A journey in conservation to the 2022 Whitley Gold Award

When Snow Leopard Trust Executive Director Dr. Charu Mishra began his conservation work in the late 1990s, the top-down practice of “fortress conservation” was the norm. Entire communities were evicted from territories to protect wildlife. (An estimated 130 million ‘conservation refugees’ have been displaced by conservation efforts worldwide.) In Charu’s view, fortress conservation is morally wrong.

In his 25 years of striving to conserve snow leopards, Charu has pioneered an alternative community-based strategy. During his early work in India’s Spiti Valley, he didn’t have any training to help him engage with community members. He simply immersed himself in the community. In the years he spent with them, conservation became just one of many things he would interact with them over. He spent time building relationships rather than preaching conservation.

During that time, it became clear that community members didn’t lack the will to conserve snow leopards, but rather they lacked the ability to do so. That knowledge and the long-term relationships he built with several communities over the years inspired Charu to develop and write a book on the PARTNERS Principles, a strategic framework for engaging with local communities for conservation purposes. Based on this book, Charu’s team of collaborators then developed a training program for community-based conservation. As a result of this partner-based strategy, community members have become Snow Leopard Trust’s greatest conservation ally helping to protect more than 150,000 km2 of prime snow leopard habitat in five countries.

Photo credit: Whitley Fund for Nature

For his groundbreaking work in community-based conservation, Charu recently received the Whitley Gold Award, the highest award presented by the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN), a UK wildlife conservation charity that supports conservationists around the globe. This award serves as recognition for 25 years of dedication to protecting wild snow leopards through his work at Snow Leopard Trust and the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), which he co-founded in India. WFN Gold Award recipients are selected for their outstanding contributions to international conservation and leadership to inspire and affect significant change in their field. This is Charu’s second Gold Award; the first was awarded in 2005.  

Watch a powerful short film about Charu’s conservation journey, narrated by Sir David Attenborough.  

To help improve the way conservation is practiced, Charu and the Snow Leopard Trust team, with support from Whitley Fund for Nature, are working together with biologists and conservationists around the world to share the PARTNERS Principles for ethically and effectively collaborating with local communities to protect nature.

Charu recently recounted an inspiring example of the power of community engagement:

“When I first visited the village of Kibber 25 years ago, I learned of a snow leopard that had been brutally killed, with men and women lining up to beat the carcass and curse the dead cat for killing their livestock. Recently, in the same village, when an old snow leopard died after a fall while hunting, local people helped retrieve the carcass from a gorge, offered it the auspicious Buddhist scarf, helped cremate it, and prayed for the departed soul. The perception and attitudes towards snow leopards are changing. Such can be the transformative power of respectful community-based conservation.”

Special Thanks to:
Whitley Fund for Nature – www.whitleyaward.org
Acacia Conservation Fund
PARTNERS Principles Network
Prasenjeet Yadav
Juliette Young
Justine Shanti Alexander
Ajay Bijoor
Melkus Family Foundation
Nature Conservation Foundation

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