Bhutanese wildlife biologist wins Whitley Award for his efforts to save Gee’s golden langur

Kuenzang Dorji, a wildlife biologist at the Royal Society for Protection of Nature, has received the prestigious Whitley Award in London for safeguarding the endangered Gee’s golden langur and addressing human-wildlife conflict. He is among the seven conservationists selected from more than a hundred applications worldwide this year. The award, often referred to as ‘Green Oscars’ was presented yesterday with each winner receiving £ 50,000 to expand their conservation efforts globally. 

Bhutan’s rapid development has brought wildlife in closer contact with humans. But when wildlife and humans struggle to coexist, it’s important to find ways for peaceful cohabitation.

At the centre of this dispute comes Kuenzang Dorji, who is studying one species, the Gee’s golden langur. Pushed into close contact with people due to development, the langurs now take advantage of crops, costing farmers up to 70 per cent of their yields.

“Putting in the shoes of the local people, I can feel how frustrating life is in the middle of the forest.”

But the langurs themselves are under threat. Living alongside humans has made the monkeys victims of powerline electrocution and roadkill. This human-wildlife conflict led him to develop an ingenious solution, which reduced the amount of crop damage by the langurs up to a certain extent.

“The mechanism is very simple. It’s a tiger with an inbuilt predator voice. Some monkeys are very smart. Around three to four months later, they knew it was not a real tiger. And then we have to improve.”

With his Whitley Award, Kuenzang and his team at the RSPN will keep innovating their repellants and address the increasing conflict by redefining the role of local people in conservation efforts in the country.

Communities will help gather critical data to better understand the langur’s behavioural patterns. Kuenzang will also train 30 locals and foresters in primate survey and social research and will provide fellowships to five students who are keen to pursue research in primatology.

Princess Royal Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise of the British Royal Family presented the award to Kuenzang during the ceremony.

“Now, I can contribute more and help golden langurs. They are under threat from climate change as it drives them to agricultural areas. In such an era, I believe that empowering local communities to embrace the practical interventions and then take collective responsibility for conservation is imperative for us to coexist alongside wild life.”

Kuenzang plans to expand his initiatives to six districts of Zhemgang, Wangdue Phodrang, Tsirang, Dagana, Sarpang, and Trongsa, where langurs are found in the country.

Whitley Awards are awarded annually to individuals from low and middle-income countries by the UK-based conservation charity, the Whitley Fund for Nature.

Rebecca Pradhan was the first Bhutanese to win the Whitley Award in 2008.

Karma Samten Wangda

Edited by Sonam Pem

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