Blog

Human-dolphin coexistence in Nepal: Why we need a traditional perspective

This blog has been adapted from the original version published here.

By Anu Rai

As a member of a team dedicated to conserving Ganges river dolphins in Nepal, I was overjoyed when CLP selected us for one of its Follow-Up Awards last year. The award has allowed us to start reducing the threats faced by this Endangered dolphin, which includes engaging the indigenous communities that have lived alongside it for generations.

A rarely sighted Endangered Ganges river dolphin (Platanista gangetica) in the Karnali River, Nepal © Dolphin Conservation Center, Kailali

One of our key goals as part of our CLP project is to stop accidental entanglements and mortalities of river dolphins in fishing nets, building on findings from our previous CLP-funded project in 2013.

Engaging with the local fishing communities, and understanding their traditional views and perceptions of the dolphins they live alongside, is an incredibly important part of our project and something I personally enjoy; there is nothing more magical than hearing the local people relaying their experiences. I truly believe our field work and other activities must be complemented by the rich knowledge they have amassed over multiple generations of co-existence.

The widespread use of gillnets by fisheries are a key threat to the Ganges river dolphin in the Karnali River, Nepal © Gopal Khanal

As a team we carry out a lot of our field work on the Karnali River in Nepal, a place that now feels like a second home to me! Together with the Sharda River in India, the Karnali forms a major left bank tributary of the Ganges. Originating in the southern slopes of the Tibetan Plateau, this river flows south through one of the most remote and least explored areas of Nepal.

On the foothills of this great river, we are occasionally lucky enough to glimpse the rare and elusive Ganges river dolphin, which has long been part of the culture of the local people who live along the river’s banks.

The Karnali River in Nepal harbours some of the last remaining Ganges river dolphins in the world © Gopal Khanal

I was delighted when one recent visit here made me privy to some local stories and indigenous knowledge about dolphins and fishery from women in the local Sonaha ethnic group.

As a child, Laxmi and her father often went out fishing on the river in their small boat. She recalls asking her father why, even when they were in such close proximity, the dolphins did not overturn their boats. Her father told her that the boats were like a brother-in-law to the dolphins and so they never touched them.

An adult Ganges river dolphin weighs around 150 kg – about the weight of an average upright piano – and its size ranges from 1.5 to 2.5 metres. It also surfaces every few minutes for air. So an adult dolphin could easily overturn a boat, but I have never heard of that happening in any of my field surveys.

My guess is that the dolphins have developed some sort of avoidance mechanism to allow them to co-exist with humans. This is certainly plausible given how much dolphins have been exposed to us; they have long persisted in human-dominated river systems and have shown close association with sites of frequent human use, such as bathing and washing ghats, ferry ghats and cremation ghats (as described by Sinha and Kannan, 2014).

River dolphins have long co-existed with humans through their close association with sites of frequent human use © Ganesh Chowdhury

But the way people make up stories to explain this phenomenon is quite interesting to me. In ancient times, humans made up stories to make sense of the frightening world around them. I believe Nepal has many such undiscovered stories and it is high time we document them – and not just through verbal communication.

In a different conversation with Goma, another local Sonaha woman, she recalled the use of ‘Bhusauli’ – a mixture of husk and buffalo dung – which the community had previously used as fishing bait. They would put Bhusauli on the rocks in the river to attract fish and, after a couple of hours, they would use nets to catch the fish. But now she says this method does not work because the water level has decreased, along with the number of fish.

You can watch my conversations with Goma and Laxmi in the video below.

The official statistics confirm Goma’s suspicions. Globally, there has been a drop in the population of freshwater species of fish – estimated as a decline of 83% of average abundance since 1970. Likewise, in less than 50 years, the population of migratory freshwater fish has declined by 76%.

Nepal has also registered a decline in fish stocks in several rivers but there are few studies documenting the extent of these declines. In this case, social surveys come into play. As demonstrated by my chat with Goma, local knowledge is vital in estimating the extent of decline.

This is what our CLP-funded research project is trying to achieve. As more field work is planned, I strive to explore more local stories and indigenous knowledge. We know that such information will support future modes of sustainable living and help address the biodiversity crisis. I intend to use this knowledge to design conservation approaches that enable the harmonious co-existence between humans and nature in Nepal.

A fishing camp next to the Karnali River, Nepal © Gopal Khanal

About the author

CLP alumna Anu Rai is an aspiring environmental researcher and enjoys writing. She has written about pertinent environmental issues in both academic journals and newspaper articles. Her research interests lie in freshwater studies, biodiversity conservation, and geospatial analysis. Currently, she is pursuing her MSc in Environmental Science at Kathmandu University.

As well as being a team member of a 2021 CLP Follow-Up project, Anu is also involved in applying nature-based solutions for the restoration of Nagdaha Lake in Nepal, through Wageningen University’s Nature Based Solutions Challenge 2022.

Feeling inspired?

If Anu’s story resonates with you, and you want to start pursuing your goals in conservation, then consider applying for one of our 2023 Team Awards! Winning a Future Conservationist Award comes with a project grant of up to $15,000, as well as training, mentoring and networking opportunities. The application deadline is 10 October, 2022 – apply via our online application portal here and find key resources to help you with your application here.

Weaving networks in El Impenetrable, Argentina

This blog has been adapted and translated from the original version (in Spanish) published here.

By Isis Ibáñez

The Santa Fe frog (Leptodactylus laticeps) is known as Kururu Pytã in the South American indigenous language, Guaraní © Julian Lescano

The formal name of our CLP project is “Creating the grassroots to conserve the Santa Fe frog in the South American Great Chaco.” But for the non-academic community, we called it the “Kururu Pytã Project.”  Kururu Pytã is the name of our target species – the Santa Fe frog – in Guaraní, a language spoken by the indigenous communities where we work in north-eastern Argentina. We hoped that by using the name Kururu Pytã, the wider public would become engaged in the conservation of this threatened amphibian.

Our project, for which we received a CLP Future Conservationist Award last year, sought to better understand the conservation status of this frog and the threats that affect it through intensive fieldwork in Argentina’s Gran Chaco region. Our ultimate aim was to create a basis for its protection by involving the indigenous and “criollo” communities, researchers, and conservationists through workshops and public participation campaigns. Join us on our project’s last journey!

Isis Ibáñez taking pictures of the Chaco environment © Javier Gutierrez

A quest for knowledge

In autumn 2021, we travelled to the province of Chaco, north-eastern Argentina, to continue planning our fieldwork on the mysterious Kururu Pytã. This species is categorized as Near Threatened globally, but the conservation status of its regional population is largely unknown and many aspects of its biology are still an enigma – key issues that need to be addressed if we are to effectively understand and conserve this species.

On our last field trip as part of our CLP project, we wanted to get to know the local community and explore areas to develop future field campaigns. During the trip, we uncovered for the first time the different realities facing the people that live together in the region. This will help guide the extensive work we are planning in the territory, including creating the first networks of collaboration and communication among the locals.

Two CLP project team members, Camila Deutsch and Gabi Agostini, in the Río Bermejito, Chaco, Argentina © Javier Gutierrez

Between landscapes of quebrachales (dry forests mainly consisting of willow-leaf red quebracho trees) and reddish-coloured rivers characteristic of the region, our first stop was our operational base in the town of Nueva Pompeya, located in the El Impenetrable Zone – an area so-called because of its almost impassable environment of dense, thorny vegetation.

From there, we set off to meet our local stakeholders.

Getting to know the local community

Our first visit was to Rosita, a villager whose home adjoins part of the Bermejito River, an area that appears to be a suitable environment for the Kururu Pytã (that is, rain-floodable lowlands).

We also visited Daniel Jaimes and his family, who had already collaborated with other research groups and warmly welcomed us to share their experiences with the Kururu Pytã. We chatted at length about the social and environmental issues facing the region, such as deforestation, indigenous communities’ land loss and social abandonment. We were also delighted to be taught how to identify the Chaco’s native flora and fauna and learn their local names.

Knowledge exchange with the local community © Javier Gutierrez

Finally, Licindo Tebez received us at his home in El Hacha, where we had the honour of meeting Hugo Correa, Natay Collet, and Genaro Tebez, who, along with Licindo, are part of the Quimilero Project team.

Knowledge exchange with the Quimilero Project team in El Hacha (Left to right: Javier Gutiérrez, Natay Collet, Isis Ibáñez, Licindo Tebez, Gabriela Agostini, Camila Deutsch, Damián Farias, Hugo Correa) © Javier Gutiérrez

This initiative, coordinated by Dr Micaela Camino, aims to protect a peccary species known as “Quimilero” (Catagonus wagneri) and its native environment, the Dry Chaco. During the time we shared, they told us about the enormous scientific and outreach work they carry out together with local people, from whom we have much to learn.

“Quimilero”: the Chacoan Peccary (Catagonus wagneri) © Proyecto Quimilero

An outing to the impenetrable 

Before leaving for our next destination and, despite it being the season of low amphibian activity, we decided to make a night outing through the woodland to see what we could find… And they did not fail us! We were able to see some species of frog (unfortunately not the Kururu Pytã) and other local fauna including a Cope’s toad, a Chaco owl and a southern three-banded armadillo, taking advantage of the darkness of the new moon that allowed us to contemplate an incredibly starry sky.

Chaco Owl (Strix chacoensis) © Javier Gutiérrez

Finally, we headed to Paraje La Armonía, to reach our last destination: the great El Impenetrable National Park, one of the most important protected areas in the Argentine Chaco. This national park is the largest in northern Argentina, and aims to preserve a large proportion of the last native forests of the great Chaco in our country, while also harbouring enormous biodiversity.

We met the protected area rangers, introduced ourselves, and talked about the project. After travelling 36 km along the main road, we arrived at the banks of the Bermejo River; the northern limit of the park facing the province of Formosa.

Río Bermejo, Chaco, Argentina © Javier Gutierrez

During this tour, we were able to explore the diverse environment of the protected area for the first time and work out if there were favourable habitats for the Kururu Pytã. We spent the night in the campsite in front of the mighty Bermejo River and at sunrise, we woke up to the morning songs of the charatas, characteristic birds of the Chaco Mountains. It was the perfect way to end this second trip in the lands of the Kururu Pytã.

El Impenetrable National Park, Chaco, Argentina © Javier Gutierrez

Our last field trip as part of our CLP project also allowed us to exchange information about the Kururu Pytã and inquire about local people’s knowledge and perception about this species in particular, and about amphibians in general. We were also able to talk about the environmental and social problems in the region, such as timber felling, illegal trafficking of flora and fauna, and the encroachment of agriculture on native forests. All of this will be crucial to achieving the objectives of our project.

During these days spent sharing lunches, traditions, knowledge, and mates (a traditional South American tea-like beverage, made using leaves and twigs from the yerba-maté plant) with the local people, we never stopped being surprised by the warmth, hospitality, and positive disposition towards us and our work. We have a long way to go, but we came back full of expectations.

About the author

Isis Ibáñez is a CLP alumna and biology student at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina. She is currently finishing a Bachelor’s degree specializing in Animal Ecology. During her undergraduate years, she volunteered in the Great Chaco in Argentina, a region that attracted her because of its great biodiversity and socio-diversity.  She is the leader of the Kururu Pytã Project, which was funded by CLP in 2021, and she is interested in focusing her work as a biologist on applied research in amphibian conservation, as well as working together with the local communities in this territory.

Feeling inspired?

Are you an emerging conservationist with an exciting project idea like this one? Then why not apply for one of our Team Awards for a chance to gain project funding and access to training, mentoring, networking and other career-boosting opportunities?

The competition for our 2023 Team Awards is now open until 10 October, 2022 – but don’t delay – there’s a lot to do between now and the deadline! For more information, including eligibility criteria and how to apply, visit our Grants pages.

Building leadership capacity for conservation in Southeast Asia

By Leala Rosen (CLP Program Officer, Wildlife Conservation Society)

In May and June 2022, the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) organised a virtual course to help rising conservation leaders in Southeast Asia learn about effective leadership in conservation practice at the local, regional and national level. 

Screenshot from the live session, “Strengthening the Leader in Me”

Implementing conservation faces a range of challenges, especially given the current multiple crises facing the planet; biodiversity loss, pandemics, and climate change. There’s no doubt that dealing with these challenges requires effective leadership and teamwork.   

CLP’s leadership training course allowed 12 early- to mid-career conservationists (including two recent CLP Future Conservationist Award-winners) working in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia to become more aware of their leadership potential and how to be effective, collaborative, strategic, and creative leaders in their conservation projects and organizations.  

What did the course involve? 

The course involved eight interactive sessions held over four weeks. It was facilitated by two experts in leadership and training facilitation: Sarilani Wirawan, co-founder and director of Digdaya Selaras (an Indonesian coaching and mentoring service) and Tony Lynam, SMART Coordinator, Conservation Technology Field Solutions, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS – one of CLP’s partner organisations). 

I worked with Sari and Tony to custom-design the course so it would suit the needs of young emerging conservationists in Southeast Asia. We employed an experiential approach that included time for individual and collective reflection on the connection between conservation and effective leadership. 

“The experience of facilitating this year’s CLP virtual workshop together with Tony and Leala was truly energizing, insightful, and inspiring. I appreciated the commitment of all the participants in this course, which was shown by their active work on individual learning materials, engagement in the online interactive sessions, and open conversations held during the individual sessions. I hope more young conservation leaders will benefit from this program in the future to become stronger and more confident in their career decisions from early on as conservationists.” – Sarilani Wirawan. 

Trainees teaching each other some dance moves during the closing session in June

Sari and Tony delivered the course content through interactive exercises and related discussions, supported by specific examples, relevant case studies, videos, TEDx talks (including some delivered by CLP alumni) and a CLP alumni panel discussion. Short practical exercises and assignments were completed by participants throughout the training course.  Each facilitator also engaged in individual coaching or mentoring sessions with participants related to their work, and personal and career development needs. 

One participant, Sue Ong (a previous CLP intern and 2021 Future Conservationist Award-winner), commented: “The training was well-planned, with the different activities and real-life case studies helping me further understand the importance of each topic discussed. The interaction with other participants was also very enriching and also let me put into practice what we learned while connecting and building our relationships throughout the training. 

During the alumni panel discussion, the course participants met two CLP alumni from the Southeast Asia region, specifically Malaysia (Sandra Teoh, council member of the MareCet Research Organization) and Indonesia (Rafid Shidqi, co-founder and project leader, Thresher Shark Project Indonesia). This resulted in a lively conversation covering personal leadership development, vulnerability and growth, while the participants also gained useful insights into Sandra and Rafid’s personal conservation leadership journeys. 

Two CLP alumni from Southeast Asia, Sandra Teoh (Malaysia) and Rafid Shidqi (Indonesia), joined the training for a panel discussion

What were the key takeaways? 

Interestingly, for some participants, this was the first time they had had the opportunity to self-reflect on their own capacity and they told us they initially felt unsure. The facilitators noted this was a normal reaction they’d previously observed in other personal leadership workshops, acknowledging that self-reflection is not a skill that comes naturally to everyone. The learning techniques shared during the training ultimately provided an alternative and effective method for the trainees to dive deeper into the content and thrive in the process. 

One trainee commented: “This training helped me to reshape my thoughts towards challenges that I have at work on a daily basis. I can now actually overcome those challenges with all the techniques that I’ve learnt in this training – and I now know that it is okay to take time to learn and be kind to ourselves.” – Andina Auria Putri, Indonesia 

As a result of the course, 11 of the participants reported that they plan to take more leadership actions at their organization, while one participant wanted to step back and reflect on their current performance before taking more leadership actions in their work. 

Another trainee said: “This training taught valuable lessons in leadership that I sometimes ignored in the past, but after I reflected back I realized that a leader should hold the core values taught in this training in order to be great leader.” – Devirisal Djabumir, Indonesia 

Screenshot from a live session on authentic leadership and identifying core values

In terms of networking, all participants reported learning from the experience of other participants. It was also encouraging to learn that over half of the participants shared resources or opportunities with others and established one or more collaborative relationships, with one participant commenting,This workshop really helped me get to know myself better and learn from others’ experiences.” – Kate Lim, Philippines  

Overall, the workshop will enable these 12 emerging conservationists to address leadership challenges. It will also equip them with the right tools to more effectively manage and work equitably and inclusively as part of a team – including increasing self-awareness and capacity to work effectively with others, building strong teams and peer networks (including among other course participants) and sustaining energy, motivation, and personal resilience. 

Are you an emerging conservation leader? 

Does your project need financial support? Are you keen to build your skills and professional networks, and access career-boosting opportunities? Then apply for a 2023 CLP Team Award! You could benefit from a project grant of up to USD$15,000 as well as training, networking and mentoring opportunities as part of the CLP Alumni Network (comprising almost 3,000 conservationists worldwide). Find out more: www.conservationleadershipprogramme.org/grants/grant-overview

Conservation careers: Empowering young people in conservation

This article was originally published on the BirdLife International website.

Sherilyn Bos, Capacity Development Officer at BirdLife International, works with the Conservation Leadership Programme to help early-career conservationists overcome threats to nature in places where capacity and access to resources is limited. Here, she tells us more about her role at CLP, her career journey and shares her tips for breaking into the sector.

Sherilyn at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille, September 2021 © Kate Tointon

Why did you choose a career in conservation?

I originally didn’t – I went to medical school first! But then at the start of my studies I volunteered in South Africa for a month and realised that I wanted to do something with animals and nature instead. I studied biology in Paris and went on to do an Applied Wildlife Conservation Masters.

My first job was at BirdLife as an intern with the conservation team for 6 months. Then, my supervisor encouraged me to apply for a job with BirdLife Europe and Central Asia as a research assistant on the MAVA projects. I was there for a year when a new opportunity came up for my current job which was a big change moving from wetland projects to capacity development.

What does your current role involve?

I co-ordinate the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) from the BirdLife side; as CLP works in partnership between BirdLife, Fauna and Flora International, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. We support high-priority biodiversity conservation by building the leadership skills of early career conservationists who are striving to overcome major threats to nature in places where capacity and access to resources is limited. To achieve this, we identify and engage exceptional young conservationists, invest in their professional development through grants, training and mentoring, and help them to multiply their impact across the conservation sector.

Part of my role involves looking after the Team Awards work stream. Through this, we grant funding to early-career conservationists through our Future Conservationist Awards, and we also grant Follow-up and Leadership awards to past award recipients. I am on the Future Conservationist Awards side for early career conservationists where I screen the application process. Once the projects are selected, we give out the funds and the projects can start work on the ground. There are many different streams such as the alumni network, communications, and we all support other streams when needed.

Sherilyn running a workshop on conservation leadership at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in September 2021 © Kate Tointon

How is CLP working to increase diversity in the conservation sector?

Our criteria require that teams must be from low- to middle-income countries and must have 50% or more of national individuals in that project. As part of our new strategy, we will be working to engage more local people, particularly ones that we may not be reaching already, for example people who won’t hear about the programme through a university or people who don’t speak or read English. We would encourage our alumni network to put forward any exceptional people from their community who could be a good fit and that could take on a project. We also want to open the programme to Indigenous and Native people from the US and Australia in the future.

Getting into conservation can be challenging, do you have any advice?

In a lot of places, people aren’t aware what conservation is or what the roles involve. Studying is a common way to start, but I would also recommend Conservation Careers, and looking at blogs and even Instagram. Following conservation organisations and people on social media who are already working in the sector is a great way to learn about it and see what the job involves. It’s difficult because there are very few jobs and very little money, but if it is your calling, I would say go for it!

What are the best and most challenging parts of your role?

The pandemic brought a lot of challenges as travelling was no longer possible, so our training and meetings all had to go online. We adapted to this but there is a lot of value in people meeting in person, for example we noticed it took much longer for people to connect online than when we were able to meet in person. In the future, we would like to keep an online component but also still plan in person events so people can really connect.

The best part is hearing from teams or alumni about how successful their project and training has been, or that they’ve been able to connect with someone across the world for their project. Seeing those connections happening and having a positive impact on people’s careers is the biggest reward.

Another positive is knowing that indirectly my work can have a big impact for conservation as the work that the teams can do on the ground is helping nature, so even though I’m not directly working with wildlife, I can still contribute and it’s brilliant to see.

We keep in touch with everyone too to see where they have ended up and seeing someone who started as an intern go on to do amazing work is incredible, it’s brilliant that a programme can do that.

Sherilyn (second from right) with the CLP management team in November 2021 © Stuart Paterson

There is a lot of negative environmental news that can be tough when working in conservation and caring about the environment, what keeps you hopeful and motivated?

In my job, if I read that someone didn’t succeed in implementing one of their activities in a project and I will be feeling so sorry for them, I will then read that someone else successfully managed theirs which balances it out. Personally, I try not to get into a loop of bad news about the environment and make sure to pay attention to the good news too. Also, seeing what the new generation is doing, and following the work of people that are making change is inspiring.

It’s also important to remember that as an individual you can’t change everything, but you can always do something to make an impact. For example, if I keep doing what I’m doing that is good for the planet, and by having a career in conservation, hopefully I have a small impact toward a better future. I want to stay hopeful for future generations that come after us – realistic but hopeful.

Click here to find out more about the Conservation Leadership Programme, and click here to read about this year’s Team Awards winners who are driving crucial actions to save a range of imperilled species and habitats around the world.

Inside internships: Five top tips to ensure interns get what they really need

In two previous blogs, we’ve shown how internships can help rising conservationists kick start their careers, develop vital skills, boost their networks, and make a lasting impact on both society and biodiversity. These insights have come directly from previous CLP interns who shared their stories and experiences with us in a series of interviews and surveys.

Previous CLP intern, Srey Oun Ith, was placed with FFI in Cambodia in 2020 to build her capacity for future Marine Protected Area development © Srey Oun Ith/FFI

We’ve now drawn from this first-hand knowledge to identify the below five tips on making internships successful, which all come down to one key lesson: by ensuring interns get what they need, the host organization will reap the benefits. Not only will these tips feed back into our Internship Scheme, but we hope they will also be useful for others, too.

Tip 1: Create spaces for networking

Our interns told us they value networking opportunities with conservationists working at all levels. Getting the chance to speak to other conservationists appears to be a priority, for our interns at least, because of how it can help them develop contacts for potential collaborations and job opportunities; share knowledge (such as specific methods and technologies); and be inspired by the work of others.

Previous CLP intern Albina Mamedova (left) was placed with BirdLife International in Georgia in 2018 © Albina Mamedova/BirdLife International

This got us thinking: an internship networking event could be quite easily held online, similar to other online networking events we’ve been involved in. Or interns could be ‘buddied up’, allowing those more experienced to help with the onboarding process. Multiple internship schemes around the world could work together to get their interns talking to each other. These are just a few ideas – there are potentially various ways to ensure interns can access a space to network.

Tip 2: Integrate interns

Even though an internship is a temporary position, our interns preferred it when efforts were made to completely integrate them into the host organization as a permanent member of staff would be, including being told about other internship projects happening in the same country and abroad.

2021 CLP intern Alfredo Gotine learning to use camera traps as part of his internship with Fauna & Flora International in Mozambique © Alfredo Gotine/Fauna & Flora International

One way to do this could be introducing the intern to the organization (such as through an internal email or presentation), and making sure interns participate in internal events, talks, training and other opportunities that aren’t necessarily related to their internship duties. Paying the intern a salary, if possible (or at least covering their subsistence and accommodation costs), is an essential way to ensure interns are integrated to the organization and are treated as any other member of staff would be.

Tip 3: Provide tailored support 

We were told by our past interns that they think it’s important to ensure an internship is centred on an intern’s individual needs. After all, different interns will come to the position with different skills, expectations, approach to working, leadership styles, personalities, and so on.

2020 CLP intern Marlene Horsford assisted the Anguilla National Trust and FFI to implement on-the-ground conservation actions for endangered plants and reptiles © Marlene Horsford/Fauna & Flora International         

Taking the time to understand the intern as an individual right from the start of their internship, such as through a welcome call in which you outline goals and expectations, is vital for tailoring any support you provide to their specific needs – such as any training, mentorship, or even just the way you interact with them in different working environments.

Tip 4: Learn from the process

Our interns certainly appreciated the chance for their opinions to be heard and valued. So it’s vital to give interns an opportunity to provide feedback about their internship and how it has impacted their career and contributions to conservation.

Sue Ong (centre) undertook an internship on sea turtle monitoring with FFI in Myanmar in 2018. She went on to win a CLP Future Conservationist Award in 2021 © LAMAVE     

Collecting this feedback (both during and after the internship) and noting down any lessons learned while working with them could also help improve the next internship scheme. This information can also feed into the wider Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning framework of your organization (if it has one).

Monitoring the success of an internship scheme and promoting its impact to a global audience could also help attract potential stakeholders for future internship schemes. Telling the world about interns who have, for example, been offered a permanent position or contributed to a research breakthrough (like many of our past interns) showcases the fantastic benefits that can emerge from supporting an internship scheme. In the long-term, this could help improve the overall culture of internships and ensure both interns and organisations are benefiting from them as much as possible.

Tip 5: Keep in touch

Our interns really liked having regular contact with us – both during and after their internships – as a way to keep connected, learn about other opportunities offered, such as our annual Team Awards and grants/awards offered by other organisations we know (which some of our interns have gone on to receive), and feel a general sense of belonging to a network of conservation professionals.

Past CLP intern Charles Emogor was placed with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Nigeria in 2016. Now a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, Charles went on to win a 2020 CLP Future Conservationist Award and other accolades © Charles Emogor/WCS

Regular contact could be maintained by signing interns up to your newsletter, and connecting with them on social media. Welcome calls, reporting, and post-internship calls and surveys can all help to maintain these important relationships—better still, why not try to make this contact fun and engaging? This can only help to ensure positive and long-lasting relationships with your interns.

Getting updates and reports from the interns could also be beneficial for tracking and evaluating the impact of your internship scheme (see also Tip 4). What’s more, these updates are helpful for knowledge sharing not just within your organization, including with senior staff members, but also with other interns who are active at the same time, which could help keep them motivated.

Feeling inspired?

CLP is a passionate supporter of early-career conservationists, and our Internship Scheme is just one area of our programme that strives to provide a springboard for talented leaders working in low- to middle-income countries who are dedicated to protecting nature.

If you know someone who you think would benefit from undertaking an internship with one of our partner organizations, or if you run an Internship Scheme yourself and wish to collaborate in some way, then please get in touch at clp@birdlife.org. We also run an annual small-grant scheme in which we direct funding and training to teams of early-career conservationists worldwide, for which we will announce our next call for applications in July 2022.

Acknowledgements

We thank Bradley Knight (our past intern with Fauna & Flora International in Cambridge, UK) for conducting the interviews with our previous interns and writing the first draft of this blog. We are also grateful to our previous interns for taking the time to send us their feedback. Thanks also to Henry Rees, CLP Programme Officer at Fauna & Flora International, for helpful comments on previous drafts.

Why supporting today’s rising leaders can help protect tomorrow’s world

By Bradley Knight

In a series of interviews with past CLP interns, I’ve been struck by the way these emerging conservationists have carved out more positive futures for both biodiversity and people through locally-led, innovative approaches.

An Altiplano lagoon at 13,700ft, Sajama National Park, Bolivia © Arne J. Lesterhuis (a previous CLP intern)

Speaking with past CLP interns, it’s been fascinating to uncover how emerging conservation leaders have used their internships as critical career stepping stones and achieved some remarkable conservation impacts. It’s also made me realize that these kinds of internships have much deeper, wider reaching consequences both for society and for the future of our planet.

Adopting creativity in conservation practice

In the ever-evolving field of biodiversity conservation, with new technologies, methodologies, and challenges, I really believe that artistic creativity can play a key role in capturing the attention of both local communities and the wider world. This belief was reinforced after my recent interview with previous CLP intern, Mariia Cherniavskaia.

Previous CLP intern, Mariia Cherniavskaia, undertook a placement with FFI in Kyrgyzstan in 2019-2020, during which she helped develop products like ec0-bags to raise awareness about conservation © Akylai Kabaeva/FFI

During Mariia’s internship with FFI in 2019-2020, she had worked closely with communities living in the fruit and nut forests of Arstanbap and other regions in Kyrgyzstan, as well as with local and international NGOs and government bodies, to help save the country’s falcons, tulips, and wild forests.

One issue facing Mariia was the reliance of the local communities on forest resources. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, economic and social difficulties had started forcing communities in Kyrgyzstan to exploit forest resources so they could earn a living, which had negatively impacted biodiversity in the area.

Gumkhana village in the Arstanbap forest, Kyrgyzstan © Mariia Cherniavskaia

During our interview, Mariia explained that she thought creative problem-solving was the key to finding a solution to such issues. “You can’t just go somewhere and tell the community there that they have to change their practices; you need to show them why and provide them with alternative income sources so that they can change over time,” she said.

As a CLP intern, Mariia was able to nurture her natural creative talents with the help of her colleagues, so she could develop new ways for FFI to gain support from local communities and develop alternative sources of income. One approach she used was to create a board game for children to foster a passion for conservation in the next generation.

Mariia (left) and one of her internship supervisors, Akylai Kabaeva (right– who is a previous CLP intern herself) developing a board game for children to help raise awareness about conservation issues © David Gill/FFI

She also used her design skills (in which she has no formal training) to develop a series of non-timber forest products that could be given to local people and stakeholders to raise awareness about the importance of conserving rare and endangered species. The products created by the team included eco-bags featuring images of local species of threatened plant species, like the Niedzwiecki apple tree and the Korzynski pear. The success of this initiative helped to encourage the local community to commit to other alternative sources of income, such as beekeeping.

A field trip to Shamshy Kyrgyzstan, in December 2019 © Mariia Cherniavskaia /FFI

Mariia’s success during her internship was ultimately recognized by the offer of a permanent position as a Programme Assistant with FFI in Kyrgyzstan. Within just one year of her internship, she was promoted to Programme Coordinator.

To this day, Mariia continues to use her creativity to drive project development and community engagement for FFI. She has recently developed a new game on the conservation of the Menzbier’s marmot, a Vulnerable species endemic to the Western Tien-Shan (a UNESCO World Heritage Site found across Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan).

Developing the future generation of leaders 

I also interviewed Arne J. Lesterhuis, who had previously been placed as a CLP intern with BirdLife International in Paraguay in 2009. As an intern, Arne received direct mentorship from Dr Rob Clay (Senior Conservation Manager for BirdLife’s Americas secretariat at the time). Arne told me that the expert mentorship he received made him realise that the future of positive, impactful conservation practice rests in the next generation’s hands.

Previous CLP intern, Arne J. Lesterhuis, birdwatching in Paraguay © Arne J. Lesterhuis/Fauna Paraguay

As part of his internship, Arne had supported BirdLife’s leading flyway conservation work, which ultimately seeks to protect birds along global migratory routes. Among his many responsibilities as an intern, Arne had worked to strengthen international links among bird conservation initiatives by supporting the development of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) across the Americas.

He then went on to work with BirdLife International as a Species Technical Officer after his internship until 2015.

When I met with Arne, he talked passionately about the need to increase opportunities, build conservation capacity, and attract fresh talent, remarking: “The international conservation capacity here in South America is less developed. In Suriname specifically, capacity is lacking, and more needs to be done to address that.” 

What stood out to me about Arne was the sincerity behind his words. Without a doubt, he felt personally motivated to play a leading role in building the conservation capacity in Suriname. It was also clear that his internship had given him the skills he needed to lead as well as the confidence to do so.

That’s why in 2019, ten years after his CLP internship, Arne leapt at an opportunity to impact the future generation of conservationists in Suriname.

Arne conducting a survey of Baird’s sandpipers at Lago Poopó, Bolivia, in 2020 © G. Donaldson.

While working with his current employer, Manomet, Arne coordinated a pilot two-week Environmental Sciences Pre-Master’s programme in shorebird conservation in collaboration with Marie Djosetro, a teacher at Suriname’s only university, Anton de Kom University.

The hybrid (in-person and virtual) programme aimed to increase local capacity in shorebird conservation, which included teaching the 25 participants skills in shorebird identification, monitoring techniques, habitat management, community engagement and good governance.

Commenting on the programme’s success, Arne told me, “The programme was very well received. So, we thought let’s do more and try to get these conservation enthusiasts out there in the field, so Suriname isn’t dependent on outside help.”

Following the success of the pilot, Arne is currently working with Anton de Kom University to develop a degree-level programme in conservation leadership, focused on developing the next generation of conservation leaders for the region. He currently works for Manomet as a Shorebird Monitoring and Conservation Specialist across the Western hemisphere.

Investing in the future of conservation

Having spoken with several past CLP interns, I’ve uncovered a general consensus that these types of internship schemes can provide an invaluable career stepping stone for emerging conservationists. But the impact goes much deeper than that. Internships also offer a unique opportunity for nurturing and combining fresh ideas, passion, and local knowledge that can foster wide-reaching, long-term benefits for both society and biodiversity.

As CLP continues to direct funding and training to early-career grassroots conservationists around the world, the programme remains committed to providing internship opportunities for the world’s talented and driven future leaders like Mariia and Arne.

CLP is grateful to Fondation Segré, and Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin – for supporting our current interns.

About the author

Bradley Knight worked as an intern for Fauna & Flora International from October 2021 – January 2022, during which he interviewed various CLP interns and brought their stories to life. Bradley has studied digital media and journalism, has a BSc in Marine Biology and has volunteered in communications-related roles including as a social media officer and blogger for Conservation Careers. He is passionate about art as well as conservation, and has started his own conservation communications initiative that uses a blended science-art approach to inspire and engage audiences about marine conservation.

Imaginary borders and their very real effects

This article was originally published on Roundglass Sustain here.

By Imran Samad

International borders impact every species. What happens upstream to a river can affect river dolphins and other creatures even hundreds of kilometres downstream – a convincing reason to think of conservation as our shared biological heritage beyond political boundaries. 

An inhabitant of freshwater river systems, mostly in plains with slow-flowing rivers, the Ganges river dolphin lives in one of the world’s most densely populated areas. Photo: Ganesh Chowdhury

While travelling through Yanam town in Andhra Pradesh (a state in the south-eastern coastal region of India), I zipped past a nearly deserted petrol pump. Barely five minutes later, I came across another one where hundreds of vehicles were lined up for fuel. Perhaps there’s no fuel in the first one, I thought. Oh, how wrong I was! Yanam town, though inside Andhra Pradesh, belongs to the Union Territory of Puducherry, and so does the latter petrol pump. This means that fuel prices at the latter petrol pump are significantly lower than in the surrounding area, attracting crowds even from faraway places.

Wildlife across borders

The world is divided into political territories on paper, but on the ground, in most cases, even international borders lack a physical demarcation. On the other hand, laws and policies that govern the management of these territories vary greatly from one country to another. Such on-paper boundaries are “imaginary” to wildlife, yet these borders impact every species in one way or another. Let me explain this conundrum through the story of tigers at Manas National Park.

Manas National Park is a mosaic of grasslands and forests. The grasslands fall under Indian administration, while Bhutan governs the forested hills (in the background). Photo: Soumabrata Moulick

For centuries, the vast, contiguous forests of the eastern Himalayan foothills have been home to magical creatures like the Asiatic elephant and the Indian rhinoceros. Today, a part of this landscape is shared by the Indian state of Assam and Bhutan. A transboundary subset of it is protected independently in both countries, and wild animals move freely across this international border.

However, parts of the Indian side of this protected area (Manas National Park) had been raging in political turmoil for a few decades, leading to a complete breakdown of law and order in the area. Rampant hunting took over at these times and decimated the park’s tigers. The Bhutan side of this protected area (Royal Manas National Park) was unaffected as this conflict was contained within the political boundaries of India. Today, Indian Manas is at peace, and tigers from the Royal Manas may even be moving into it, helping the local population recover. Such effects of varying political conditions on wild animals across “imaginary” borders are easy to understand on land, but not so much in other ecosystems.

Challenging the concept of political boundaries

Rivers are some of the longest “flowing” ecosystems on the planet. Due to their strong directionality, they are difficult to “chop up” politically, unlike their terrestrial counterparts. What one does to a river in one place affects it hundreds of kilometres downstream. For example, India is concerned about China damming the Yarlung Zangbo (Brahmaputra) river in their territory because it may severely affect not just Arunanchal Pradesh, but the entire country. The implications of transboundary riverine management on people are so severe that their effects on riverine wildlife are often lost in the discussion.

Ganges river dolphins surface above water only briefly and partially, which only adds to their mystery. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

India is a treasure trove of aquatic biodiversity. The mighty rivers and their tributaries that braid the north Indian floodplains support rare and endemic species like the gharial and the northern river terrapin. These rivers are also home to the most ancient lineage of dolphins on earth — the Ganges river dolphin (Platanista gangetica) and Indus river dolphin (Platanista minor). Having barely changed in the past 30-35 million years, these dolphins have mastered the art of surviving in an ever-changing, ever-fluid ecosystem.

River dolphins are culturally important to India, too, with their earliest description and protection status dating back to the Mauryan kingdom of emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century B.C.

While these dolphins were united under one kingdom then, their entire ranges have been split by political borders today. All north Indian rivers originate from the Himalayas and may travel through several countries before they empty into the sea. Nearly every country channels and regulates the flow of these rivers and their tributaries for their benefit, using large structures like dams and barrages (low-gated dams). So, unlike the case of tigers at Manas, managing a river in one country is bound to affect dolphins in another, downstream.

The Farakka Barrage, for example, is one of the largest barrages on the Ganga river and lies at the India-Bangladesh border, where India channels water from the river according to a bilateral treaty. This diversion has shrunk dolphin habitat below the barrage in Bangladesh and perhaps also affected the dolphin population there. What will happen to dolphins in that stretch in the increasingly frequent years of drought? Will they be able to recover later?

Similar structures to control water flow are built on nearly every river entering or leaving India. Having their homes chopped and blocked, river dolphin populations have declined throughout their range. These species are listed as “Endangered” by the IUCN, and despite their evolutionary and cultural significance, they have barely been a part of any discussion on international water sharing policies.

The Farakka Barrage spans the entire width of the river Ganga (over two kilometres) and is the largest structure on the river. The amount of water flowing through it is modulated by the several sluice gates, as seen in this image. Photo: Imran Samad

Thinking beyond political borders

As magical and mysterious as river dolphins are, we are gradually beginning to uncover ways to avoid their extinction. One of the earliest considerations came in 1991 with the establishment of the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary in Bihar. Nearly two decades later, the species was declared the national aquatic animal of India, and national plans to conserve it are ongoing. For the past few decades, passionate researchers have also been generating crucial scientific knowledge needed to save these animals. Some studies have spanned transboundary waters to understand how best to protect dolphins in a complex geopolitical setup. Nepal’s River dolphin trust, for example, in collaboration with Indian researchers, has been working on the Ghagra floodplains of India and Nepal to protect the last remaining dolphin population there.

The management of transboundary rivers will always be a complex issue. Yet incorporating conservation strategies for transboundary species like river dolphins in management plans provides interesting opportunities for international collaboration and cooperation. Such opportunities can help strengthen ties between neighbouring countries and build stronger relationships. International investments in the conservation of a shared biological heritage have the potential to provide returns that go beyond safeguarding endangered species and therefore must be sought out deeply.

About the author

Imran Samad is a wildlife researcher interested in the dynamics of aquatic ecosystems and megafauna, particularly whales and dolphins. He is currently a PhD student at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, in Bengaluru, India. He is a member of a team granted a 2021 Follow-Up Award by the Conservation Leadership Programme.

First published in RoundGlass Sustain, a treasure trove of stories on India’s wildlife, habitats and their conservation.

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. 

Acknowledgements 

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.  

Saving the endangered “barking deer” of Vietnam and Laos

This blog was originally published on the Conservation Careers website, which can be found here.

Conservation Careers writer, Marie Conroy, interviews CLP alumna Minh Nguyen to uncover why she’s committed her education and career to saving the Critically Endangered “barking deer” of Vietnam and Laos.

It may seem strange that an animal only discovered by science in the late 1990s is now listed as Critically Endangered. But this is the case for the large-antlered muntjac, a rare deer species only found in the dense rainforests of the Annamite mountains of Vietnam and Laos.

Bizarrely, the species was only discovered when they were found as trophies in the homes of local people. Today, the animal is under severe threat from unsustainable poaching and without action, faces extinction.

A female large-antlered muntjac (a Critically Endangered deer species) stares curiously at the camera © Minh Nguyen’s CLP team/SWG/Asian Arks/Khammouane PAFO and DAFO.

The threat is so severe that Minh Nguyen has moved from her home country of Vietnam to undertake a PhD at the University of Colorado, USA. Her ambition is to help save the endangered animal and other ground-dwelling animals that fall prey to the intensive poaching.

Introducing Minh Nguyen

CLP alumna Minh Nguyen grew up in Quangnam province in the centre of Vietnam before her family moved to Ho Chi Minh City. While living in Ho Chi Minh City – the largest city in Vietnam – she never forgot the natural beauty of where she grew up next to the Annamite mountains. It was in these mountains she first became interested in the natural world and spent hours in the local fields, wetlands and woods watching wildlife.

Minh Nguyen – a conservationist working across Vietnam and Laos – taking survey notes in the forest, aiming to save the large-antlered muntjac © Le Tan Quy.

Initially, a career in conservation wasn’t something Minh pursued, mainly because she was not aware it existed as a career. And, as a young woman, she was encouraged to study banking or medicine. But instead, she chose to study biotechnology because she felt it would have some biology elements to it, and in that way, she could get closer to her favourite topic – studying animals.

In Vietnam, your career chooses you!

One day an announcement from the biology faculty grabbed her attention. It was asking students to join a field trip to look for rare turtles in a forest. She quickly volunteered and from that experience Minh started to get involved with wildlife conservation and a career in conservation beckoned.

A male Large-antlered Muntjac (a critically endangered species) stares curiously at the camera © Minh Nguyen’s CLP team/SWG/Asian Arks/Khammouane PAFO and DAFO.

After her studies she became involved with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) – Vietnam program, and this gave her the opportunity to get to know Vietnamese wildlife better. And, while she was confident she would have a career in conservation, she explained to me that in Vietnam there is a belief that you do not choose your own career. She laughs as she says, that in Vietnam there is a saying that “the career chooses you, it’s not you that chooses your career. And I really hoped conservation would choose me”, she adds.

The barking deer

Minh’s next big step was to decide what to focus her efforts on. After some research, she discovered that a lot of attention was being given to Saola – Vietnam’s most critically endangered animal.

And, while substantial effort is needed to help save that animal, she realised that she could make a bigger contribution to conservation if she focused her attention on the plight of the large-antlered muntjac. The muntjac is an animal she knew from her youth and one that would become extinct without focused effort.

Her thinking on this proved correct when she spoke to conservation specialists who confirmed that to save the species there needed to be a more cohesive plan of action. This included raising awareness of the plight of the species and having a champion of the cause. With this insight, Minh spent the next two years developing her plan of how she could be most effective in preventing its extinction. She travelled deep into the dense forests and spoke with various experts to help bring her vision to life.

Driftnets of the land

As part of her initial research, Minh visited the mountains many times. During these visits she began to understand first-hand the extent of the threat from the snares which litter the landscape. A practice referred to as “driftnets of the land”.

As she explains: “when you look at the view and the hills, you would never imagine that they are covered in snares. Very few ground dwelling large animals can escape capture, as the snares are indiscriminate in what they catch. This is especially true for species like the large-antlered muntjac and saola.” This sad discovery strengthened her determination to act and help the muntjac and other animals.

A female Large-antlered Muntjac and her fawn foraging for food, unaware of the dangers posed by snares and illegal poaching © Minh Nguyen’s CLP team/SWG/Asian Arks/Khammouane PAFO and DAFO.

Specialised hunters

According to Minh, while some local people leave snares, the vast majority are left by specialised hunters and poachers who come from different regions in Vietnam to supply the illegal bushmeat trade. And while rangers patrol the forest and remove snares, there are simply too many to stop the mass poaching. And they struggle to monitor the activities in the vast forests.

Therefore, after two years of research, Minh is now undertaking a PhD so she can develop an effective strategy. She wants to focus on “something that is practical for conservation” not purely research. Her field-based conservation approach will determine how many snares could lead to the extinction of the animal and how many must be removed for the animals to survive. She also wants to develop a strategy on how to monitor and make the forest safe for the animals. And in parallel, consider a captive breeding programme, so the animals can be reintroduced and recover in the wild.

Cross border collaboration

Working alongside Minh on one of her most recent activities are her committed Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) project team members in Vietnam and Laos. She feels incredibly lucky to have their support and share the work between the two countries. As she says: “No one can work alone, it makes all the difference to have this co-operation”.

Minh Nguyen during a survey in Lao PDR with other Lao members of the CLP team, Olay and Hamnoi. Conservation in Laos and Vietnam © Bounthavy Phommachanh

In addition to her CLP team is the support from experienced conservationists and organisations including WCS, Asian Arks, Saola Foundation, Saola Working Group, Southern Institute of Ecology and Nong Lam University. “I feel lucky and proud that others are interested and bring many different perspectives that can help large-antlered muntjac conservation be successful,” she says. “It’s amazing the support they give me, helping me with advice and training for my development.”

Best part of conservation

One of Minh’s favourite activities is to be in the forest. “I love being in the forest. Seeing the animals. Sitting still as they forage for food and being able to quietly observe them. It’s a beautiful feeling.” But sadly, she also knows that their foraging on the ground will lead them into danger as they can get easily captured in the many snares. This risk drives her to study but also makes her impatient to get back into the field.

Tough working conditions

And while being in the forest is a beautiful experience for Minh, it does present tough conditions. The landscape is very steep and hilly. It takes a lot of energy to hike through it. And typically, it’s men in the forest, not women. This can make people concerned for her. But it doesn’t hold her back and she doesn’t feel unsafe. Instead, her focus is to ensure she is not a burden to the people helping her such as forest rangers and local people. “You need to be very independent and to be a really strong person,” Minh tells me. “It also helps to have a good natural instinct to work in the forest. To be able to move around and carry things quite far”.

Early breakfast in the forest before starting a new surveying day © Do Van Lam.

Finding your meaning

Considering her own journey into conservation, Minh shares her advice for other budding conservationists. “I often tell others, keep doing the things you like to do. But if you’re not clear on what you want to do, that’s okay. If you want to work in conservation, if you love wildlife, then try different things. There are many options. Find your talents and what gives you the most meaning. And if you have a strong desire and have a strong interest, then even if you do fail, you will stand up and try again.”  

As a young conservationist with little experience, Minh leans on the expertise of those around her. Which is another approach she recommends to other young conservationists. “Talk to specialists, ask questions, they can help hugely”, she says. “The people helping me are really wonderful and connect me with other experts. And then gradually you can develop your own ideas on what you want to do.

Building trust as a young conservationist

However, her lack of experience is one of the biggest challenges she faces in pursuing her ambition which is something she needs to build to succeed. As she explains, “Will I be trusted to go into the forest? Will they trust me enough to let me develop the project and to cooperate with me?” But she is showing them she can do this. Her experience working in the field, her ability to work deep in the forest and showing the result of what she has done so far is building the trust she needs.

And now, people are accepting the fact that she is working in conservation. But they do worry for her as a young woman, often working in the forest with only men. Surprisingly, this is something she sees as a positive as she is grateful for their concern, and it makes her feel part of a family: “It makes me feel like we are brother and sister”, she says. “They are supporting me, helping me manage the risks and trying to do something new that will be good for future generations”.

And is it worth it? “Yes” she beams, “I think that I’m very lucky to work in this field, because I can always see so many amazing, beautiful scenes and wildlife that most people never have a chance to see. So, I think that’s something that makes me very lucky”.

About the author

Marie Conroy is a communications professional from Ireland. She is a keen traveller, loves sailing and exploring the natural world, taking lots of wildlife photos along the way. Her dream is to enable conservation projects by combining her skills in communications and passion for writing, with her lifelong love for nature.

Feeling inspired?

If Minh’s story makes you want to follow in her footsteps, then why not apply for one of our 2022 Team Awards? You could gain funding for your conservation projects, access to mentorship and professional training, as well as opportunities to build connections with other conservationists around the world. The application deadline is 10 October, 2021, and applications must be submitted via our online portal. Find out more information about our awards and other projects we have supported in the past.