Read on as he shares some of the more ground level challenges faced in undertaking these initiatives.
OPR: How challenging has funding been for the project, more so, it is involved around a species not many know about?
Neahga: Funding is always a challenge. We have been fortunate that to date we have been sponsored by several organizations in Germany, namely the Allwetterzoo in Münster and ZGAP (Zoologische Gesellschaft für Arten- und Populationsschutz). We periodically receive one-time donations from other sources, but it is a bit difficult for us to receive those as people often want their donations to count against their taxes. For that to be the case you need to have your organization registered in the relevant country with a tax-free status, a 501(c)3 status in the US for example. That’s something that’s currently beyond what we can do, despite the fact that it would be of great benefit to the conservation work here and reduce the financial stress on our primary supporters in Germany as well.
In terms of support from Vietnamese agencies, that’s primarily political, not economic. We couldn’t do the work we do without their support or approval, and many of the Vietnamese organizations we work with try to make it easy for us to do so, but there is no economic support from them.
OPR: How can one get involved with the project? And when’s the best time to visit to catch a glimpse of the Cat Ba Langur?
Neahga: One of the hard truths of organizations like ours is that having volunteers or some sort of short term involvement is very costly to the organization both in terms of money and in terms of loss of staff work. This is part of why many places that do accept volunteers charge extremely high fees or require a very long period of involvement. You have to train volunteers which takes staff to do so, things like insurance/liability, housing logistics, transportation, etc all take a lot of time and resources, especially in a place like Cat Ba. For in-site projects like ours it’s additionally complicated because volunteers inevitably have an expectation that they will “work with the animals” or at least participate in fieldwork. We don’t work with captive animals, and fieldwork requires boats and one of our staff as a driver. We have tried having volunteers in the past, but it’s generally been a disappointing experience both for us and for the volunteer, with a few notable exceptions.
Due to the critically low population of Cat Ba Langurs all tourism of langurs is banned and it is illegal to go out looking for them or to offer tour services advertising that. That said, some of the kayaking trips do go near where one of the langur group lives and people sometimes see them there. Additionally, when boats leave the harbor for tours into Lan Ha Bay sometimes people see the langurs on the cliffs.
If langurs are seen the policy is the remain at least 50 horizontal meters away, stay quiet, and do not use any flash photography. If the langurs come closer that’s fine, but no-one should move closer on their own. Additionally, in langur areas the land is off limits, no going onto the beaches or climbing on the rocks in langur areas. People are always welcome to visit the project and see what we are up to. We are always happy to talk with people about their area, our work, and issues both here and elsewhere.
OPR: Personally, you’ve been involved with conservation for a long time. A message you’d like to share with people involved in conservation projects.
Neahga: Keep fighting the good fight and don’t lose hope. All of us in conservation need to support each other, but sometimes politics get in the way and competition for funds and recognition can lead to poor relations between organizations.
We need to keep in mind that we are all working for the same end goal and that infighting only damages both our work and our reputations.
For people not directly involved in conservation, but who want to do something that contributes I’d suggest two things. One, you will have the biggest effect by doing things locally and setting an example in your community. Using native plants for landscaping and gardening, for example, volunteering with local organizations like museums, restoration projects, etc. Paying attention to and getting involved in local politics and encouraging science based education are all vital. Second, if you want to donate money to a project, your money will go much further and have a much bigger impact if it goes to those smaller organizations that are working in local areas around the world. If you are traveling to an area and want to support a project you’ve heard about, contact them and ask if there is any equipment they need that you might be able to bring. Often certain pieces of equipment are extremely difficult to get or very costly in the sorts of areas and countries we work and someone coming from Europe, Australia, or the Americas can get them for a much lower price and more easily. In our case things like waterproof binoculars, GPS units, camera gear, etc are always needed.
OPR: Finally, what’s your favorite travel destination and something Sustainability focused that you like about the place?
Neahga: I don’t think I have a favorite travel destination. There are so many interesting places and each of those places has something unique that sets it apart from other areas. Often the places I go are not ones that are known for their ecologically aware mindset or for sustainability. In many cases it’s the opposite in fact.
It does seem that, despite all of the problems the world is facing (or perhaps because of those problems), more and more local people around the world are concerned for the environment and are trying to do something about it. Almost everyone who is being honest with themselves can see that there have been big changes in the environment during their lives, and that those changes have generally been for the worse. Increasingly a portion of the population is realizing that they can’t sit and wait for someone else or for the government to fix things, they must do it themselves. This is encouraging and provides some hope, especially in areas where the outlook is pretty bleak otherwise.
Image of the Cat Ba Langur included within the introduction to the post is credited to Neahga Leonard.
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