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GWC Associates: 2018 New Year’s Resolutions

At the end of 2017, GWC associate conservation scientists are looking ahead at their goals for the new year, including their professional goals in the field of conservation, and their personal goals for ensuring they are helping protect the planet around the clock.

Sagar Dahal, Associate Conservation Scientist

Professionally, my goal is to reach out to more local people than ever before to educate them about small wild cat species conservation in Nepal. But I’d like to focus more on my personal goals for 2018. I have been building a new house in Kathmandu Valley since 2013 and when it was about to be finishing, in the afternoon of April 25, 2015, a devastating earthquake of 7.9 magnitude struck Barpak, a small village in central Nepal. The earthquake destroyed 10,000 houses and killed more than 9,000 people altogether. Kathmandu Valley was also badly affected; many old houses and palaces were destroyed. o was my house. I was standing on a road Saturday afternoon when this happened. I saw my house shaking like a tree and the freshly connected bricks falling apart from the top floor. Although I was glad that I was alive being in an open area after the earthquake ended, the worst thing I could imagine was a landslide blocking the highways that connects Kathmandu Valley from where all the life support supplies comes from. The thought of food shortage, water shortage, sanitary problems, and petroleum products was enough to create havoc in my mind as the city depends on imports for its every need. All the people who survived would fight for the limited resources left in the valley where there would be no electricity due to fallen electric poles, and lost communication services for many days if not months. Fortunately, our government was very active at that time and all the blockages were cleared in eight hours, electricity was back within 12 hours.

This incident shook all of us to the core and my family decided to live our life more sustainably and self sufficiently. I thought of making major changes in the design of the house. However, it would cost us more than 40 percent of our entire budget to make the changes. We decided to buy a piece of open land of 40-by-30-square-feet that was attached to our property so that there would be some open space to escape in the case of emergency as the open space in Kathmandu is decreasing rapidly due to haphazard urbanization. We dug an underground tank of 48,000 liters’ capacity to hold rain water, installed solar panels to produce our own electricity and heat the water. The installed power is not enough to support the 24-hour demand, but it is enough support for emergency situations.

Because of the increased budget, I still have not been able to finish the house. But in 2018 I aim to my own vegetables in the newly bought open land. If the busiest man on the planet Mr. Barack Obama could do it in White House when he was the president of United States of America, I certainly can find time to grow my vegetables. In addition to that I plan to dig a pit to create organic waste using vermiculture (a technique to make the manure from organic waste using special earthworms), a skill that I learned in my Zoology classes during my University days. I would also love to keep some bee hives as well. Facing an earthquake was a life changing experience for me and a reminder that life can change in a second. Hence, my goal for 2018 would be to connect with nature for food and energy, rather than depending on the market.

(Photo: Sagar’s vegetable garden gets underway. Photo by Sanjan Thapa)

Armando Dans, Associate Conservation Scientist

After a wonderful 2017 full of educational experiences during fieldwork in Nicaragua, I’m back to my country feeling motivated to continue with the efforts to preserve the most endangered species and their habitats in the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua. My main goal in 2018 is to continue supporting Baird’s Tapir conservation mostly in the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve, and work closely with local communities and international partners to protect the tropical ecosystem in the south Caribbean Region of Nicaragua. In addition, I aim to increase knowledge and awareness through collaboration on publications and communication about Nicaraguan Biodiversity and its status.

Murthy Kantimahanti, Associate Conservation Scientist

One of my conservation goals for the next year is to identify critical habitats for small wild cat conservation in the unexplored areas of North Eastern Ghats forests with a focus on assessing the anthropogenic threats and understanding people’s perceptions about wild cat conservation. I also plan to organize public education programs aimed at teaching people about various issues pertaining to wildlife conservation in the Ghats. I aim to publish a free educational booklet on Eastern Ghats wildlife for school children from remote tribal villages as part of my ongoing community outreach activities. These initiatives are really important since there haven’t been any active programs in the region aimed at reducing the threats to wild cat populations and to educate tribal school children have poor access to proper educational facilities.

Anya Ratnayaka, Associate Conservation Scientist

Ever since I first laid eyes on a Fishing Cat, and later got the opportunity to hand-rear an orphaned Rusty-spotted Cat, I knew that I would spend the rest of my life fighting to protect small wild cats. Underdogs in a world full of larger, and more well-known wild cats, they often have to fight to be seen, and are usually overshadowed by their larger cousin, the Sri Lankan Leopard. The 2018 goals of the Urban Fishing Cat Conservation Project are as follows:

1) Raise the profile of Fishing Cats and spread of awareness of their urban habitats in Sri Lanka, with a special focus on educating children, the general public and government officials.

2) Work closely with the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLLRDC) to make the fishing cat the focal species for the conservation of Colombo’s urban wetland habitats.

These goals will not only benefit the locally endangered fishing cat, but will also draw focus to the urban wetlands, which are one of Sri Lanka’s most endangered habitats. Completing these goals will also support the SLLRDC’s application for RAMSAR Wetland City Accreditation. My personal dream would be for 2018 to be the year of the Fishing Cat and for the species to finally emerge from behind the shadow of the country’s current favorite, the Leopard.

(Photo by Devaka Seneviratne)

Karen Strier, Associate Conservation Scientist

This young male muriqui, Panter, shown in this photo when he was about eight months of age, has now made it through the most challenging first year of life. His birth occurred over last year’s (2016-2017) New Year’s holiday, coinciding with one of the worst outbreaks of yellow fever ever documented in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. During the same months that the hundreds of Howler Monkeys and dozens of Northern Muriquis in his population disappeared and are suspected of having died from yellow fever, his mother, Priscila, was caring for Panter and helping to keep him alive.

As the Northern Muriqui Project of Caratinga moves into its 35th year, the success of infants such as Panter is an encouraging sign of the potential of populations of critically endangered species to recover in numbers when they are given the chance. In addition to continuing protection from hunting and ongoing preservation of habitat, our efforts are also focused on securing the natural regeneration of disturbed areas that will expand the forest that muriquis and other wildlife need. Our goals for 2018 are to ensure that Panter and the other muriquis in the forest will survive.

(Photo by Renan Cesar)

Ashan Thudugala, Associate Conservation Scientist

In 2018 we will be working to initiate SCAR-ED camps for youngsters who are keen on biodiversity conservation. The basic idea of these programs is to build a generation that has a special bond with nature. And through Small Cat Advocacy and Research, we are going to lunch our first program this year. Meanwhile, we’ll continue our annual Fishing Cat Youth Camp for the fourth time and will launch multiple awareness programs to educate the young generation in target locations. Simultaneously with these programs we will also work on rescuing wounded small wild cats by collaborating with the responsible authorities.

We will also continue our research work on monitoring fishing cats and we’ll expand our study sites according to the threat analysis in different areas. While searching for elusive Fishing Cats, we will extend our monitoring to Rusty-spotted Cats and Jungle Cats at the beginning of this year by going into different terrain. Moreover, we are also hoping to present our findings and share our experience in many local and international events. We plan to work along with the government authorities to extend our practices on mitigating road accidents of wildlife in pre-identified areas. Finally, our primary goal of the new year will be to protect and conserve our precious wildlife for the future generations.

Andrew Tilker, Associate Conservation Scientist

At some point during 2018 I want to pet a Large-antlered mMuntjac (Muntiacus vuquangensis) on the head. Or—let me rephrase that. My overall goal is to be part of the team that helps to capture the first Large-antlered Muntjac for inclusion in a conservation breeding program that is scheduled to begin that year. The Large-antlered Muntjac is a deer species that is found only in the Annamites mountain chain on the border of Vietnam and Laos. Remarkably, it was only discovered by science in the mid-90s, and since then biologists have learned little about it—except that the species is now on the verge of extinction. Relentless poaching, accomplished through the setting of wire snares, has decimated populations across its range, and the last hope for saving the species from imminent extinction is to start a conservation breeding program, which will take place initially in Vietnam.

Finding, capturing, and translocating Large-antlered Muntjac into a captive breeding center won’t be easy. The species is rare in Vietnam, where capture efforts will initially begin, and the terrain in which the species lives is steep and rugged and difficult to work in. Fortunately, the newly-formed Large-antlered Muntjac Working Group is assembling an excellent capture team, with considerable guidance and support from the Saola Working Group, to tackle these challenges. I hope to lead this team during 2018 to the first-ever successful captures of this Critically Endangered species. Although I might not do any muntjac-wrangling myself, I look forward to helping to coordinate the team from abroad, to help put the puzzle pieces in place. I get a special thrill out of working on Large-antlered Muntjac: If we can start a captive breeding program for the species, there will be one more remarkable Annamite endemic that is safe from extinction.

Peter Paul van Dijk, Associate Conservation Scientist

For 2018, I will continue my 100 percent renewable energy use at home and recycle anything that is recyclable, minimize our household’s consumption of processed foods, continue the organics-only gardening practices, use water from my rain barrel to water the plants indoors and out, clean up litter from my local park, and plant more trees. My travel carbon footprint is above average and will likely remain so, but at least I’ll offset it by planting lots more native trees and shrubs. The big challenge ahead is to move forward with putting rooftop solar on our home: it’s feasible in principle, but the roof is 40 years old and needs renovation before adding weight, so it becomes a complicated project.

Carlos Vasquez Almazan, Associate Conservation Scientist

The work of the conservation of biological diversity is enormous, so it is up to many actors and people who do not realize the importance of their small actions and supports. This year, working with the guards of the Yal Unin Yul Witz reserve in the Mayan mountains of Guatemala, gave us immense satisfaction. A training that resulted in great motivation achieved the discovery of a salamander that had been lost to science for 42 years, and again found by a great ally of conservation–a young Mayan k’anjob’al who learned and understood the importance of the work. Thank you very much to Ramos Leon Tomas, who has given us a lot of encouragement and enthusiasm to continue with our hard work for the conservation of nature and our planet.

(Photo: Ramos Leon Tomas with Carlos Vásquez-Almazán during nocturnal monitoring of amphibians in the Yal Uni Yul Witz Reserve, in the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes, Barillas, Huehuetenango, Guatemala)

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