Alumnus given accolade for panda conservation work

04 May 2022 | News

Lincoln alumnus Sonam Lama’s fight to save the critically endangered red panda has been recognised internationally and given a financial boost.

The Nepalese conservationist, Master of International Nature Conservation graduate and former Lincoln University Mingma Norbu Sherpa Memorial Scholar, has won a Whitley Award worth £40,000 (NZD $77452) from United Kingdom conservation charity, the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN).

Sonam's work with Nepal's Red Panda Network, an NGO dedicated to the conservation of wild red pandas, involves monitoring 10 of the animals using GPS-collars.

His degree research in 2018 involved working with agencies in Nepal to capture images of red pandas using motion-activated fixed cameras so that he could analyse their seasonal activity patterns.

The Whitley Award is a world-leading prize for wildlife conservation and recognises his efforts in training 100 citizen scientists to help restore red panda habitat. It also offers an investment into red panda eco-tourism to provide income for local people.

It was presented to Sonam and five other conservationists on 27 April in London by WFN Patron, HRH The Princess Royal.

Sonam will use his Whitley Award to diversify income sources for communities, particularly women and young people, through forest conservation nurseries and restoration to create a wildlife corridor that connects habitat for red pandas.

He will also establish community-led anti-poaching patrols and awareness-raising campaigns. When COVID hit, there was a surge in poaching, and in 2021, record numbers of illegal red panda pelts were seized, with the habitat for the species fragmented into over 400 isolated patches.

 "The goal of the project is red panda conservation but it is equally important to address the livelihood needs of communities," Sonam said.

A short video about Sonam's work, narrated by iconic broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, has been released by the Whitley Fund for Nature. 

Sonom receives his award from WFN Patron, HRH The Princess Royal.

Sonam with GPS-collared red panda, Ngima.

Photos supplied by Ashley Bowen and the Red Panda Network.