At a recent Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) international training workshop in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, participants were in the middle of a heated role-play debate over drilling for oil in and around important wildlife habitats.
“Twenty five percent of the profits from this oil well will be used for local community development,” negotiated the petroleum company representative.
“But we don’t want the oil wells here, and we don’t need the money,” argued the community members. The outcome was inevitable; the community members were not going to budge.
Seldom do things turn out so easy in real life conservation. In my own project in India, convincing the government to divert an upcoming road away from an important snow leopard (Panthera uncia) habitat has surely been a challenge!
To better equip us to tackle difficult conservation issues, one representative from each of the 30 CLP award-winning teams — spanning 20 different countries — participated in a two-and-a-half week training course at the University of Calgary’s Barrier Lake Field Station.
We debated many issues, assessed case studies and geared up for our own projects back home. We actively participated in workshops taught by experts in their field on project planning, behavior change through education, media and messaging, and engaged in discussion sessions on advocacy, climate change and fundraising. We also had “culture nights” where we learned about each other’s cultures, and each participant gave a presentation on their project.
A multitude of languages were spoken, but the message of conservation remains the same. I was inspired by the range of conservation projects being conducted by my fellow participants, ranging from expanding marine protected areas in Brazil to evaluating the only remaining Marquesan kingfisher (Todiramphus godeffroyi) population in French Polynesia; from assessing the threats to vipers in Armenia to conducting new research about a rare subspecies of chimpanzee in Nigeria.
Over the course of the training, my own work back in India became clearer to me. I learned important lessons about behavior change and how to reach out to people and strike an emotional chord to achieve this task.
In our project, we aim to identify the villages most affected by livestock damage by the snow leopard. These are the villages most likely to persecute the snow leopard in retaliation. We hope to work with these villages and identify a win-win strategy to prevent livestock damage and encourage snow leopard conservation. For humans and snow leopards to co-exist, local people will need to change their lifestyle in many ways — altering their livestock herding methods, changing pasture use to facilitate wild-herbivore population recovery and, above all, shifting their attitudes toward the snow leopard itself.
For the participants and CLP staff members, we were peers in the classroom, an international audience in the presentation hall, teammates on the football and volleyball field, dance partners at the cultural nights and newfound friends. We parted with a heavy heart but armed to shoulder the responsibility of the small contributions that we are determined to make to conserve wildlife wherever we are.
Kulbhushansingh Suryawanshi is the winner of a recent CLP Future Conservationist Award for his team’s project, “Spatio-temporal distribution of human-snow leopard conflict in Spiti Valley, India.” The Conservation Leadership Programme is a partnership of Conservation International, BirdLife International, Fauna & Flora International and the Wildlife Conservation Society.