In order to understand the effectiveness of an endangered species conservation program, it is essential to have an accurate baseline number of the species population. In the case of the red panda, this is absent.
To date, we have conducted baseline research of red panda within the Panchthar, Ilam and Taplejung districts of Eastern Nepal. In 2013/2014 we are expanding preliminary surveys to Central and Western Nepal where anecdotal reports of red panda sightings have yet to be documented systematically by science.
Based on the results of several years of monitoring we can see the effectiveness of our conservation programs. To date we do not have enough data to draw strong conclusions on long-term trends but we have seen an increase in red panda awareness among the local communities where we conduct our research. And while media reports about poachers caught with red panda skins continue from other parts of Nepal, no poaching arrests were necessary in areas RPN has been building community awareness in.
Our objective is to conduct non-invasive, cost-effective status surveys in all five range countries by the end of 2020. Our flagship community-based monitoring program is called Project Punde Kundo. In this program, we train village stewards in our “forest guardian” survey and monitoring methodology and provide technical assistance after the program is operational. Our goal is to train and re-train a minimum of 12 forest guardians a year, something we have achieved each of the past 6 years. This program is crucial to our success because it creates real ownership by local villagers and is the base from which we conduct the rest of our activities.
Being involved in the research and monitoring program creates a sense of ownership in the communities, the forest guardians gain respect, and their families, directly or indirectly over 400 people so far, appreciate their income from this stable employment as a real material benefit from protecting forest habitat. This changes the perception of the forest as a source of extractive income to one of long-term sustainable benefit.