I would like to share an article I found on the blog of one of my favorite NGOs: the Snow Leopard Trust. It is a question and answer session with Kalzang Gurmet and Tanzin Thinley, who are conservationists in Spiti, India.
While the entire post is worth a read, there are two points that stick out to me in particular. The first is that by cultivating strong relationships with local people, it is possible to change negative attitudes towards large carnivores. Both Gurmet and Thinley tell stories about how individuals who were originally wary of snow leopard conservation have now become trusted allies. In one case, a man who once hated snow leopards (Panthera uncia) is now an avid participant in the scientists’ programs. In another, a village leader who initially distrusted the scientists now protects their camera traps.
The second main takeaway from this interview is that working with local people can pay off in unexpected ways. Gurmet and Thinley both became conservationists as a result of personal experiences with Charu Mishra, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Science & Conservation Director and interim Acting Executive Director. Learning about wildlife from Dr. Mishra started them on the path to becoming active snow leopard researchers. So being present in local communities does more than just improve people’s perceptions of wildlife: it can motivate them to become scientists themselves.