“Impacts of forest fires on wildlife, including pangolins, are currently being overlooked by national and local concerned agencies.”
London, 26 April: UK charity Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is awarding Nepal’s Dr Tulshi Laxmi Suwal a 2023 Whitley Award for her work to protect pangolins — the most trafficked mammal in the world — and their habitat. Pangolin habitat is increasingly threatened by the growing prevalence of forest fires which also put at risk an ambitious reforestation programme in one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change.
WFN Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, will present the £40,000 awards to Tulshi and five other winners on 26 April at the Royal Geographical Society in a ceremony that also marks the 30th anniversary of the Whitley Fund for Nature, livestreamed to YouTube.
WFN Trustee Sir David Attenborough has said that the work of conservationists has never been more urgent: “We need the work of Whitley Award winners to succeed and to help them to whatever extent possible.”
Tulshi – known locally as ‘the pangolin woman’ – will use the funding to conduct Nepal’s first impact assessment to focus on the effects of fires on the Critically Endangered Chinese pangolin, which is already highly threatened by illegal poaching for its meat and scales. Her project will create ten sustainable Community Pangolin Conservation Groups to monitor pangolin populations and their habitats and equip them to manage fires and plant trees.
Communities now manage 40 percent of Nepal’s forests and play a crucial role in a reforestation programme which has seen forest cover almost double since a pivotal forestry act in 1993, without which Nepal’s forests were on track to disappear by some estimates. Nepal has increased forest cover to 45 percent of the country, and aims to halt deforestation by 2030.
Fires could put that progress at risk: Nepal is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change and is seeing more floods and droughts. Drier conditions are increasing the risk of fires with over 3,000 fire incidences reported each year. These are mainly sparked by human activity, such as slash-and-burn agriculture practices which can spiral out of control, and the discarding of matchsticks and cigarettes onto dry leaves.
Nepal is home to two of the eight species of pangolin — the Critically Endangered Chinese pangolin and the Endangered Indian pangolin. They are known locally as “friends of farmers” for the vital ecosystem services they provide: a single pangolin can eat 70 million ants and termites a year. They are the only scaly mammals and their scales are made of keratin, the same protein found in rhino horn as well as human hair and nails.
Founder of Small Mammals Conservation and Research Foundation, Tulshi has led pangolin research and conservation in Nepal for 15 years. Her project will support the livelihoods of local communities while assessing pangolin populations, implementing threat mitigation measures and restoring habitat by planting 20,000 local mixed broad-leaved trees. An awareness campaign will reach 200,000 people in households and schools.
“We foster women and youth in the local communities to lead in advocating pangolin conservation.”
The project will include three districts in Bagmati Province, central Nepal, spanning 4,000 ha for habitat survey. The study area stretches from the sub-tropical Siwalik region in the south to the Mahabharat Lekh in the Himalayas in the north. The area is home to tigers as well as Gangetic dolphins, rhinos and elephants as well as the Tamang and Newar and Chepang indigenous communities who mostly depend on the forest for wood and for raising livestock.
A member of the IUCN Pangolin Specialist Group, Tulshi has also proved a significant role model for female students in Nepal after she was the first female in the country to receive a PhD in pangolin studies leading her to be known locally as “pangolin woman.” Overcoming initial scepticism about her work she says “local communities, especially community forest users groups, are coming forward and are highly willing to conserve this species.”
HIGH-RES IMAGES AVAILABLE HERE.
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 30 years it has channelled £20 million to more than 200 conservationists across 80 countries.
- An early pioneer in the sector, WFN was one of the first charities to channel funding directly to projects led by in-country nationals. 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 2023 Whitley Awards Ceremony is on Wednesday 26 April at the Royal Geographical Society, streamed live to YouTube from 8pm BST. The 2023 Whitley Award winners are:
- Yuliana Bedolla in Mexico who is protecting marine bird life from invasive species on the Baja California Pacific islands
- Tulshi Laxmi Suwal is a world expert on pangolins who plans to conduct Nepal’s first forest fire impact assessment on pangolins, the most traded mammal in the world.
- Mamy Razafitsalama is working to improve livelihoods and reduce forest fires in Madagascar, which has lost nearly half of its forest cover and where one-third of the country’s 110 lemur species are now Critically Endangered
- Serge Alexis Kamgang in Cameroon will expand the only lion-focussed project in the Bénoué ecosystem where lion numbers have fallen to just 250
- Albert Salemgareyev in Kazakhstan plans to find sustainable solutions to emerging conflict between saiga antelope and local pastoralists over water resources in the country’s newest protected area
- Leonard Akwany in Kenya works in Lake Victoria where native fish species have more than halved to 200 and local livelihoods are threatened. He plans to create community managed protected areas to allow fish populations to recover.
- Every year, a past Whitley Award winner is chosen to receive the Whitley Gold Award, worth £100,000, in recognition of their outstanding contribution to conservation. 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. The 2023 Whitley Gold Award winner is Kenyan conservationist Shivani Bhalla, recognised for her community-led work to secure a future for lions in northern Kenya.
- whitleyaward.org, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn
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