Site icon Conservation news

Owl conservationist Raju Acharya wins Whitley Award in hat trick for Nepal

Sonam Tashi Lama from Red Panda Network receives the Whitley Award from Princess Anne, patron of the Whitley Fund for Nature in London. Image courtesy WFN.

Sonam Tashi Lama from Red Panda Network receives the Whitley Award from Princess Anne, patron of the Whitley Fund for Nature in London. Image courtesy WFN.

  • Raju Acharya, a Nepali conservationist, won the Whitley Award for his owl conservation efforts, marking the third consecutive win for Nepal.
  • Acharya’s work focuses on challenging stereotypes and advocating for owl conservation in Nepal, despite facing societal stigmas and challenges.
  • He plans to use the prize money of 50,000 pounds ($62,600) to enhance conservation initiatives in central Nepal, targeting law enforcement training and community engagement.  

KATHMANDU — Raju Acharya, a Nepali conservationist, has been named one of the six winners of this year’s prestigious Whitley Awards, also known as the “Green Oscars” for grassroots conservation work, in recognition of his work protecting and campaigning for owls.

Acharya, the third Nepali to win the award in as many years, is the founder and executive director of Friends of Nature, a Kathmandu-based NGO. The resident of Pokhara, a town in western Nepal, has campaigned for the conservation of the birds of prey for more than 15 years, despite facing numerous challenges, such as stereotypes of local people toward the raptors and their conservation.

“In my society [the] owl is seen as a lazy and dull creature; when you advocate for their conservation, you are labeled the same way,” Acharya said, addressing the award ceremony. “When I was chosen to represent the World Owl Trust in Nepal, I received ironic congratulations from those around me. Despite the discouragement, I was determined to learn about owls,” said Acharya, also the brains behind the annual Owl Festival, one of the largest conservation events in Nepal.

Raju Acharya in the remote field in Accham district, western Nepal.
Raju Acharya in the remote field in Accham district, western Nepal. Image © Bikash Ghimire.

According to the Whitley Fund for Nature, the U.K. nonprofit that administers the annual award, Acharya will use the prize money of 50,000 pounds ($62,600) to boost initiatives in central Nepal, home to 19 of the country’s 23 owl species. Acharya’s plan is to conduct training to increase the capacity of law enforcement agencies, policymakers and “owl envoys” (local ambassadors for the owls) with the objective of reducing the volume of hunting and trade by a quarter.

In an interview with Mongabay in August 2023, Acharya said that although owls face multiple threats such as hunting, illegal trade, habitat loss and electrocution, there isn’t sufficient scientific data to justify their classification as “threatened.” “This creates a vicious cycle of low conservation priority,” he added.

Acharya, who played a crucial role in the formulation of the Owl Conservation Action Plan in 2020 to address the threats to owls from hunting, illegal trade and habitat loss, had told Mongabay that although it took around a year to prepare the plan, there wasn’t adequate budget to implement it. “Nepali conservation officials are still reluctant to consider owls as wild animals,” he said.

Another Nepali conservationist, Tulshi Laxmi Suwal, who works on pangolin conservation, won a Whitley Award in 2023. Similarly, Sonam Tashi Lama, who works on red panda (Ailurus fulgens) conservation, was a Whitley Award winner in 2022. Prominent Nepali ornithologist Hem Sagar Baral also won the award for his community-based bird conservation project in 2005.

Banner Image: Raju Acharya receives the Whitley Award from Princess Anne,  patron of the Whitley Fund for Nature in London. Image courtesy WFN.

Also read:

‘Owls are valuable only when alive’: Q&A with conservationist Raju Acharya

Exit mobile version