The Himalayan Habre Center: A Better Future for People and Red Pandas

May 11, 2023 / 5 mins read
The Himalayan Habre Center: A Better Future for People and Red Pandas

On Earth Day 2023, we celebrated the opening of the Himalayan Habre Center in Nepal!

The journey is the destination. We've all heard it before. The Himalayan Habre Center, or Habre Center, is a destination on the journey to red panda conservation that will transform how we save this endangered species.

This is its story.

On April 22, 2023 (Earth Day), we hosted an inauguration ceremony at the Habre Center in Taplejung, eastern Nepal, where we recognized stakeholders for supporting this exciting milestone that took three years to complete. Local community members and government officials received a tour of the Habre Center's impressive features, including educational exhibits and improved technologies.


HHC-event-Haris.jpgInauguration ceremony at the Habre Center hosted by RPN's Director of Program Development, Haris Rai

One of the stakeholders was Pasang Rita Sherpa, the secretary of the Deurali Bhitri Community Forest where the center is located. Pasang spoke at the event and shared his support of the Habre Center, which Deurali Bhitri Community Forest will eventually manage.

HHC-event-Pasang_Rita_Sherpa.jpgSecretary of the Deurali Bhitri Community Forest, Pasang Rita Sherpa, speaking at inaugration event.

Among other guests who spoke at the inauguration ceremony was Red Panda Network (RPN) founder Brian Williams. Brian shared his story of a ten-second interaction as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal that started his journey to save red pandas.

In 2007, Brian Williams founded RPN. Years later, Brian found himself, along with Ramesh Rai, Program Coordinator of Himali Conservation Forum (local partner of RPN)), visiting the site where the Habre Center now stands. They saw the need and potential for a building where local people could access environmental education and resources that support sustinable livelihoods.

RPN founder, Brian Williams and Conservation Program Manager, Sonam Tashi Lama.

"I feel excited that the Habre Center is being completed and happy for the team. It's been a long journey, and it’s an important milestone to show we can complete a project of this magnitude. The next phase is important — to utilize it as a space for education and learning and sustainable building and design. To have a place supporting sustainable living that community members can use for a better future,” said Brian. Watch Brian share the origins of his red panda conservation journey at the Habre Center opening event here!

When Ang Phuri Sherpa, now RPN's Executive Director, joined RPN in 2014, he shared this vision: “I wanted to build an educational center to motivate and inspire people and use sustainable local materials.” Ang Phuri knew Sustainable Mountain Architecture (SMA) would be a perfect fit for this project. Once they developed a design, construction, and implementation plan, the next step was to secure funding.

HHC-Ang.jpgAng Phuri Sherpa, Executive Director for RPN, at Habre Center.

Christer Larson started Nordens Ark in 1987 in Sweden with friends and colleagues. Using their friend's estate as the location of the zoo, they formed a foundation and recruited people who had experience in zoology. "We began participating in breeding programs that were rare in Sweden (many zoos were more like circuses) and the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) as well, " said Christer. They had 35,000 visitors in the first year.

Nordens Ark's holistic approach to conservation prioritizes rear and release, conservation, public education, research, and training that has benefited a wide range of species — including red pandas. Nordens Ark began receiving funds from Svenska Postkodlotteriet (The Swedish Postcode Lottery), which they wanted to earmark for red panda conservation. Christer contacted RPN board member and chair, Angela Glatston, who suggested supporting the Habre Center. Christer and Emma Nygren, Norden's Ark's Director of Conservation, presented to the Svenska Postkodlotteriet to propose support for the Habre Center.

HHC-Christer.jpgFormer Project Leader for Nordens Ark, Christer Larson, in Habre Center.

Emma Nygren shares why she advocated for this project: “This unique center will focus on red panda conservation and sustainable livelihoods. Conservation of endangered species is at the heart of Nordens Ark, and by supporting the construction of this center, we feel that we, together with the Red Panda Network, are making a difference for red pandas.”

The Habre Center will improve local livelihoods by bolstering biodiversity, conservation, and ecotourism. Participants of RPN ecotrips will be able to begin staying at the center in October 2023.

HHC-Emma-Haris-Vinay.jpgLeft to right: Vinay Shrestha of Sustainable Mountain Architecture, RPN's Haris Rai, and Emma Nygren of Nordens Ark.

“I’ve been all over Asia, and I know that if the people living in the area are not involved in the projects, saving the forests or wildlife, you can forget about it — it won’t work," Christer shares.

"They [RPN] work with the communities; they know what to do. If people in Taplejung can have a better life, it will be better for the pandas as well. As a flagship species, it will be better for the environment.”

With the opening of the Habre Center, RPN feels hopeful for the future of people and pandas in Taplejung thanks to the support of Nordens Ark and Svenska Postkodlotteriet.

HHC-event-team.jpgNordens Ark and RPN at Himayalan Habre Center opening on Earth Day!

Read our press release, A Center for Red Panda Conservation and Sustainable Living Opens on Earth Day, and visit the Himalayan Habre Center page to learn more!