Empowering local people to save snow leopards from extinction
Charudutt Mishra has won the Whitley Gold Award from UK wildlife conservation charity, Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN), presented by Patron, HRH The Princess Royal. As the world’s leading snow leopard conservationist, Mishra has spearheaded a recovery in their population across the high mountain ecosystems of Asia.
Working across the species’ range of 12 countries including Afghanistan, China and Russia, the key to his success has been embedding conservation within local communities. His pioneering approach has been recognised as an outstanding global practice by the UN Biodiversity Conference. With ‘fortress conservation’ having displaced an estimated 130 million people worldwide, community-based conservation that champions the co-existence of people and wildlife offers a transformative solution to the biodiversity crisis. The Whitley Gold Award will enable Mishra to train conservationists on every continent in this equitable approach.
“This work addresses one significant gap in conservation worldwide – our ability to work effectively with local communities, who represent one of the most important stakeholders in conservation efforts. I believe that what we do in conservation matters, but how we do it matters even more.”
Mishra’s ‘PARTNERS Principles’ (Presence, Aptness, Respect, Transparency, Negotiation, Empathy, Responsiveness, and Strategic support) are distilled from 25 years of successful collaboration with communities to conserve snow leopards.
With the Whitley Gold Award, Mishra and his team will train conservationists on every continent to apply the PARTNERS Principles in their local landscape. In addition to working with 250 frontline conservationists, they will empower 20 conservation leaders including WFN alumni as future advocates, establish a collaborative problem-solving hotline and enhance government buy-in for this equitable approach.
“I often notice that when people are starting off with their conservation work, they feel their ideas may be too small. And my view is that no step is too small. Do not hesitate, go out and do things and get your hands and feet dirty.”
As the first international Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust, Mishra established India’s first community-based initiatives to save this Endangered species. These include innovative livestock insurance programmes to boost income and discourage retaliatory killings, and locally-managed wildlife reserves on community land. Winning his original Whitley Award in 2005, and several follow-on grants from WFN since, his team currently work directly with local people across nearly 60,000 sq. miles in some of the world’s most extreme environments. An estimated 6,500 wild snow leopards remain, prowling the high mountains and plateaus of twelve countries including Russia, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, India and Mongolia.
“When I first visited the village of Kibber 25 years ago I learnt of a snow leopard that had been brutally killed, with men and women lining up to beat the carcass and curse the dead cat for killing their livestock. Recently, in the same village, when an old snow leopard died after taking a fall while hunting, local people helped retrieve the carcass, offered it the auspicious Buddhist scarf, helped cremate it, and prayed for the departed soul. Such can be the transformative power of respectful community-based conservation.”
Mishra also becomes a mentor to six inspiring mid-career conservationists who tonight received Whitley Awards – the charity’s flagship prizes – worth £40,000 each in project funding.
Edward Whitley OBE, Founding Trustee of WFN, said: “Charu epitomises the grassroots approach that WFN exists to support. His revolutionary, lifelong dedication to working with local people has reshaped the conservation landscape to the benefit of all, including those communities of the high Himalayas and their majestic snow leopards. Having worked with Charu since he received his initial Whitley Award 17 years ago, I have also seen his efforts to support other conservation leaders internationally, not least across all 12 countries in the snow leopard’s range. I am delighted that the Whitley Gold Award – our top prize – will give him the opportunity to expand this work by helping hundreds more wildlife conservationists, on every continent, to prioritise an equitable future.”
NOTES TO EDITORS – DR CHARUDUTT MISHRA
- Mishra’s achievements and their impact on snow leopard protection and community-led conservation are unmatched. Winning a Whitley Award in 2005, WFN has helped him scale up his work through subsequent rounds of Continuation Funding. In 2022 he receives the charity’s top prize, the Whitley Gold Award.
- He is the first international Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT), founded and headquartered in Seattle in 1981. SLT is the largest and oldest organisation dedicated to promoting ecosystem and wildlife conservation across the high mountains of South and Central Asia, with the endangered snow leopard as the flagship – of which 6,500 wild individuals are believed to remain.
- Mishra was also instrumental in helping establish the intergovernmental Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Programme, which for the first time has brought authorities together in an alliance across all 12 snow leopard range countries to enhance protection.
- Mishra and his team’s cutting-edge research has significantly contributed to knowledge of wildlife and human ecology across snow leopard range, including through the world’s most successful snow leopard radio-collaring project.
NOTES TO EDITORS – WHITLEY FUND FOR NATURE
- Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is a UK charity supporting grassroots conservation leaders in the Global South. Over 29 years it has channelled £19 million to more than 200 conservationists across 80 countries.
- An early pioneer in the sector, WFN was one of the first charities to direct funding to locally-led projects. Its rigorous application process identifies inspiring individuals who combine the latest science with community-based action, to benefit biodiversity, climate and people.
- WFN’s flagship prizes – Whitley Awards – are presented by Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, at a prestigious annual ceremony in London. Winners receive funding, training and media profile including films narrated by Trustee, Sir David Attenborough.
- The 2022 Whitley Awards Ceremony took place on Wednesday 27 April at the Royal Geographical Society, streamed live to YouTube. The 2022 Whitley Award winners are:
- Emmanuel Amoah, Ghana
Tales from the riverbank: safeguarding the last stronghold of West African slender-snouted crocodile
- Micaela Camino, Argentina
Empowering communities to defend their human rights and conserve Argentina’s Dry Chaco
- Pablo Hoffmann, Brazil
Rooting for the future: nurturing wild plant diversity in the Araucaria Forest region
- Sonam Lama, Nepal
People and red pandas: mutually beneficial conservation in the Himalayas
- Estrela Matilde, São Tomé and Príncipe
Stemming the tide of plastic pollution: an island-wide effort to save sea turtles
- Dedy Yansyah, Indonesia
Last stand for the Sumatran rhino: looking out for Leuser’s ecosystem engineers
- Whitley Award winners join an international alumni network eligible for Continuation Funding, allowing successful conservation solutions to be scaled up. A portion of WFN’s annual Continuation Funding is directed to nature-based solutions that jointly address the climate and biodiversity crises.
- Every year, a Whitley Award alumnus is chosen to receive the Whitley Gold Award, worth £100,000, in recognition of their outstanding contribution to the conservation sector. Joining the Judging Panel, the Whitley Gold Award recipient also acts as a mentor to Whitley Award winners and an international ambassador for conservation success.
FOR HIGH-RES EXCLUSIVE IMAGES, INTERVIEW REQUESTS AND INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Amy Forshaw, Head of Communications at Whitley Fund for Nature
E: [email protected]
T: 07746 412189
Images © Snow Leopard Trust and Prasenjeet Yadav