Each year a past Whitley Award winner is selected to receive the Whitley Gold Award – worth £100,000 of project funding – in recognition of their outstanding contribution to conservation.
Renowned conservationist Charu Mishra is the Executive Director of the International Snow Leopard Trust and Co-Founder of India’s Nature Conservation Foundation. As the world’s foremost expert on snow leopard conservation and a pioneer of the community-based conservation approach, Charu has spent 25 years working to increase protection for snow leopards across all 12 of their range countries, with the vital support of local people.
Charu believes that people and wildlife can lead a harmonious co-existence. Top-down conservation has historically led to the marginalisation of communities, with an estimated 130 million people displaced by conservation globally. Along with restrictions on traditional access and natural resource use, these actions have resulted in local opposition to conservation efforts in many parts of the world. It is clear a more inclusive framework is needed.
As global biodiversity targets to protect 30% of the planet by 2030 are implemented, conflict will only increase if communities are not seen as part of the solution. Practitioners sensitive to human rights and well-being try to achieve conservation in ethical and inclusive ways, but lack training in community engagement, or access to the necessary tools. They often learn through trial and error, leaving much room for improvement.
In 2016 Charu published the PARTNERS Principles with funding from WFN and other organisations to fill this gap, through Presence, Aptness, Respect, Transparency, Negotiation, Empathy, Responsiveness, and Strategic support. The Principles integrate ideas from ecology, natural resource management, community health, psychology, development, negotiation theory and ethics. By providing a strategic framework for community-based conservation, Charu aims to help improve the way conservation is practiced by bringing knowledge and skills to conservationists globally, including via the WFN Winner Network, with his methods applicable across continents. He epitomises the grassroots work WFN supports.
A Whitley and Gold Award winner in 2005, Charu was the recipient of Continuation Funding in 2008, 2010, 2014 and 2019. With the support of WFN, Charu and his team have:
- Studied and conserved snow leopards and high mountains in the Himalayas and Central Asia, combining multi-disciplinary research on social and ecological sciences with ethical grassroots empowerment
- Collaborated with local people to set up community wildlife reserves and conflict management and livelihood initiatives, such as innovative community-based livestock insurance programmes to reduce retaliatory killing
- Helped establish the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Programme, an intergovernmental alliance of all 12 snow leopard range countries working towards their protection
- Focused on building support and changing perceptions at the grassroots level, creating sustainable economies through a snow leopard-friendly cashmere and handicrafts programme
- Worked with communities in five of the most important snow leopard range countries, where local people are protecting more than 150,000 km2 of prime snow leopard habitat
- Created the PARTNERS Principles approach which was recognised as “outstanding conservation practice” at the 15th Meeting of the Convention of Biological Diversity Conference of Parties in 2021
With his Whitley Gold Award, Charu and his team will help improve the practice of nature conservation across the globe by assisting conservation practitioners to enhance their skills in effective and ethical community engagement. They will:
- Equip and support a cadre of at least 20 established conservationists, including WFN alumni, as trainers and advocates in community-based conservation
- Build knowledge and skills in community-based conservation among 250 frontline practitioners within and beyond the snow leopard range through a multi-pronged training initiative
- Set up ongoing mentorship and support to those in training and host needs-based sessions
- Enhance government buy-in for respectful and ethical community-based conservation in the snow leopard range countries.
“Conservation is really about teamwork. The Whitley Fund for Nature has been an incredible supporter of snow leopards and snow leopard conservation across Asia.“ – Charudutt Mishra
Find out more about Charu’s past projects, supported by his 2005 Whitley Award and subsequent rounds of Continuation Funding, here.
Image credits: Prasenjeet Yadav (all images)
Film credits: Abdullah Khan, Gayle Podrabsky and Fidget Films LLC, Nature Conservation Foundation – India, Prasenjeet Yadav, Sandesh Kadur & Felis Creations, Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation – Mongolia, Snow Leopard Foundation – Kyrgyzstan, Snow Leopard Trust.