We can be heroes: Local leaders with super powers for conservation

CEPF Hotspot Heroes

Four Hotspot Heroes from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, a joint initiative of Conservation International and six other leading global organizations. Clockwise from top left, David Boseto of the Solomon Islands, Rebecca Pradhan of Bhutan, George Mateariki of the Cook Islands and Sissie Matela of South Africa. (© Robin Moore)

Editor’s note: From confronting invasive species on Pacific islands to promoting sustainable ranching in the mountains of South Africa, Conservation International (CI) supports local practitioners working on the front lines of some of the world’s most pressing conservation issues. CI is a partner in the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, a joint initiative of seven leading global organizations working to strengthen communities by preserving their natural heritage. To celebrate its 15th anniversary, the fund brought 15 “Hotspot Heroes” from around the globe to the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, to showcase the power of locally driven conservation solutions. Human Nature asked some of these heroes to share the most surprising results of their work. Their answers accompany portraits by Robin Moore.

Milagre Nuvunga, Mozambique

Milagre Nuvunga

Milagre Nuvunga is co-founder and executive director of the MICAIA Foundation, which works to combat poverty and create sustainable livelihoods in the Chimanimani Mountains of Mozambique. (© Robin Moore)

“What surprised me was how much easier conservation work became when it was embedded in people’s own traditions. It speaks of respect for a people and their culture. Around the Chimanimani Mountains, communities are establishing their own conservation areas once it is made clear that they will go into the land registry as their own conservation area, an area to be managed by the community to protect their own water springs and key species that are critical to their well-being.”

Cesar Franco Laverde, Colombia

Cesar Franco Laverde

Cesar Franco Laverde is co-founder and director of Serraniagua, a grassroots environmental organization working to promote community and biodiversity in Colombia. (© Robin Moore)

“With our CEPF funding we wanted to create alliances, but we did not fully expect the extent of the alliances we managed to achieve. For example, through our partnerships we have discovered new species, we have collected data to show how important the area is for biodiversity, and we have created a new trademark for sustainable agricultural products and a cultural center where they can be bought.”

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Dao Thi Nga, Vietnam

Dao Thi Nga

Dao Thi Nga is director of the Center for Water Resources Conservation and Development (WARECOD), which is working to pilot community co-management of fisheries in Vietnam. (© Robin Moore)

“The most surprising result of our work has been the change in the local government’s attitude regarding our co-management groups. At first, the local government was very reluctant. But having seen how the co-management groups have been actively protecting the area, they have come to support our work. The government even asked us to help them replicate the model, and neighboring districts came to ask us about starting co-management groups in their locations.”

Ahmed Ghedira, Tunisia

Ahmed Ghedira

Ahmed Ghedira is co-founder and president of Norte Grand Bleu, a Tunisian non-governmental organization that works to protect marine wildlife in the Mediterranean. (© Robin Moore)

“When the minister of the environment visited the province he came to see my project and he asked who was behind the project. The minister asked how to move forward with marine protected areas in Tunisia. I told him there was a piece of legislation that hadn’t been voted on, so finally this piece of legislation was adopted by the assembly and moved forward. In this way, I was able to advise the minister on marine protected areas at the national level, which was a result I did not expect.”

Damaris Sanchez, Panama

Damaris Sanchez

Damaris Sanchez is project manager for el Fundación para el Desarrollo Integral, Comunitario y Conservación de Ecosistemas en Panamá (FUNDICCEP), which works with farmers and communities to promote ecotourism, environmental education and sustainable agriculture in Panama. (© Robin Moore)

“What was really unexpected as a result of our project was that the government formally recognized the local businesses we had helped create as a mechanism to achieve conservation. These organizations are now recognized as the engines of innovation for sustainable development. The project really transformed the relationship between the government and local organizations because the government began to see the local organizations as a source of solutions, not as a source of confrontation.”

Subbaiah Bharathidasan, India

Subbaiah Bharathidasan

Subbaiah Bharathidasan is co-founder and secretary of Arulagam, a nonprofit organization in India working to change livestock practices to protect vultures from toxic veterinary drugs. (© Robin Moore)

“As a result of our CEPF funding, vulture conservation has become a main consideration for the state forestry department, and a funding mechanism has been allotted specifically for vultures. In addition, the anti-inflammatory drug ketoprofen, which is toxic to vultures, has been banned in the state. I did not expect that. And my organization Arulagam was asked to become a member of Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction, a major international consortium.”

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank. To date, the fund has contributed to the improved management of 37 million hectares of lands and waters an area larger than Germany and has created direct impact in 2,300 communities worldwide. See all the Hotspot Heroes here.

Jamey Anderson is a senior writer at Conservation International.

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