Volcanoes, Dairy Farmers, and Andean Bears

Photo of Volcan Antisana by Marcio Ramalho

A Success Story in People-Focused Conservation

The eastern slope of the Andes Mountains has some of the highest biodiversity on the planet. It is home to endangered species such as mountain tapirs and Andean bears, and more types of beautiful tropical birds than you can count.

As a PHD student, April Sansom (now Dr. April Sansom, Community Conservation’s Executive Director) became friends with many of the farmers living and working in this beautiful place. The project she coordinated, “Proyecto PLAN,” brought together the local dairy farming community of Las Palmas, who voluntarily agreed to adopt new practices that would help protect the unique environment around them.

Ecological importance

Las Palmas, Ecuador is located in a sensitive and threatened watershed bordering the Antisana Ecological Reserve. It is critical that this watershed remain healthy, so one goal of this project was to protect the forest around the Quijos and Cosanga Rivers, which ultimately flow into the Amazon drainage system.

Rio Cosanga in Ecuador - rapids and rocks with forest behind
Rio Cosanga, Ecuador – photo by Don Henise

The dense forest is also excellent wildlife habitat, home to many endangered species and also many endemic species not found anywhere else on earth.

Making change together

As part of Project PLAN, April connected the dairy farmers, non-governmental organization workers, and university personnel from UW Madison. The team discovered a win/win: a way for the farmers to make their existing fields more productive so that they could support their families without having to cut down any forest.

Family farm in Las Palmas, Ecuador.
The farm of one of the families Dr. Sansom worked with in Las Palmas

With assistance from the technical team from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the farmers designed their own experiments in their pastures to determine the best forage mixes (a forage mix is what farmers plant in their pastures for their cattle to graze). Better pastures allowed farmers to generate more milk on the same amount of land, which decreased pressure on the surrounding forests. Also, the farmers began rotational grazing, which further improved their pastures. The farmers were happy to try out these new practices, and were even happier with the results.

This more nutritious pasture for the cows allowed the protection of several hectares of secondary forest. Keeping more acres of forest uncut helped keep the watershed healthy and increased wildlife habitat.

The project continues

In June of 2019, April visited Last Palmas again to see how the dairy farms are doing. She was happy to discover that the farmers are still using the practices they learned during Project PLAN.

Selfie of Conservationist Dr. April Sansom in front of a forest vista in Ecuador 2019
Dr. Sansom visited the dairy farming families of Las Palmas again this year.

Sayler Erazo, one of the principal farmers involved, was able to remove 14 hectares of forest from production. On these 14 hectares, he replanted forest trees and allowed secondary forest to continue growing. Those 14 hectares are still forested today.

This project shows the power of working directly with local communities when trying to protect species and habitat. It’s often a long-term process, but the results are also long-lasting.

Is there more to do in Las Palmas?

While in Ecuador, Dr. Sansom also discovered an opportunity to assist a neighboring community to protect habitat. We’ll be sharing more about that project as it comes together.

Update: Training Local People to Monitor Wildlife

Nepal, 2019

For the past several months, we have been in Nepal, working to catalyze a new community-conserved wildlife corridor for tigers, elephants, and other species.

Historically, tigers and elephants were distributed throughout the lowlands of Nepal. Until the 19th century, a dense lavish green forest called “Charkose Jhadi” connected the southern forests of Nepal to the forests in India. Now there is poor connectivity between the forests and protected areas of India and Nepal, which presents a major threat to wildlife conservation.

Group of trainees in Nepal at wildlife training session walk through the forest

Our primary goal is to create a viable corridor from Chitwan National Park in central Nepal to the eastern border of Nepal, so that wildlife can travel freely.

Making the corridor a reality

Working across this large landscape is a challenge, but the steps themselves are simple:

  1. raising awareness of the corridor concept and wildlife conservation in southeastern Nepal, and asking community forest groups if they would like to participate
  2. building the capacity of these groups to monitor wildlife in their forests by conducting trainings
  3. creating a network of community forest groups who are coordinating wildlife management activities across the landscape

Meeting with Community Forest Groups

In this part of Nepal, local groups called “Community Forestry User Groups” work to manage and protect the forests they depend on for many resources, such as fuel wood and fodder.

At the end of May, our partners in Nepal met with ten of these groups who had expressed interest during our first trip to visit them. Happily, all ten groups have said that they want to be a part of the corridor and learn these wildlife monitoring skills.

Group of trainees in Nepal at wildlife training session in a forest clearing standing in a circle around leader as he shows them how to work the GPS and camera traps.
Attendees at the first two trainings learned to identify signs of wildlife, set up camera traps, and use GPS.

The data the community forestry groups can collect would be extremely useful. Over time it will allow them to understand if wildlife in their forests is increasing or decreasing – information they need in order to make good wildlife management decisions.

Trainings are Underway

After meeting with the groups, we co-designed trainings for the people from the community forest groups to attend. Our partners in Nepal, Dr Dinesh Neupane, Dr. Arjun Thapa from SMCRF, and Birendra Mahato of Green Society Nepal, conducted two-day trainings with the community forest groups to introduce them to some basic wildlife monitoring techniques, including the use of camera traps.

Group of trainees in Nepal at wildlife training session sit in open-air training pavilion and listen to speaker while taking notes
See more photos of the training on Facebook

The trainings have been a success. Participants included community forest guards, women, and young adults from the community forest user groups.

Attendees learned:

  • Wildlife survey and monitoring
  • Wildlife sign tracking (scat, tracks, etc.)
  • Camera trap operation and setting
  • GPS handling and use
  • Safety measures
Group of trainees in Nepal at wildlife training session in forest crouching down as they attach a camera trap to a tree
The trainees set up cameras in the field. A camera at the first training captured a photo of a jackal, and one from the second training captured a photo of a large Indian civet!

So far, participants are excited by the training and want to buy their own sets of camera traps for their forests.

Want to make more projects like this happen?

Meanwhile, Executive Director Dr. April Sansom is working in the Andes mountains. We’ll be sharing an update from her trip soon.

The 9 Stages of a Community Conservation Project

Our community-based model is comprised of nine social stages. The stages progress as follows:

1. Initial discussions with community leaders and elders about the significance of their natural resources and realistic exploration of benefits that could be gained from conservation when voluntary and participatory (how rare are the species found here? what resources are currently being used by the community? is ecotourism possible? are organic agriculture methods an option in this area?)

2. Informal relationship-building in the community

3. Planning and executing participatory education (such as trainings and workshops)

4. The emergence of local conservation leaders (who often appear though the process of doing the trainings and workshops)

5. These local conservation leaders invoke support from fellow villagers (often, the majority of the village will support the effort)

6. Co-creation of a formal infrastructure and plans (examples: a community forestry area, or a new wildlife sanctuary where ecotourism replaces lost income from resource extraction)

7. The success of the new activities and lessons learned in the initial village spread through local networks of communication (e.g., hearsay; printed information from enlightened schoolchildren to their kin; inviting neighboring communities to visit the project; seminars and public events; informal and formal visits from target community members to other villages)

8. Interest in launching similar projects spreads “horizontally” from the target village to other communities

9. Interest then spreads “vertically” through relationship-building, education, lobbying, and the desire to reproduce the project’s positive results for both the target species/habitats and the local communities (e.g., through governmental, non-governmental, regional, and international entities)

Preview of 9 Stages of Community Conservation how-to infographic
The 9 Stages of a Successful Community Conservation Project: Infographic

Find more useful tools for conservation practitioners on our resources page.

These 9 stages are paraphrased from “Preserving Biodiversity and Ecosystems: Catalyzing Conservation Contagion” written by our founder Rob Horwich and several of his colleagues:

Robert H. Horwich, Jonathan Lyon, Arnab Bose and Clara B. Jones (March 30th 2012). Preserving Biodiversity and Ecosystems: Catalyzing Conservation Contagion, Deforestation Around the World, Paulo Moutinho, IntechOpen, DOI: 10.5772/35435.

Update: Community Wildlife Corridor

Nepal, 2019

Dr. Teri Allendorf is working with communities to explore a new potential wildlife corridor in Nepal.

Bengal tiger walking through grass
Bengal tigers are one of the species that would benefit the most from a new wildlife corridor here in Nepal. Photo by Charles J. Sharp

The vision: a corridor of safe habitat for large mammals and other wildlife, which will allow them to travel back and forth between large protected areas. This corridor would help many animals, including large iconic species like tigers and elephants, to thrive and increase their populations.

Dr. Allendorf has had productive meetings with community leaders in the area to assess whether communities would be interested in participating and learning about the issues that are important to them.

This type of conservation work takes time, but is ultimately the most impactful because local people are involved and co-leading the process from the very beginning.

Conservation biologist's shoe pointing out a tiger footprint in the dirt
Hidden in plain view in Chitwan National Park – can you see the tiger track?

The ten community forest groups that the team met with are interested in joining with this project and learning to identify and monitor wildlife species. Currently, we are waiting to hear back from communities on their suggestions for proceeding.

Check out Community Conservation’s Facebook page to see some of the people Dr. Allendorf has been meeting and some of the interesting things happening in protected areas in Nepal.

While in Nepal, she also has been working with local mammalogists to look for signs of critically endangered pygmy hogs. Read about this work in our previous update.

Conservation workers standing together and smiling in front of a garden and house

Meeting with local conservation champion Laxmi Singh in Karmala village near Bardia National Park. (L-R: Dr. Dinesh Neupane, Dr. Teri Allendorf, Communications Intern Anil Jergens, Laxmi Singh, and her husband)
Conservation workers standing together, some smiling, in front of a house.
Meeting with Ms. Sabitra Pun, FECOFUN chairperson for Banke District (L-R: Sabitra Pun’s husband, a CF committee member, Dr. Dinesh Neupane, Ms. Pun, two more CF committee members, and Dr. Allendorf).

Update: The Search for Pygmy Hogs

Nepal, 2019

Dr. Teri Allendorf is currently in Nepal, searching for signs of the critically endangered pygmy hog and working with local mammalogists.

Local people have been finding small nests made by some mammal species, using fronds (which you can see in the photo above). Forest guards showed Dr. Allendorf the types of places they find these nests.

Small brown pygmy hog standing in dirt and dry grass
the critically endangered pgymy hog (Porcula salvania) – photo by John Singh

If signs of pygmy hogs living in this area are found, it will be an important discovery. Currently, pygmy hogs are thought only to remain in one limited area in India, with none remaining in Nepal. However, because the hogs are still found in adjacent landscapes in India and the correct habitat types exist in the study areas in Nepal, the nests are worth looking at closely.

Conservationists standing together in a forest holding gear, talking and looking around
Looking for nests
Small hole in the ground surrounded by ferns and decaying leaves
Pangolin burrow

So far, we haven’t found any definitive signs of pygmy hogs. However, while looking for pygmy hogs, we did see a nice pangolin burrow, which is a species of conservation concern. There are many awareness programs about pangolin conservation in Nepal, so hopefully they will be a conservation success story.

Two men running while pushing a red truck through sand with deep tire grooves
One of the perils of traveling in the field

The work in Nepal hasn’t always been easy… vehicles and sandy dry river beds don’t always mix well. Thanks to our partners Birendra and Dinesh for the help getting us out!

Hopefully more possible pygmy hog nests will be found so we can help identify whether they were made by pygmy hogs, or some other mammal. If they are made by pygmy hogs, it would be exciting indeed! But as of now, the team has seen no definitive signs in this part of Nepal yet.

Partners

Dr. Allendorf is meeting with many interesting and impactful people during the search for pygmy hogs, as she works closely with communities in Nepal.

Two conservation practitioners talking
Dr. Neupane and Dr. Allendorf

We’re so happy to partner with Dr. Dinesh Neupane, an independent researcher. His expertise in Nepal’s wildlife has been such a great contribution. See a short interview with Dinesh on Facebook.

Two conservation practitioners standing together in Nepal
Dr. Arjun Thapa and Birendra Mahato

We are also happy to be partnering with Dr. Arjun Thapa from Small Mammals Conservation and Research Foundation (SMCRF) and Birendra Mahato from Green Society Nepal.

Portrait in forest of Chairwoman in Nepal looking at camera
Chairwoman Murti Devi Chaudhary

The team also had the pleasure to meet Murti Devi Chaudhary, chair of the Mahila Jhatkhanda Community Forest in Saptari District, where the pygmy hog search is taking place. Women’s community forestry groups have a strong presence in Nepal but often receive less support and recognition.

While in Nepal, Dr. Allendorf is also working to connect communities and explore the possibility of a community-conserved wildlife corridor in the area. This is a continuation of the work Dr. Allendorf and Community Conservation’s late Founder Rob Horwich started years ago.

Stay tuned for more about the corridor in our next update!

Video: Biodiversity Heroes

We’re excited to share a short video about the “Biodiversity Heroes” community trainings and our partnership with Friends of Wildlife in Myanmar.

This training was a great way to inspire and equip local leaders to start their own community conservation projects (such as community forestry areas, organic agriculture, and ecotourism).

The video documents the second of a series of 3 trainings for people living near Myanmar’s protected areas.

Young conservationist smiling sitting outdoors with backpack

Thank you to Communications Intern Anil for putting this video together!

Update: Community Trainings in Myanmar

February, 2019

Group of people walking outdoors and talking and laughing together in Myanmar
Meeting inspiring people at the training on Field Trip Day

Myanmar is an incredibly biodiverse country, home to many endangered and threatened species.

It recently opened to the world, and many are rushing to have a say in the country’s newly established protected areas.

Now is a critical time to develop a national conservation strategy for Myanmar – and make sure local communities’ values and needs are incorporated into protected area management. We believe that local communities are the solution to conservation problems.

Why do community trainings?
One way to reach the right people across the whole country at once is to hold community conservation trainings, and invite people who live near the country’s protected areasto attend. At the trainings, they learn how to launch their own conservation projects (like setting up community forestry areas).

“Local people in Myanmar recognize that their forests are more than just places to extract food and fuel. They also see the forests as beautiful, biodiverse places worth protecting.”

Dr. Teri Allendorf, UW Madison and Community Conservation

What will be accomplished?
February’s session was the second of a series of three trainings, covering all of Myanmar’s 21 protected areas. The goal is to give people from throughout Myanmar the tools and skills they need in order to manage their resources – which protects the habitats we all value.

Group of young people stand together on deck overlooking water with matching polo shirts giving a thumbs up
Friends of Wildlife Staff

Community Conservation has partnered with local organization Friends of Wildlife to implement these trainings. Their knowledge of the local conservation landscape has been crucial to the project’s success. They said governance and participatory decision-making were important topics to cover, so these were a big focus of this training.

Woman explaining something to two men while they are seated together around a low table.
Khine Khine Swe (right) from partner organization Friends of Wildlife with two local leaders.

Attendees from the first training have already launched their own projects to conserve and protect the country’s incredible biodiversity! These two community leaders started a community forest in their village. Our colleageue Khine Khine Swe (right) visited them with Dr. Sansom and Dr. Allendorf to see how things were going.

Community Conservation’s Facebook page has more details, updates and photos from Myanmar.

Thank you to the Conservation, Food, and Health Foundation, the Helmsley Foundation, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, and the University of Wisconsin for making this happen.

And thank you to the supporters of Community Conservation for helping us join the supporters of Friends of Wildlife and of this inspiring project!