Winner avatar
2018 Whitley Award
Creative Conservation Alliance
Shahriar Caesar Rahman Bangladesh Terrestrial
Tortoises in trouble: community conservation of Asia’s largest tortoise


Bangladesh is the planet’s most populated country with over 160 million people in an area half the size of the UK. Yet, a hidden jewel remains in the Chittagong Hill Tracts bordering Myanmar. Due to its remote location and political challenges, this jungle has remained relatively untouched and its future lies in the hands of local communities. The forest is home to 30 globally endangered species, including seven species of rare freshwater turtle and tortoise, and the continent’s largest chelonian, the Asian giant tortoise.


Co-Founder of the Creative Conservation Alliance, Caesar, is taking a holistic approach to conservation in these old-growth forests. Threatened by illegal logging, shifting agriculture and unplanned development, Caesar is building trust with local communities and working with them to maintain the forest and their ancestral lands. Dialogue with government has also been initiated to gain support for conserving the area.


Twenty-first century technology is being combined with traditional knowledge. Over the past seven years Caesar has trained former Mro hunters as biologists who are helping to deter poachers and document the region’s wildlife. Five Community Conservation Areas (CCAs) have been established and turtle hunting has fallen 50% since work began. In partnership with Bcraft Initiatives, Caesar’s team have set-up indigo processing centers and created a market for the sale of indigenous crafts – reviving cultures on the verge of being lost.

CAESAR’s project will:

  • Establish another five CCAs to safeguard forest habitats.
  • Scale up the production of handicrafts sold through ethical business platforms, benefitting women from 12 villages who receive training and income from the programme.
  • Put a stop to turtle hunting by doubling the number of ex-hunter ‘parabiologists’ employed to monitor and protect turtles.

Why it matters:

  • The area is a stronghold for elephants, sun bears and pangolins.
  • Chelonians are poached for use in Chinese medicine, for food and as pets.
  • Reptiles that co-existed with the dinosaurs now face a human-induced mass-extinction.

“I realised that these fascinating species were under tremendous pressure and could soon be lost from the area without intervention.”

Images: Nature Stills Photography