Dr. Barney Long joined Global Wildlife Conservation this month as GWC’s director of species conservation. Barney works on the conservation of endangered mammal species and the thematic approaches required to achieve the recovery of their populations. He has worked extensively on Saola, Sumatran and Javan Rhino, Tiger, Gibbons, Doucs and a host of other species across the world. Prior to joining Global Wildlife Conservation, Barney Long led the Species Program at WWF-US. Here he talks about what he loves about being in the field and what makes partnerships a critical component of successful conservation.
Q. What is your favorite part of field work? Why?
A. I’ve always loved field work, although I don’t get the opportunity to do much these days. I love the challenge of it; its physicality, the emotional stresses it brings to bare, and the danger aspect too. This combined with the intellectual challenge of it; the science, the navigation, and the language and cultural experiences. But most of all I love nature and being surrounded by and having all my senses engulfed by where I am. I’ve mainly worked in the rainforests of Southeast Asia where conditions are hot and humid and the terrain is steep.
One memory always sticks out as an example of the quintessential favorite part of field work for me: Rising early from our hammocks to get out before the gibbons start to call, my guide, two rangers and I started to walk in the near dark, heading almost immediately straight uphill. We slipped, pulled and heaved ourselves up the clay slope covered in rotting leaves (just to make it extra slippy) for about an hour until we reached the ridge line we were heading for. Legs burning, blood pumping so hard my eardrums could hear it, salty sweat stung our eyes and leeches attached to all legs, I came out onto the ridge and a gust of wind hit me and blew all discomfort and pain away. Just then the gibbons started to sing and through the trees all we could see in every direction was forest. That feeling of wonder, total isolation and seeing nature in all her beauty is the most rewarding thing about field work.
Q. What species have you primarily focused on? Why is their conservation important?
A. I’ve worked on many species including gibbons, badgers, elephants and tigers but probably the two species I’m most passionate about are the saola and the Sumatran rhino. I like to work on the underdogs; species few have heard of, even fewer have seen, have little conservation effort on-going and that are really close to extinction. To me every species has the right to exist and play its role in the functioning of an ecosystem; it is very much an ethical issue for me although I can make scientific, economic and political arguments if I have to. I find species conservation very rewarding because it is so multi-dimensional; you can be discussing the genetic consequences of reintroducing animals one minute, how to prevent poaching the next, the ecological carrying capacity the next and how to bring heads of state together to endorse political solutions the next. All are just as important as each other. I was lucky to be part of the global tiger summit process for many years dealing with high-level politicians, but also helped design Nepal’s national tiger survey methods, helped design protected area standards for tiger reserves, and published on attitudes in China regarding demand for tiger products. So often it is the solutions you focus on, not the species themselves.
Q. What’s the most rewarding part of being in the field?
A. There are so many and they are so varied. Special moments of bonding with local people, seeing a ranger grow in confidence and pride with your training and guidance, and of course whatever nature throws at you. For me the most rewarding moments are those magical encounters with beautiful and entrancing animals: Coming face-to-face with a tiger in the morning mist of the Sumatran rainforests, that feeling you are being watched while bird watching before you realize an Annamite dark muntjac is standing two feet from you smelling your shoe, or hearing that first hoot of the western black-crested gibbon song, which had not been heard for sixty years prior. Moments like these will never leave me and make me smile every time I think about them.
Q. Do you have a favorite moment from working in the field? What did that experience make you feel?
A. I don’t have a single favorite moment, but I have grown so much as a person from my time in the field and think that it is all the experiences, good and bad, that make field work so addictive. If field work was all about the amazingly wonderful wildlife encounters, it would be more like sitting in a jeep going on safari in the African savannah. It is the mixture of physical discomfort, remoteness, being surrounded by people from different cultures, speaking different languages, eating crazy food, the sights, sounds and smells, the plants, the animals, the views. Having travelled the world and experienced so many places and cultures and seen incredible wildlife, I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to experience the entire concept of field.
Q. Why are partnerships in conservation so important to you?
Some conservation problems require one person or organization to stand up and deal with it, but the vast majority of conservation problems are beyond the ability of one person or one organization. Different organizations have different strengths and niches within the conservation community and by harnessing these in partnerships you can have a much bigger impact. I’ve been involved in many conservation partnerships, some very global in nature like the IUCN Species Survival Commission, others focused on individual species like the Saola Working Group, others can be thematic in nature like the nascent Zero Poaching partnership or the Conservation Assured partnership on protected area management standards.
One of the best examples of a well functioning partnership is the SMART Partnership. SMART was born out of conversation amongst a group of friendly conservationists who wanted a way to better monitor and manage ranger patrols, but the products available did not do what we required. Over a couple of years of discussion, this turned into the idea for a group of organizations to come together and jointly develop a product for the conservation community. The SMART software was launched in 2013 and is now in its third release. The software is free, open source and easily translates into other languages—we try to keep it current in 10 languages. The SMART Partnership also provides training for government or conservation organization trainers as well as guides on how to best use the software for managing your conservation area.
That initial group of six conservation organizations has now grown to nine with GWC the newest member. Because of the group’s common understanding of the problem and solution, they are able to work together to maintain a high-quality product and regularly increase its functionality. It can now be used for biological monitoring, fire monitoring and other protected area management issues beyond ranger patrols. After only three years SMART is now being used in at least 147 sites across 31 countries. Critically, nine country governments are working to use SMART across their entire protected area system. I’ve been involved with SMART since the beginning and am currently on rotation as chair of the steering committee so I’m biased, but I think the SMART Partnership is a great example of the power of partnerships in conservation.