Rolex Award for Enterprise for the year 2021 has gone to Rinzin Phunjok Lama for his valuable contribution to local biodiversity conservation in Nepal’s Trans Himalaya.
Lama was among the first person to take up the challenge of leadership when 23 leaders of the Nepalese conservation lost their lives in a helicopter crash.
Lama currently leads the conservation efforts in one of the most isolated places in the world, the Himalayan district of Humla in Nepal.
The young ecologist Lama says he is convinced that only local commitment can make a real difference.
“Humla is one of the most remote, rich, and beautiful landscapes, in terms of biodiversity [inspired by] the Buddhist philosophy that promotes compassion, coexistence [and] a well-balanced relationship between humans and nature. Ever since I saw the snow leopard, a mysterious and mythical species, I was inspired to conserve the mountain environment,” he says.
Lama has made it the mission of his life to protect the endangered animals including the snow leopard, the Himalayan wolf, Himalayan Black bear, Wild yak, Tibetan Kiang, and Kasturi (the musk deer).
Lama says he was inspired to conserve the mountain environment ever since he saw the fabled Snow Leopard.
“Ever since I saw the snow leopard, a mysterious and mythical species, I was inspired to conserve the mountain environment,” he says.
“Yet the Trans-Himalayan ecosystem is very fragile and the growth in human activities is a constant threat. There is an urgent need for conservation projects which provide an integrated approach to both conservation and livelihood,” he adds.
His idea of community-based conservation hands the power and responsibility to solve the problems to the local people. He says it challenges them to become better stewards of both farmed land and wilderness.
He aims to use this as a focus to promote local leadership, local business, and government ownership and so build more resilient and self-reliant mountain communities.
He has a core of similarly minded youths, to engage with local intuitions, youth clubs, and women clubs to spread awareness and to educate, engage and mobilize, as it puts it.
His multifaceted approach also includes training locals in law enforcement to prevent poaching, forest fires, and illegal logging while also equipping others to established eco-based businesses which draw on natural assets of the region such as herbal products, traditional apparel, trekking, and ecotourism. The economic aspect has been mainly focused on empowering the local women.
Lama and his young and trained conservationists also use field surveys and camera traps to establish population baselines for most imperiled wild animals for monitoring of their number and to observe how they respond to the new measures.
“I want to show that, if given the opportunity, local people can lead exceptionally and are capable of managing large-scale conservation projects and community engagement, as true stewards of the land,” he says.