- Nepali pangolin conservationist Tulshi Laxmi Suwal has been named one of the winners of this year’s Whitley Awards, known as the “Green Oscars.”
- The 40,000 pound ($50,000) award recognizes her work studying and protecting pangolins in a field that has traditionally been male-dominated.
- Suwal says she will use the prize money to conduct Nepal’s first impact assessment of the effects of fires on the Chinese pangolin and create 10 community pangolin conservation groups.
- She also plans to plant 20,000 local mixed broad-leaved trees and reach 200,000 people through an awareness campaign, all aimed at protecting the world’s most trafficked mammal.
KATHMANDU — Tulshi Laxmi Suwal, a Nepali conservationist, has been named one of the seven winners of this year’s prestigious Whitley Awards, known as the “Green Oscars,” in recognition of her work protecting the pangolin, the world’s most trafficked mammal.
Suwal is the founder of the Small Mammals Conservation and Research Foundation (SMCRF) and has been involved in pangolin conservation for the past 15 years, despite facing numerous challenges such as traditional gender stereotypes in academia and a lack of resources to fund her research.
According to the Whitley Fund for Nature, the U.K. nonprofit that administers the annual award, Suwal will use the prize money of 40,000 pounds ($50,000) to conduct Nepal’s first impact assessment of the effects of fires on the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla), and create 10 community pangolin conservation groups in three districts in Bagmati province. Her project will also plant 20,000 local mixed broad-leaved trees and reach 200,000 people through an awareness campaign.
“Over my 15 years in conservation, I have always felt a strong connection with the Chinese pangolin with its dark brown skin, a flat nose, carrying a baby on its back just like I did,” Suwal said at the award ceremony. “The recognition … will make all the difference for the sustainable conservation of these species and their habitat,” she added.
In an interview with Mongabay in January this year, Suwal said that when she decided to take up research into pangolins during her university days, convincing her professors to allow her to study this nocturnal animal that lives in burrows wasn’t easy as it would require her to visit their habitats at night; and as a woman, it would be almost impossible for her to do so.
However, she persevered. Despite the paucity of previous studies and data on the animal, which are often mistaken for reptiles because of their scales, she not only completed her dissertation on pangolins in the region, but recently completed her Ph.D. studying pangolins.
A recent survey led by Suwal of Indigenous and rural communities across Nepal found that while awareness about the animals remains sketchy and superstitions abound, most people say they’re willing to contribute to the species’ conservation. She also found that the keys to achieving this are education and awareness campaigns as well as access to alternative livelihoods that get people to stop hunting wildlife to eat.
Suwal is one of seven winners of the Whitley Awards, given out this year on April 26 at the Royal Geographical Society in London. Six of the winners received 40,000 pounds each, while the seventh, Shivani Bhalla of Kenya, received the Whitley Gold Award, with a prize of 60,000 pounds ($75,000).
Another Nepali conservationist, Sonam Tashi Lama, who works on red panda conservation, was a Whitley Awards winner in 2022. Prominent Nepali ornithologist Hem Sagar Baral also won the award for his community-based bird conservation project in 2005.
Banner Image: Suwal has done some pioneering works in pangolin research in Nepal. Image courtesy of Tulshi Laxmi Suwal.
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Abhaya Raj Joshi is a staff writer for Nepal at Mongabay. Find him on Twitter @arj272.