From the Himalayas to the Czech Republic

By: Martina Anandam (India)

Martina with owlets © Martina Anandam

Last year I hosted my friend and fellow CLP alumnus, Felipe Ennes Silva, for a CLP Learning Exchange Programme in India. The experience provided many stories to tell over dinner and on rainy nights. This year, I won a CLP Travel Grant to present at two conferences in the Czech Republic. I resolved to make this trip a lasting adventure and an experience equally fit enough to be etched in my memory.

Petr Colas, my friend and Director of Ostrava Zoo in the Czech Republic invited me to attend the Old World Monkeys Meeting at Ostrava Zoo and the Prosimian Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) Meeting. I readily accepted his invitation. After a 20 hour flight, I was very happy to shed off the accumulated claustrophobia and march into Prague.  Lined with historical sites on one side and graffiti ridden walls on the other, the city is a perfect conglomeration of the present and days gone by. Jana, the primate curator of Ostrava Zoo picked me up and kindly drove me to Prague Zoo. We were to spend the day there and be amused! I enjoyed looking at the polar bears, orang-utans and the nocturnal primate exhibits. I am not much of a zoo enthusiast but this was an extraordinary experience. After a tired day at the zoo, Jana drove me to my destination, Ostrava Zoo.

Ostrava is a city about 280 km from Prague and a good four hour drive away. I was only too happy to settle down to sleep when my interest was piqued by the sound of a constant chatter. I soon discovered that I was right next to the flamingo exhibit. The beautiful Ostrava Zoo, established back in 1948 was then 6 hectare property. It is now a booming zoological park of 350 animal species spread over 100 hectares. The speciality of Ostrava Zoo is its Himalayan exhibit, Chitwan, which houses Himalayan black bears and Himalayan langurs. All langurs were faithfully christened with Indian names such as Shiela, Delhi and Balachandra with the fair exception of Baruska, Balachandra’s mom. This is a good example of globalization, a Czech mom with an Indian son!

The Old World Monkey conference was a wonderful opportunity to meet and interact with zoo keepers and zoo biologists from all over the country. It was insightful to learn the nuances of captive breeding and management and opened up a whole new vista for me. The opportunity to present my work on the Himalayan langur and reiterate the importance of on-the-ground conservation was encouraging. The Prosimian TAG Meeting was equally interesting and I got to meet up with some of my old professors at the lovely Plzen Zoo. The conference offered an opportunity to meet with potential donors from zoos from all over Europe, providing me with a platform to make my case for conservation in the Himalaya. I am extremely thankful for the fundraising opportunity.

Basilica in Olomouc © Martina Anandam

While the conferences demanded my attention, I managed little escapades to Zlin and Olomouc zoos. Zlin is a beautiful city and the heart of the world famous Bata factory.  My time in Zlin was further spiced up when the zoo keepers kindly allowed me to feed the Bactrian camels and the gentle tapirs as well as tape the ‘behind-the-scenes’ action as they vaccinated meerkats and bathed elephants. A visit to Olomouc Zoo was the cherry on my travel cake. Olomouc Zoo, located right next to a world famous Basilica, is set right in the middle of a postcard town. I took a break from the zoo and had a little sojourn to the Basilica. The old age church, built to fulfil a promise to a patron saint, was full of history and art and more than I could have asked for to complete my eventful afternoon.

I was happy to get back to my mountains in India as we have a lot to do there from keeping black bears from farms to studying new species of langurs across the Himalaya! (Read more of our work here).

The places I’ve been to visit, the people I met and the lovely memories will forever linger in my mind.  A CLP Travel Grant made this possible and I am forever grateful. I hope all CLP alumni get to realize such adventures and experiences through these useful grants! Thank you, 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!