The Snow Leopard Trust and its partners have engaged with local communities in key snow leopard habitats of Central Asia for nearly four decades, working toward conservation solutions that benefit both people and wildlife. In his book The PARTNERS Principles for Community-Based Conservation, Snow Leopard Trust’s Executive Director, Dr. Charu Mishra, distills our experiences into a set of guidelines for wildlife conservationists wishing to engage with communities. In the PARTNERS Principles, we identify eight broad principles for engaging local communities in wildlife conservation.
Engaging and partnering with local communities is critical to the success of any effort that seeks their active participation. The practical challenges of achieving effective community engagement are considerable, and practitioners often learn from trial and error. To address this gap, we developed a two-day training module on Community Conservation. We based this training on The PARTNERS Principles for Community-Based Conservation, which was derived on our experience working with communities in snow leopard landscapes. Over 100 conservation researchers and practitioners have already benefitted from participating in this module in the last three years.
Adapting to limitations set by the ongoing pandemic, this module went online in September 2020. The module was open to members of the Snow Leopard Network and was conducted over four short sessions throughout the month. It received an encouraging response with over 25 early-career researchers and conservation practitioners from across 8 countries in attendance.
Each training session involved the use of case studies, introducing participants to guiding principles of engaging communities in conservation. This was followed by small-group discussions among participants. They covered topics ranging from challenges and opportunities of adopting the principles, to ethical dilemmas faced by practitioners.
Representatives from Snow Leopard Trust country programs played a key role in sharing case studies and facilitating these discussions. The module ended on a high note with many participants requesting to remain engaged in these discussions. We have committed to keep these important conversations going and plan to organize future sessions on the PARTNERS Principles.
Applying the PARTNERS principles while engaging with local communities is often humbling and illuminating. For example, our team recently engaged with a community in India that faced livestock loss due to a snow leopard entering their corral. Our field team was prompt in responding to the situation. They made regular visits to the community to find and implement a local solution to prevent such incidents from reoccurring.
After some discussion, the community responded positively and worked actively with our team to reinforce their corral. They are now looking forward to working with us in the pastures around their community.
To protect snow leopards, we must work at a larger landscape level, and find ways for snow leopards to coexist with the people sharing their habitat. Therefore, is important to continue teaching the PARTNERS Principles.
As Professor Stephen Redpath wrote in The PARTNERS Principles for Community-Based Conservation, “Many of us get into conservation because we care about the natural world and are interested in ecology. We want to go off and ‘save the world.’ But we have little training in how we should engage with communities and what various aspects we need to think about when we do. This is why this book is so incredibly valuable. It is a handbook that will help conservationists become aware of the pitfalls and find a path towards effective community-based engagement for conservation.”