Community conservation expert Charu Mishra joined us for September's social media takeover, with news of his project protecting snow leopards in the Himalayas.
For over 20 years, Dr Charudutt Mishra has been a champion for snow leopards in the high Himalayas and other mountains of South and Central Asia. WFN is proud to have been a part of his conservation journey for 15 of those years, through a Whitley Gold Award in 2005 and several rounds of Continuation Funding since.
Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust, Charu has become a world leader in community-based conservation; you can read the key principles he has developed for community engagement here. Charu’s work has impacted the future for snow leopards across their global range of 12 countries, from his home-patch in India to the vast mountains of Mongolia.
As well as catching up on our Q&A below, watch our live chat with Charu here.
Q1. What inspired you to pursue a career in conservation?
A friend, and village elder, once told to me how his people, living at the margins of existence, didn’t have the ability to conserve snow leopards and wolves. My effort since has been to help build that ability.
Q2. What was your first experience WITH A SNOW LEOPARD like?
It came after 10 years of roaming the high Himalayas. I’d just survived a fall into a rocky, ice cold river. Climbing up a steep gorge, I scanned the opposite slopes habitually with my binoculars. Suddenly, a rock moved, and there it was.
Q3. What do you love most about the SNOW LEOPARD?
It’s near spiritual existence and abilities. You rarely ever see it, and yet, it’s such a constant part of mountain peoples’ lives. One may think nothing on four legs could negotiate that Himalayan cliff face, and yet, the cat navigates the precipices with ease, even hunts in them.
Q4. What is the main threat facing the SNOW LEOPARD?
Chronic threats include retaliatory killing when snow leopards kill livestock, loss of prey populations, poaching and illegal wildlife trade. Climate change, globalisation, mining and economies of scale threaten to create new challenges, including habitat loss and fragmentation, and emerging infectious diseases.
Q5. Why is it so important that we protect SNOW LEOPARDS?
Because without them, our planet would be much poorer. They symbolise the health of Asia’s mountains, watch over its water towers, and are an icon of strength and skill. We owe them to our future generations.
Q6. What is the project achievement you’re most proud of so far?
Our partner local communities taking stewardship of snow leopards, and not allowing others to harm them or their prey. These are the same communities that once viewed snow leopards as vermin.
Q7. What is the biggest challenge you are facing right now?
Ecologically unsustainable economic and infrastructural development in snow leopard habitats. The development model in their habitats must move away from economies of exploitation and scale.
Q8. How has your relationship with wfn impacted you and your project?
WFN has been an incredible ally of snow leopards since I first received the Whitley Gold Award in 2005. It has enabled us to create national conservation policies and international alliances, enabled expansion of conservation partner communities, helped create conservation capacity and leadership…the list goes on. Today, WFN is supporting a highly ambitious initiative – an alternative economic development paradigm we that we call conservation for development. We will trial snow leopard-friendly cashmere production that supports livelihoods in 10 communities.
Q9. How has/is COVID-19 affecting you and your project?
On the one hand, it has caused setbacks, necessitated budget cuts, and created worries about the safety of our staff and partner communities. On the other, we are using it as an opportunity to reflect on the work so far, undertake strategic planning exercises, and also learn lessons on how we can work more efficiently and reduce our negative impacts on the planet.
Q10. Describe a normal day for you…
When in the field, there are long hikes during the day and equally long discussions with community partners in the evenings. When at home, I’m available to support our incredible staff and teams of conservationists that are distributed across multiple countries. And of course, it involves being there for the little menagerie that is my family, and running a few miles each day.
Q11. What can the public do to help your mission?
You can also sign and share a petition we recently launched, calling on leaders from the snow leopard range countries to strengthen conservation efforts and minimise disease transmission between wildlife and people.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a truly global tragedy that reminds us that we are all intricately connected.
Snow leopards inhabit some of the last great mountain strongholds on earth, but these mountains are not removed from the global pandemic nor the risk of future outbreaks.
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