Shining a spotlight on species in peril

Over the last nine months, several CLP alumni have been featured in The Revelator – an online news and ideas initiative of the Center for Biological Diversity in the US – where they have shared their stories and the plight of the species they are fighting to protect.

The Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus) is just one of the many species featured in The Revelator’s Species Spotlight feature series this year © Muntasir Akash

This year, seven alumni wrote articles featured in The Revelator’s Species Spotlight series, which aims to highlight interesting and important endangered species around the world along with the personal experiences of the people working to understand or protect them.

Commenting on the series, John Platt, editor of The Revelator, said: “Some [of the Species Spotlight stories] are sad, some are full of awe, but they all share something in common: passion for the wild world. I think our readers have really responded to that. I’ve received several emails thanking us for bringing these species and their threats to light.”

Here we round up the Species Spotlight articles written by our alumni about the species they are working to protect – from sawfish to snow leopards and stream frogs – all of them in peril but fighting for survival with the help of our heroic conservation leaders.

The Asian Small-Clawed Otter – A Victim of the Pet Trade

Muntasir Akash, 2020 Future Conservationist Award-winner, explains that the Asian small-clawed otter – the smallest of the planet’s 13 otter species – finds its habitat shrinking every day. “We know little about these mustelids — especially in Bangladesh, where I conduct my research — but they face a horde of threats”, he writes.

In his Species Spotlight article, Akash describes an unforgettable, “heart-melting” moment watching camera-trap footage of multiple otter families. He captured the footage through his team’s intensive camera trapping surveys in north-eastern Bangladesh forests, which aim to uncover the secret lives of lesser known small carnivores. Watch the below video to find out more.

The El Rincon Stream Frog is in Hot Water

Dr Federico Kacoliris received a 2020 CLP Follow-Up Award (worth $25,000) to support his work ensuring the long-term survival of the Critically Endangered El Rincon stream frog, which only lives in hot springs at the headwaters of a small Patagonian stream.

The Critically Endangered El Rincon stream frog (Pleurodema somuncurense) © Hernán Povedano

In his Species Spotlight article, Federico writes, “Invasive predators, rainbow trout, have cornered these frogs in their last remaining habitat. And even there, they also face habitat destruction by livestock.”

Luckily, Federico and his team at the Somuncura Foundation are running an action plan based on habitat restoration and population recovery, including ex situ breeding and reintroduction of frogs into restored habitat.

Velvet Scoter – the Disappearing Diving Duck

Just a few years ago, it was thought that a geographically isolated population of velvet scoters – a wide-ranging sea duck – was completely extinct in the Caucasus. Yet in 2017, PhD student Nika Paposhvili discovered a small breeding population of these birds at Lake Tabatskuri, Georgia.

A velvet scoter (Melanitta fusca) brood hen sitting on her nest © Nika Paposhvili

In his Species Spotlight article, Nika describes the moment he first spotted them: “It was a joy and at the same time a great assault on my emotions, hard to describe in words — like the feeling a father has when he first sees his first child.”

Nika has since been leading efforts to protect this remnant population from egg poachers and gull predators, supported by CLP grants in 2017 and 2020.

The Gentle and Quirky White-Bellied Pangolin

PhD student and 2020 CLP Future Conservationist Award-winner, Charles Emogor, studies white-bellied pangolins in Nigeria, and is working to protect them from poachers and illegal wildlife trade.

CLP alum Charles Emogor with a white-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) in Nigeria © Charles Emogor

These gentle and somewhat quirky animals should be celebrated, but instead they’re often killed for their unique scales,” he writes in The Revelator.

They are so rare that the experience of seeing a live white-bellied pangolin filled Charles with “excitement and hope,” having hiked 11 hours into the heart of Nigeria’s Cross River National Park to tag five of them with GPS transmitters so that he could monitor them from a distance.

Charles recommends several conservation actions to protect pangolins, including further understanding their ecology and increasing anti-poaching patrols. Recently, Charles discovered that Nigeria has a much larger role in international pangolin trafficking than previously thought.

The Large-Antlered Muntjac Faces a ‘Quiet Extinction’

PhD student and CLP alumna Minh Nguyen is working hard to “change the fate of the species she loves” – the Critically Endangered large-antlered muntjac, which is heading fast towards a “quiet extinction” hidden away in a miniscule global range in the Annamite Mountains of Laos and Vietnam.

Widespread intensive snaring for the wildlife trade throughout their small range is the number one problem. Although the large-antlered muntjac is not a focus of the trade, snares are indiscriminate.

In her Species Spotlight article, Minh writes eloquently about her beloved study species and recommends strategies to save it, including “better informed, strategic in situ conservation management – but it has been disappearing so fast that “just in case” ex situ conservation breeding is needed.”

The Elusive Snow Leopard

Ajay Bijoor, Assistant Head of the High Altitude Program at Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), focuses on implementing community-led conservation efforts across some snow leopard landscapes in India. Ajay is a member of the team that won CLP’s top prize, the Conservation Leadership Award in 2020 (worth $50,000) and a Follow-Up Award in 2015.

The snow leopard (Panthera uncia) © Prasenjeet Yadav

As Ajay writes in The Revelator, snow leopards are threatened by illegal hunting, conflict with livestock farmers, and climate change, and have a decreasing population trend. The Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP) – an alliance of all 12 snow leopard range countries – has now been formed, with one goal: to save the snow leopard and its habitat.

The Greater Hog Badger, Cornered by a Hunting-Driven Extinction Crisis

Another elusive small carnivore captured by Muntasir Akash’s camera trapping surveys, the greater hog badger, is a victim of rampant snaring and illegal trade.

The species had never been described in north-eastern Bangladesh until Akash and his team spotted an individual at one of their camera trap stations.

Camera trap image of the greater hog badger (Arctonyx collaris) © Northeastern Bangladesh Carnivore Conservation Initiative

To protect and understand hog badgers, their habitats need immediate conservation attention. That should involve thorough research, conservation education programs, and sustainable-yet-strict habitat-management practices,” writes Akash in his second Species Spotlight article.

To Save the Narrow Sawfish, First We Must Find Them

CLP alum Sihar Aditia Silalahi received a CLP Future Conservationist Award in 2020 to support his work to protect threatened sawfish species in Indonesia. In The Revelator, Sihar writes about the narrow sawfish, which has suffered a population decline of 50-80% over about 18 years.

Its toothed rostrum, and the fact that it swims close to the sea floor, makes this species susceptible to being caught as by-catch, especially via gill nets and demersal trawls.

Sawfish have toothed rostrum that accidentally get caught in fishing nets, making them susceptible to being caught as by-catch © Dicky Nugroho

To save them, I must first find them,” Sihar writes. “That’s the most basic mission for me and my team, and it’s not easy. It took three months in the field before we saw any — and when we finally did, it was seven dead juveniles in a single fisher’s catch in Merauke, Papua.”

Sihar has worked with the Sawfish Project Indonesia, which is one of few conservation initiatives directed at sawfish species throughout their range.


Through our annual Team Awards and internships, CLP aims to continue supporting conservation leaders in their vital work saving priority species and sites worldwide. We thank The Revelator for bringing the efforts of our alumni and the plight that their focal species are facing into the spotlight.


Unique insights help uncover the true value of conservation internships

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) intern Bradley Knight presents some of the inspiring stories and surprising insights emerging from the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) Internship Scheme. 

Previous CLP intern, Mariana da Silva, with jaguar footprint tracks in Bolivia © Mariana da Silva/WCS

The CLP Internship Scheme places early-career conservationists within regional host organisations of one of the CLP partners (FFI, BirdLife international, and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to provide them with on-the-job training and skills development.

Below we hear directly from previous CLP interns and now established conservation leaders, Mariana da Silva (Bolivia, WCS), Thiri Dae We Aung (Myanmar, BirdLife) and Emmanuel Kutiote (South Sudan, FFI).

As you’ll discover, their remarkable achievements show just how valuable internships can be to both emerging conservationists and the biodiversity they are striving to protect.  

Tackling complex conservation issues 

During her CLP internship with WCS in Bolivia, Mariana da Silva documented the extent of the international wildlife trade (IWT) of jaguar teeth, claws, and paws across the country. She worked with local law enforcement to create an updated, reliable summary of legal cases, police seizures, and media relating to IWT of jaguars.  

Jaguar (Panthera onca) resting on a tree © Unsplash

Interestingly, Mariana said that when she started her internship in 2018, there was no interest or funding for IWT in Bolivia, remarking: “What I did with the CLP internship was the basis for everything that happened after.” 

The database that Mariana developed during her CLP internship became key evidence showing the scale of the IWT conservation problem in Bolivia, and served as a foundation for WCS to build upon and tackle IWT across Latin America.  

Mariana deploying camera traps in the field © Mariana da Silva/WCS

Along with these accomplishments, Mariana explained that she used the grant proposal writing skills she developed during her internship to successfully secure funding to tackle IWT in Bolivia – which is still ongoing today. 

After her internship, WCS Bolivia hired Mariana to continue her work and oversee other aspects of WCS Bolivia’s IWT programme. She was later promoted to Chief of Research to combat IWT across Bolivia and Latin America in 2019.  

Commenting on her recent promotion to Coordinator of the Wildlife Trade programme at WCS Bolivia, she spoke fondly about her CLP internship as “really opening the doors for me for my career by providing me with the opportunity to highlight IWT in Bolivia and develop myself as a leader.” 

Uncovering new data on threatened species 

Baer’s pochard, a species of duck categorised as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, winters in Myanmar but had not been surveyed in the country for ten years when Thiri Dae We Aung’s CLP internship started in 2014. 

Male Baer’s pochard © Pete Morris/WWF

Placed as an intern with BirdLife International, Thiri surveyed 25 wetland areas across central Myanmar and used the data to develop an updated understanding of Baer’s pochard distribution across the country. She also shared her findings with the Asian waterbird census to further inform knowledge about Baer’s pochard across the eastern Asian region. 

Thiri explained that her CLP internship helped her learn various skills, including project management, report writing, communications, and community and government stakeholder engagement. “These skills contributed to two of my main achievements: improving conservation in Myanmar, and building the capacity of staff in the region,” she said. 

As well as helping her attain remarkable conservation impacts, Thiri also revealed that her CLP internship had been the foundation on which she had built her career as a leading ornithologist and conservation leader for the region.  

Baer’s pochard survey in Myanmar as part of the Asian water bird census © Thiri Dae We Aung/BANCA

In particular, Thiri credits the writing skills she developed during her internship to the nine research papers she has published in just five years, which all relate to biodiversity conservation and endangered bird species in Myanmar.  

What’s more, after receiving technical support from BirdLife International, Thiri went on to successfully apply for five project grants to continue her work with Baer’s pochard in central Myanmar.  

Thiri continueto study birds, including the Baer’s pochard, and develops conservation infrastructure in Myanmar in her current role as Executive Director for the Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA) 

From intern to Programme Officer  

Speaking about his CLP internship, Emmanuel Kutiote described it as a unique opportunity to work on all aspects of FFI’s South Sudan programme, from training rangers on GPS use and camera deployment to engaging with stakeholders and government officials: “The internship allowed me to develop key skills, gain experience to start my career, but also gave me the means to build my own home and start my life independently,” he said. 

Emmanuel training rangers about how to use GPS © Emmanuel Kutiote/FFI

As a CLP intern, Emmanuel was heavily involved in all areas of applied conservation and area management work for three protected areas in South SudanBire Kapatuo game reserve, Bangangai game reserve, and Southern National Park. All three protected areas host globally important populations of threatened species such as African elephant, chimpanzee, pangolin, and African wild dog.  

On patrol in Southern National Park © Emmanuel Kutiote/FFI

Among his many responsibilities, Emmanuel acted as a focal point between FFI in South Sudan and the chiefs of the local communities close to the protected areasEngaging with government, chiefs, and local communities was hard at first – but this internship really nurtured me and helped me get used to that, he said. 

During his internship, Emmanuel also helped set up three new ranger posts and deployed cameras in the Southern National Park. As few surveys had been conducted in the area due to the recent civil war conflict, it was a proud moment for him when the new cameras discovered key species in the area like African wild dog, pangolin and African golden cat: “We got to confirm the sightings to the IUCN, telling them that these species are in the area!

Endangered giant pangolin image captured by a camera trap in Southern National Park, South Sudan © Bucknell University/FFI

After his internship finished in 2020, FFI were so impressed that they employed Emmanuel permanently. Commenting on this achievement, Emmanuel said: “I really gave my internship my all, and right now, as we’re speaking, I’m the Programme Officer for the biomonitoring department, which I’m really enjoying.” 

To this day, Emmanuel continues supporting FFI in administration, biomonitoring and engaging with stakeholders as a South Sudan Programme Officer by employing skills learned from his time as a CLP intern. 

Leading on the front lines of conservation 

These first-hand insights from previous CLP interns reveal how their internships have benefited both their careers and their impact on conservation. From these conversations, it’s clear that internships can be a valuable springboard for emerging conservationists who are looking for opportunities to work on the ground and develop skills essential for their future careers. CLP plans to continue to provide grants and capacity support for conservation leaders like Mariana, Thiri and Emmanuel who are spearheading efforts to protect threatened biodiversity around the world. 


CLP is grateful to Fondation Segré for funding all three internships featured in this article. We’d also like to extend our thanks to Emmanuel, Thiri, and Mariana for taking the time to talk with Bradley about their internships.