deal with them. I began to discover my own potential and was inspired to continue working for nature.

I can still hear the group shout: “We are CLP, yeah yeah you and me!” I am so happy to be part of CLP and I’m grateful for the unique opportunity to participate in this workshop.

The Conservation Leadership Programme appreciates the support of our donors whose investment has made this training possible: the Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation, American Express, Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, the British Birdwatching Fair, Fondation Segré Conservation Fund at FFI, and the Global Trees Campaign.

Swooping into the Global Flyways Summit

In April, BirdLife International convened the Global Summit for the Flyways in Abu Dhabi. The Summit brought together conversation organisations, scientists, policy makers and donors, to discuss the challenges faced by migratory birds. Among the 200 participants, representing 100 organisations and 70 countries, several CLP alumni hid in plain sight – grantees funded as far back as 1988 and as recently as 2017.

Charlotte Klinting, CLP and BirdLife International Programme Officer, checked in with two recently supported CLP alumni to get their impressions of the Summit: Chaona Phiri (funded by the British Birdfair) and Vincent Onyango (intern at the BirdLife Africa Secretariat, funded by Fondation Segré). Chaona from BirdWatch Zambia delivered a presentation and had an active voice throughout the Summit about critical work to conserve African vultures. Vincent focussed on informing Summit participants about an online platform for the Friends of Landbirds Action Plan (FLAP) under the Convention for Migratory Species.

Vincent Onyango and Chaona Phiri

What insights has the Summit given you into the different ways to approach the conservation problems that you are facing?
Chaona: Listening to examples from Ghana, I learnt about how infrastructure developers – for example those positioning power lines – can be engaged at an earlier stage and BirdLife partners can help them adhere to biodiversity safeguards rather than always being on the reactive end of the discussion.

Which speaker/event impressed you most, and why?
Vincent: Chaona Phiri talking about the Vulture Safe Zone concept! It was easy to understand her presentation. She was very articulate.

What are the most valuable lessons that you will be taking home from the Summit?
Chaona: We are all in this together and our efforts, though small, are making the situation better – we are doing better than we think.
Vincent: It is important to come together, to combine our efforts for conservation work. People from different regions experience different challenges in conservation. Coming together would help find solutions to these problems.

Will your experiences at the Summit change your own approach to conservation?
Chaona: Not necessarily change, but it will definitely enhance it.

What you were expecting from the summit, and what if anything has surprised you?
Vincent: Being able to network and learn about capacity development were my main expectations. The capacity development session was as interesting as it was engaging. I have also learnt a lot about Flyways, the different bird species and the energy sector.

Have you met anyone else from CLP at the Summit?
Chaona: Yes, I met staff, alumni and judges; they were all so interested in the progress on my project. I also had to spend some time reassuring people that I am still on track with my project although I am doing a lot of work on other species as well.

CLP alumni and staff: Achilles Byaruhanga (NatureUganda), Vincent Onyango (BirdLife International), Krishna Bhusal (BirdLife Conservation Nepal), Chaona Phiri (Birdwatch Zambia), Danka Uzunova (Macedonian Ecological Society), Charlotte Klinting (BirdLife International)

To learn about the Global Flyways Summit outcomes and to read the Summit declaration visit BirdLife International’s website.

A turning point

From December 11-14, 2017, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Conservation Leadership Programme ran a four-day course “Building Leadership Capacity for Conservation.” Eighteen participants from Central America gathered for transformational personal and professional growth. Meet some our participants and learn about their course experience. This course was funded by a grant from the American Express Foundation to the Wildlife Conservation Society.


Meet Lucero Vaca. Lucero is a conservationist from Mexico who is dedicated to conserving jaguars. She is pursuing her PhD at the University of Oxford and is the Founder of the project “Jaguars on the Move” which aims to understand the behavior and physiology of jaguars. The scientific information collected will be incorporated into conservation practices within rural Mexican communities.

“This course was a turning point for me both professionally and personally. Sometimes as a conservationist you can feel lost when it comes to leadership. The profession requires you to bring together a group of people and yet training is rarely available in how to do this, making it quite difficult to get results in a conservation project. This course helped me learn how to lead a team, how to bring out the best in each member, and how important it is to address interpersonal obstacles.

Having Maureen and Christina as facilitators was so helpful. They have great experience in conservation leadership and the course was well prepared. We were smoothly guided from the basics of what is considered leadership to its applications in conservation. It was very useful to be surrounded by other young conservationists; we each shared our own knowledge which enriched the experience. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to attend this course and I am really hopeful that other conservationists from around the world can receive this training as well.”


Meet Alejandro López Tamayo. Alejandro is an Environmental Engineer with a specialization in groundwater. He is the Mayan Riviera Coordinator of Research, Conservation and Environmental Education at the Mexican organization Centinelas del Agua A.C. He is working to research and conserve the Quintana Roo aquifer. He is an alumnus of the MAR Leadership Program.

“To work in conservation is a challenge. You have to face the government, the private sector, and other stakeholders to show them in the right way, and at the right moment, why biodiversity conservation is important, why ecosystems have economic value, and why we need to implement strategies to live in a sustainable world. I learned ways to do this during the course. For me, this course was a paradise of knowledge. All of the lessons and exercises were rewarding. I was impressed by the preparation of the trainers and the way they worked with participants.

This training gave me the opportunity to learn more about myself and the different leadership styles one can have. I realized how diverse we are as humans, and the importance of understanding and recognizing the strengths of others. One of the most important skills I identified is how to motivate and lead my team and my community to work as one in conservation. After the course I feel stronger and wiser. I feel prepared to face the challenges ahead of me to protect the aquifer and their associated ecosystems in the Yucatan Peninsula and the larger Mesoamerican Reef System.”


Meet Begoña Iñarritu Castro. Begoña is a scientific advisor at the National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONAP) in Mexico. Among other things, she has a passion for bat conservation. She is a National Geographic Society grantee.

“I still miss being part of the course. Since the beginning it was an amazing experience. Even though I live in Mexico City, I had never been to the Sierra Gorda in Querétaro where the course was held. The drive to the cabins where we stayed was wonderful, full of complex curves and mountains!

We had a great experience together. The course offered a complete program that was different from most other courses. This was not a class where participants sit for four days and take notes. The workshop was dynamic. By listening and sharing experience with others, we acquired leadership skills for conservation.

One of the things I found most useful for my daily life was to discover which type of leader I am.  It was wonderful to reflect on my strengths and how to use them while working on a project.  Also I came to understand how useful it is to be aware of other’s styles. We need to appreciate our differences to work together effectively.

I am very grateful to have met this group of people. The environment was constructive, healthy, and binding. I really felt we were in an honest and friendly atmosphere where my mates —at first strangers— showed me how strong-minded and unique I am. Sometimes I feel vulnerable and insecure. Other times I suffer from the impostor syndrome. But during this week I realized I am not the only one and that in the end these are thoughts that we create ourselves; these thoughts are not reality. I am also very grateful for the lovely and prepared facilitators and for the advice I received from my peers on this course.

Thank you to everyone for helping uncover and strengthen my inner-self and my biologist-self!”