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The Walt Disney Company has selected an outstanding individual for a Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund Conservation Hero award – Red Panda Network’s Community Conservation Coordinator, Damber Bista! Red Panda Network staff caught up with Damber in the field to deliver the news and asked him some candid questions.

RPN: Damber, your Red Panda Network colleagues have always been so proud of you for your ongoing devotion to red panda conservation. Now you have been selected as a 2013 Disney Conservation Hero! How does it feel to be honored by such a prestigious organization?
DB: I am really pleased to be honored with this award. This day has been witnessed because of the joint effort of the entire team, not me alone. Therefore, I would like to share the credit of this achievement with the entire team of RPN -US, Nepal and field partners.

RPN: Thanks Damber, but you earned this one, we think! You live and work in a remote area of eastern Nepal in order to conduct Red Panda Network fieldwork. What is it like to live and work in Taplejung?
DB: It is not trouble free to live in such remote area – being away from family and friends, also being deprived of any regular supply of electricity, drinking water, transportation, unreliable Internet and many other constraints. I remember a day when I had to take a shower with five liters of mineral water, when the regular supply of drinking water was cut off some two years ago.

RPN: What is the most inspiring aspect of your fieldwork? What is the least inspiring aspect of your fieldwork?
DB: Working in the field with the community people and being into the wilderness are the real situations where we could learn the genuine facts of conservation and science. Therefore, I always enjoy such moments. I always take such moments as an opportunity to learn the real facts and needs of the community to foster the conservation outcomes. In contrary, the corruption prevailing within the country creates some hindrances in the conservation endeavors by influencing some authentic people, which is the least inspiring aspect that I have ever realized while working with the community.

RPN: How often do you actually see a red panda? Do you have a story about seeing a red panda in the wild that you would like to share with readers?
DB: The chances of seeing red panda within the wilderness is very much slimmer, however, we could spot them by the tracking their fresh signs left within the forest. Our trained FGs are very smart at spotting them. We see the red panda frequently whenever we go into the forest for monitoring and block establishment. I had recently spotted a red panda in the wilderness in March this year. It was a chilling foggy morning with the visibility around 25 m when we spotted a small red panda cub at 9.03 AM. It was resting on a horizontal branch of Acer campbelli tree. The body was damp when we first observed that individual. It moved slowly towards the tip of the branch after noticing our presence. We observed it for almost four hours and recorded its sleeping, pooping and grooming behavior.

RPN: What is the most challenging aspect of your fieldwork in Nepal? How do you deal with the challenge / those challenges?
DB: The inaccessible topography and the remoteness of the habitat of red panda is the most challenging aspect of field work for this elusive creature. It has been further aggravated by the illiterate and conservative community of the area. The selected community people are trained to work with us. We have to spend our nights in the cattle sheds in such remotely located sites. In some cases, we walk for more than 3-4 hours only to get those locations, work for 3 -4 hours, and again hike for 3-4 hours to get back for the shelter. We only rely on snickers, biscuits, noodles and water for the whole day.

RPN: What is the most significant factor in any wildlife conservation effort and why?
DB: I believe that the contribution of community is of paramount importance in bringing tangible outcome in any conservation effort. Therefore, the project should be designed in such a way so that the community involvement in every stage of the project accomplishment could be ensured, and the community gets significant incentives for their role. Furthermore, the education and outreach activities should also be included along with some alternatives to be provided for the community to cut off their dependencies upon forest resources. Most importantly, it is mandatory to conduct some kind of research activity periodically within the program to assess the effectiveness of the project.

RPN: The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund works to save species and habitats and to connect kids to nature to help develop lifelong conservation values. What activities are you doing in Nepal to connect kids to nature?
DB: We believe in the involvement of youth in nature for the conservation. Therefore, we have so far designed a program to involve the school kids in this conservation initiative. We have recently founded 12 Roots and Shoots Groups in 12 elementary schools of Taplejung District. This network is comprised of more than 180 school kids in Eastern Nepal. We have also organized an Eco trip for each R&S Group to enhance their understanding towards nature. We will be extending this network within the entire Panchthar-Ilam-Taplejung Corridor during the next two years.

RPN: Do you have any advice for conservation students who might like to follow in your footsteps?
DB: The real school of conservation education is the community, apart from the academic studies. Therefore, one should have to go to the community while designing any conservation program, and they should be involved in every stage from the inception to the termination of the project. We should have passion, devotion and willingness to work with the community wherever they are located. Furthermore, the outcome of any conservation project could not be achieved instantly. So, we should have to keep on our efforts by maintaining the patience until the goal is achieved.

RPN: What are you going to do with the cash award that Disney so graciously gave you? What would you like to say to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund about being selected for this award?
DB: I will spend it towards my personal needs and environmental conservation activities. I will support a youth club in my home town for their solid waste management campaign, which will be implemented during the Dashain Festival in November this year. I am very honored to have been selected as a Disney Conservation Hero 2013 of Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF), and I would like to thank DWCF for selecting me for this award. I would also like to share that this award has really inspired me to contribute my best for the conservation of red panda in the wild.

Thank you, Damber, and congratulations!