A conservation biologist specialising in reptiles was yesterday (Wednesday 25 April) presented with a prestigious Whitley Award by HRH The Princess Royal.
Shahriar Caesar Rahman, Co-Founder of the Creative Conservation Alliance is working to preserve Asia’s largest tortoise in a remote corner of Bangladesh.
In 2011, Caesar began exploring the Chittagong Hill tracts (CHT) to survey for rare reptiles and amphibians. Sitting on the Bangladesh and Myanmar border, the CHT is one of the least explored, but most biodiverse areas on the planet. Caesar’s team made a ground-breaking discovery of the wild Asian giant tortoise, previously thought to be extinct and uncovered a new species of forest turtle.
Caesar has since set up an initiative to protect tortoise populations and their surrounding habitats and his team has invested time to build a rapport and gain trust within the local communities.
Caesar has trained former Mro hunters as biologists who are helping to deter poachers and document the region’s wildlife including Menni Mro, a 50-year-old village chief, who is now protecting nearly 100 hectares of forest, and is utilising skills to track rare animals, a move that led him to be given a Nature Guardian Award.
With his Whitley Award, Caesar will work with Mro people to establish community conservation areas to safeguard forest habitat from being lost and curb hunting by training more ex-hunters as ‘parabiologists’ employed to monitor and protect turtles.
Caesar’s team have created a market for the sale of indigenous crafts – reviving cultures on the verge of being lost – which will now be expanded to benefit women from 12 villages who receive training and income from the programme.
Dialogue with national government has also been initiated to gain support for conserving the area – as its importance is as yet unrecognised.
Edward Whitley, Founder of the Whitley Fund for Nature, said: “In an area of Bangladesh that has faced decades of social and political conflict, Caesar has become a figurehead and has made huge steps towards bringing these reptiles back from the brink. We are especially thrilled to be supporting Caesar during our 25th anniversary year and look forward to following him on this journey.”
Caesar said: “What began as a personal interest and exploration, has advanced into a fully-fledged conservation program. From helping to construct schools and educate future generations, to empowering local communities and reviving traditional cultures, I have been able to touch the hearts and lives of many people through species conservation. With the support of this Whitley Award, I can continue to make a difference to the future of both the wildlife, my fellow man and entire cultures.”
An annual event, often referred to as the ‘Green Oscars’, the 2018 Whitley Awards, are part of Whitley Fund for Nature’s 25th Anniversary celebrations.
The winners will each receive £40,000 in funding to support their work to conserve some of the planet’s most endangered species and spectacular places.
This year’s Whitley Gold Award honours Pablo (Popi) Borboroglu, who is spearheading a campaign to protect endangered penguins across the globe. Pablo has already achieved dramatic conservation success, helping to protect more than 3.1 million hectares of marine and coastal habitats. The Gold Award, worth £60,000, will enable Pablo to justify ocean protection and underpin management for different species of penguins across Argentina, Chile and New Zealand.
The 2018 Whitley Award winners are:
Dominique Bikaba – DRC, Ensuring the survival of DRC’s eastern lowland gorillas, Receiving the Whitley Award donated by Arcus Foundation
Kerstin Forsberg – Peru, Majestic giants: safe passage for manta rays in Peru Receiving the Whitley Award donated by The Corcoran Foundation
Olivier Nsengimana – Rwanda, Conserving Rwanda’s emblematic grey crowned crane. Receiving the Whitley Award donated by The Savitri Waney Charitable Trust
Shahriar Caesar Rahman – Bangladesh, Tortoises in trouble: Community conservation of Asia’s largest tortoise. Receiving the Whitley Award donated by The William Brake Charitable Trust in memory of William Brake
Munir Virani – Kenya, Game of poisons: a strategy to save Kenya’s threatened vultures. Receiving the Whitley Award donated by WWF-UK
Anjali Chandraraj Watson – Sri Lanka, Leopards as a flagship for wildlife corridors Receiving the Whitley Award donated by Garfield Weston Foundation