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.

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.

Being part of CLP’s International Training Course

By: Dilek Sahin (Turkey)

Dilek Sahin with fellow CLP alumni
I can’t believe that I am writing this blog only a short while after attending CLP’s Conservation Management & Leadership Training course as a winner of a CLP Team Conservation Award. It took two years to get ready for submitting a proposal to CLP and another year to get an approved project. This may seem like a short time as you read this but not so when you live it.

So, why is this training so impactful? Is this really such a big deal? The answer is yes! You can find many courses on leadership, project planning and communication individually. But remember, you need to allocate extra energy to thinking about it all in a conservation context when processing the information given by these courses. In CLP’s training these topics are presented and every single detail is all about conservation- a unique opportunity.

Not convinced about how unique it is? Imagine that you are in the same room with 21 young people from 12 different countries who all have common purpose, passion and motivation. And imagine that these people have different backgrounds, experiences and cultures to share. Add some extra beauty by 5 conservation experts in different subjects, each is serving to you, each is there for you, doing everything to help you understand the concepts and apply them in your own projects and careers. And finally 5 more people; the CLP Staff, organizing and facilitating the training, not from the office, but from inside the room with you in order to experience every moment again and again. They do this year after year, to learn from the experiences and make improvements to the future trainings. It is such a great room, full of experienced molecules that enter your blood sooner or later.

This training has actually just one aim: to make you sustainable and impactful in conservation. This is done by providing you necessary skills in leadership, project planning, communication and fundraising and by expecting you to spread the word.

This is not a typical training where someone gives information and you listen. You cannot predict what activity you will be a part of in five minutes; it is so interactive and so alive! You suddenly find yourself dancing, browsing donors for a real project on the Internet, interviewing in front of a camera, singing a silly song or designing a drama. All activities have certain take home messages that push your limits in thinking.

I think the best part of this training is getting to know CLP. To realize that your one-year project is not their only focus, but you are! CLP is not only investing in projects, but is also investing in people, in you. I personally feel very strong by knowing this. That’s a great way to feel special. Long live CLP!

Looking for langurs through a CLP learning exchange


Martina Anandam recounts a learning exchange visit during which she hosted another member of the CLP alumni network.

‘Martina! This is extraordinary!’ exclaimed Felipe, trying hard to get pictures of the galloping langur at distance. ‘I can’t believe I am looking at it. The langur… It is beautiful! This is unbelievable!’

Spoken like a true primate enthusiast!

Felipe Ennes Silva and I met in 2012 at the Conservation Leadership Programme’s Conservation Management & Leadership Training Workshop in Canada. We had both been part of separate CLP-funded Team Conservation Awards: Felipe, for a project to protect a small Marca’s marmoset (Mico marcai) in Brazil; and me for our Chamba sacred langur (Semnopithecus ajax) project in the Himalayas. Although our projects are continents apart, our conservation challenges are similar. In Canada and thereafter we thought about how we might be able to help each other first hand. We brainstormed possible solutions and laid the foundations for inter-continental conservation knowledge sharing and learning. Two years later, thanks to a CLP learning exchange grant, we were able to meet again in India, at my very own field site in Chamba Himalaya.

Felipe arrived in Chamba straight from the International Primatological Society Conference in Hanoi, Vietnam. Vishal, my team mate was assigned the complicated responsibility of locating and identifying Felipe at the crowded Chamba bus station. After a gruelling 17 hour bus ride from Delhi, Felipe arrived at the field station, surprisingly fresh faced and brimming with excitement and enthusiasm.

‘How did you find him?’ I asked Vishal. ‘The CLP T shirt! It wasn’t that difficult!’ chuckled Vishal.

Langur apparitions:
Felipe was both excited and a little worried about our planned field activities. As anyone who has been out on wildlife surveys knows, catching sight of seldom-seen primates can be a thing of luck, as well as good planning and technique. The langurs were near our field station a few days before Felipe’s visit, but now we were out looking for them they were nowhere to be seen.

It was hard to hide our disappointment and just as I wondered how we could try and make the best of the situation, Vishal called out: ‘Oye! Langoooor!’

‘Where?’ I asked impatiently, needing verification after several false alarms. ‘Are we hallucinating langurs again?’

And there he was. A handsome male langur, galloping down the mountains before disappearing again. Chamba sacred langurs are shy of humans and prefer to stay hidden within the dense deodar and pine forests. Deforestation and many unsustainable developmental practices force the langur out of their degraded habitat, into fields and human settlements which often results in conflict. This solitary male was indeed fleeing from a field, being chased by the irritated owners.

The land of langurs…
We spent the next day packing and warming up for Kangra Valley, a small town about 150km from Chamba. Kangra Fort is a tourist hotspot of historical importance as a Mughal stronghold and is also an excellent place to find Chamba sacred langur. We set out early that morning, climbing to an altitude of 2,400m. Through the post monsoon showers the mist was folding and unfolding over the mountains, setting the scene for the unforgettable drive.

The outlook soon changed when we descended down the mountain, to the valley at an altitude of 600m. The cool breeze was blasted away by scorching heat and dust. After a quick wash and the ever soothing chai, we set off to see some of the local sites. The Brajeshwari Devi Temple in Kangra is an age old architectural marvel and Felipe experienced a riot of colours, music and culture.

The following morning, we visited the fort – built in the early 4th century and the site of many conquests and calamities. We trudged our way through the ancient walls, baking, as we were, under the repressive sun. As we were about to enter the main fort, we saw something stirring within the trees. Langurs! These individuals looked very different from the langurs we were expecting to see and they demanded several hours of our keen observation.

… and lamas
Nestled amidst the Dauladhar Ranges of western Himalaya, with peaks ranging from 1,400-4,000m, Dharamshala boasts beautiful high altitude deodar and pine forests, and our langurs of course. Despite our many attempts to find the langurs in Dharamshala, they proved elusive and we were unsuccessful. But the gentle monsoon showers and the picturesque mountains made the experience worthwhile. Felipe was also able to spin the prayer wheel and meet the lamas which was a unique experience.

We will meet again!
During Felipe’s visit, we were able to exchange ideas and discuss points from our personal points of view. Together, we were able to lay down our challenges on a singular plan, look at them objectively, dissect and analyze the issues and arrive at solutions. We realized that some of our conservation challenges are almost identical and it was essential to share such cross-country knowledge and experience to arrive at holistic solutions.

It was a great ten days with Felipe and, as we said our goodbyes, we wondered when our next meeting might be. Conservation is a tough, demanding and sometimes lonely line of work! But we can all benefit from meeting and learning from like-minded peers. We are not alone in our fight!

Counting sheep on the trail of the Mountain Ghost

Snow leopard (camera trap)

‘All three of us were exhausted. Wenzha, our Tibetan driver, stared at a flower in front of his feet. Edward, our young Chinese-American volunteer, sat with his head down. Surrounded by vertical cliffs we knew the only way to the next valley was to climb the 40° slope to the hilltop. Around halfway up I looked back to check on my partners. To my surprise I saw Edward start to walk back down, ‘What is he thinking?’ I thought. As I watched, he jumped back from the cliff, with an astonished look on his face, waving at me frantically. I hoped he hadn’t seen a bear. I began to walk as fast as possible towards him. As I drew closer, I read his lips:

“Snow leopard!”’

These are the words of Lingyun Xiao, Researcher at Peking University, who, together with her team, received CLP funding in 2013 for their project researching the availability of snow leopard prey in China’s Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserve. The team recently submitted a preliminary report which contains exciting insights into what it is like to work in some of the most remote and rugged sites on earth. Their project started when they embarked on a trip with other collaborators to monitor blue sheep on the Tibetan Plateau. Blue sheep, which weigh up to 75kg and have massive horns – prized by game hunters – are a main prey species for snow leopards.

The team surveyed blue sheep and livestock in seven sites each year in different seasons in order to help develop a conservation strategy. Besides doing their own survey, the team worked alongside local community members. They helped the locals to start three of their own wildlife monitoring teams: one focusing on blue sheep and the other two on snow leopards.

Involving mountain communities in conservation

‘Working with communities to conserve wildlife is as impactful as it is rewarding. Gaining people’s trust is no easy task though and what might seem standard to conservationists can be quite baffling to the locals! The most important lesson we have learnt so far is to always be prepared to plan according to the real situation. It is very important to listen to the local herders’ voice before trying to involve them in conservation.’

Sanjiangyuan, located in Qinghai, on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau in China, is one of the most important areas for snow leopard conservation. Although the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve covers a large portion of the area, local herders still live inside the reserve. Based on previous successes in Yunta village, Lingyun Xiao tried to involve the local community in her camera-trap research.

‘It was a decision made partly out of frustration. Last December we set out camera traps at eight sites. However, in the first village I found several of them had been taken by the villagers. Even when we’d asked them not to! Camera traps are quite mysterious for the local people and it’s understandable that they don’t want strange things showing up on their land. Involving them in field work can make a real difference.’

The team taught the community how a camera trap works and asked for their help to take care of the cameras, helping to build trust with people there. Apart from protecting their camera equipment, the team have found that a good relationship with local herders is important to ensure accurate data from their surveys.

‘To investigate the relationship between livestock and wildlife, livestock numbers are crucial data; however, it’s always a sensitive topic to discuss here. By chatting and interviewing we gained valuable information about the herders’ livelihood. By understanding each of the stories we heard, our research can give an answer a little closer to reality.’

Ideal conditions for the mountain ghost

In April 2014 the team were lucky enough to spot a whole family of snow leopards, after braving the terrible winter weather in Soujia on the Tibetan Plateau.

‘This kind of weather is hard for us, but it’s ideal for snow leopards that are looking to hunt. All day we kept our eyes busy, hoping to witness a snow leopard hunting for wild prey. We had almost given up hope when we caught a glimpse of two figures sneaking along a cliff. The big tails could undoubtedly only belong to one animal: the mountain ghost.’

At the head of the Mekong River, Zaduo County, Qinghai, is located within the largest continuous snow leopard habitat in China. An established team of 20 local herders deployed 40 research cameras in the area as part of a four-day trap camera training course in May 2014, to monitor snow leopards in the area. The study was supported by Shanshui Conservation Center, Peking University and the local township government in the county.

‘The village where the cameras were placed is also home to a sacred mountain named Namanula. To show their respect, the local people never dig medicinal herbs or caterpillar fungus around the mountain, even though the fungus is a major source of income for the community. In the local religious context, snow leopards are considered to belong to the mountain god, which is helpful in garnering even more support in the conservation of this iconic flagship species.’

Snow leopards as a flagship for landscape level conservation

While discussing external threats such as poaching and mining, the members of the village agreed that snow leopards could be used as a tool to protect the village. One herder concluded,

“We all see news about snow leopards frequently, on TV, newspaper and internet. Of course all of us want to protect our homeland, but before we didn’t know how. Now through the camera trap pictures we can tell outsiders what an important place we are protecting. Snow leopards could be one powerful tool.”

‘During a meeting, staff showed a map of snow leopard distribution in the world, and the local herders were fascinated by how important their homeland, the Tibetan Plateau, is for snow leopard conservation. Using his fist to demonstrate the Earth, one herder exclaimed, “Before we always thought snow leopards were everywhere in the world, but actually they only occupy a tiny, tiny piece of the earth’s surface.”’

For the final stage of this CLP-funded project, the team will continue their field work, collecting camera trap data in early 2015 and analysing the impact of livestock on the populations of blue sheep. In the future Lingyun Xiao and her team plan to carry out more analysis across several seasons and the team hope to be able to establish the density of snow leopards across the region.

‘We plan to continue our community-based monitoring even after the project. The surrounding villages show lots of interest on monitoring their own wildlife. They want to know their wildlife better and to use the baseline information about their wildlife to fight against external threats. We will try our best to support them.’

Some extracts from Lingyun Xiao’s report have previously appeared in an article published by the Snow Leopard Trust. Image credits: Snow leopard, Lingyun Xiao; Surveying blue sheep, Lingyun Xiao; Researchers and community members, Dawa Jiangcai; Snow leopard cubs in den, Edward Zhu.

Supporting high fliers, and other life forms…

Vulture group

In its original guise back in 1985, the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP), as it is known today, funded only a brace of projects, both focused on birds. The programme has grown and evolved significantly over time and now our teams’ work covers a broad range of taxonomic groups. Nevertheless, during its distinguished history, almost one third of the projects supported by the CLP have related to threatened bird species.

Generally speaking, conservationists tend to have some interest in birds, or at least to understand and appreciate their importance. Over the centuries, birds have been bringers of good fortune, harbingers of death, symbols of love and hope. They have been adored, persecuted and widely studied, but rarely ignored. The relative abundance and accessibility of the more common species means that birds frequently provide the catalyst that sparks an interest in nature among the wider public. Almost half of the world’s 10,000 bird species have a practical value in our lives. Many are economically important: colonial powers thrived on the guano trade; birds consume insects that would otherwise eat our crops; they disperse seeds and pollinate plants; and they are worth billions of dollars to the food industry, tourism and trade. Evidently, bird conservation is no longer just about birds, as two recent CLP-funded projects illustrate.

Carrion poisoning

In Southeast Asia, vulture numbers have been in free fall, plummeting by over 90% since 1992. The cause and speed of the decline initially left specialists baffled, until researchers discovered that the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac, used by vets on cattle, was lethally toxic to vultures that consumed the flesh of dead livestock. Veterinary diclofenac was banned in India and Nepal in 2006, but was immediately substituted with another form of the drug, and vultures continued to die.

Waste disposal

Vultures may not be the prettiest or most popular of birds, but they provide a crucial service by devouring rotting carcasses that would otherwise pose human health risks and attract packs of rabid dogs. The socio-economic impact of a sharp reduction in vulture numbers is considerable. It has been calculated that the demise of vultures and subsequent increase in rabid dogs in India may have resulted in around 50,000 additional human deaths from rabies, at a probable cost of over US$30 billion to the nation’s economy. A team of young Nepalese conservationists supported by the CLP and Save Our Species completed a project that had fed into a regional campaign to save Asia’s vultures from extinction. The team surveyed vulture nests to record breeding success rates and also monitored potential threats (intentional poisoning, habitat destruction, electrocution from power lines, nest disturbance and direct attacks on vultures), but the main success of the project was its contribution to the removal of diclofenac from the market and the promotion of an alternative drug, meloxicam.

Safe landing

The combined efforts of the Nepalese team, other conservation organisations, local government, the veterinary fraternity and local communities led to Nawalparasi district in central Nepal, on the border with India, being declared a Diclofenac Free Zone (DFZ). The DFZ was one of 11 such zones, declared roughly simultaneously, which collectively cover an area totalling over 22,000 km2 (approximately the size of New Jersey or Wales) and constitute the world’s first provisional vulture safe area.

Two birds, one zone

Another CLP-funded team faced a different challenge. Rather than ranging across whole continents, their target species – the chestnut-bellied hummingbird and Niceforo’s wren, are confined to the Chicamocha Canyon, nestling in the Colombian Andes. This arid landscape, characterised by spiny shrubs and cacti, has been subjected to considerable land fragmentation, burning for agriculture, and goat grazing, which have destroyed all but 1.5% of the original dry forest.

In addition to tackling the principal threats to these birds, the team also set about protecting areas of suitable habitat. The findings of its surveys and ecological studies led to the site being designated as an Important Bird Area – an internationally recognised status highlighting it as a priority site for the conservation of birds, as well as other animals and plants.

Spreading their wings

Two years later, the team went one step further and, collaborating closely with landowners and a national NGO (Fundación ProAves), secured an area of land under more formal protection as a natural bird reserve. They subsequently set up their own organisation, Fundación Conserva, to strengthen conservation efforts in the region by identifying and safeguarding more suitable areas of habitat and involving the local community in their activities.

Not strictly for the birds

Although some members of the conservation community tend to get into a flap about the amount of funding directed towards bird conservation, the reality is that bird conservation is often the gateway to the protection of many other species, ecosystems and communities.