They agreed to protect endangered plants and animals, it’s appropriate that this year World Wildlife Day’s theme is Partnerships for Wildlife Conservation.
We firmly believe effective conservation can only be achieved through collaboration with non-government organisations (NGOs), governments local communities and other key stakeholders. Over the years Elephant Family and the British Asian Trust have partnered with dozens of NGOs to protect wildlife and their habitats. While we’ve collaborated with heavy hitters like Born Free, Fauna and Flora International and the Wildlife Conservation Society, some of our most impactful work is with the many grassroots NGOs working closely with their local communities.
With high density populations and wildlife competing to share space across South Asia, communities’ interactions with their environment are sensitive and complex. By working with local partners who are deeply embedded in their communities and have their trust, coupled with strong local knowledge, we not only support locally-led change, but also help smaller NGOs to build their capacity and scale their work.
Working with local communities
Local communities are the heart of all our conservation projects. Without their support and engagement, our work would be impossible, and any conservation efforts that don’t centre the needs of the communities they will be impacting are doomed to failure.
We recognise that local communities possess an extremely rich body of knowledge about their natural resources and biodiversity, developed through interactions with the animals and environment around them.
Traditional knowledge is an invaluable tool to aid conservation around the world – helping to monitor key components of biodiversity, support sustainable use of natural resources and implement conservation management through traditional value systems.
Throughout India’s forests, Lantana camara – a noxious and invasive weed – is outcompeting native plant life. The green deserts the lantana creates are dangerous both for the wildlife who cannot eat its poisoned leaves, and for the local farmers whose crops are raided by hungry animals forced to forage further afield.
Clearing lantana is difficult and expensive, but in Tamil Nadu, Adivasi artists harvested stems to create gorgeous and dynamic sculptures of the elephants they know. Elephant Family has worked with the artists to sell these sculptures in the UK, as part of our CoExistence campaign that raised awareness of the issue and funds to help us continue to address it.
In Northeast India, our local partner Aaranyak is working together with local communities to find ways for people and wild elephants to coexist in harmony. They recently held community sessions with 16 villages in Assam to understand how people interact with elephants, their views and knowledge on human-elephant conflict and ways we can mitigate this. A network of Village Champions has also been trained to raise awareness and educate communities about ways to reduce human-elephant conflict in key hotspots.
Working with governments
Carrying out a successful and exciting conservation project is only the first step in making a difference. For a project to make a long-term impact, it’s vital to work with governments.
With support from the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative, our seasonal electric fencing project in Myanmar provides farmers with the training they need to install and maintain temporary electric fences that will protect their crops from hungry elephants, without fragmenting important habitat. But we weren’t just training the farmers. The Elephants Emergency Response Unit of Myanmar also sent its staff to be part of the fencing workshops so they can continue providing this vital training even after the project is complete.
At a time when wildlife populations in many countries are declining, our work in South Asia continues to provide positive examples of how local partnerships and local knowledge are leading the way to show the world how wildlife and people can coexist together.
That’s something wonderful to celebrate on World Wildlife Day!