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Nepalese environmentalist wins Whitley Award

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“As we emerge from Covid-19 and take stock of its impact on planetary health as well as our own, this WhitleyAward will allow Sonam to address the issues that have arisen, including increased poaching of a species already critically endangered,” says Danni Parks, WFN Director.

She adds, “The charismatic red panda is a much-loved local icon as well as an international star, and most importantly, this holistic project will also benefit those with whom it shares its home in the forested foothills of the Himalayas.

The elusive Himalayan panda was discovered 50 years before the giant panda and is considered a living fossil. Endemic to the deciduous forests of the eastern Himalayas, with thick bamboo understory and consistently cool temperatures, red pandas are indicators of ecosystem health.

But the Covid-19 pandemic over the past two years has added challenges to their conservation and caused an increase in poaching with 37 skins confiscated from the black market in 2021. Estimates suggest 1 red panda is poached every 10 days in Nepal.

Habitat loss is worsening conditions for the remaining 10,000 adult individuals, with deforestation rates more than double the national average and forests now so severely fragmented that genetic inbreeding is likely.