Our first Sanctuary is in Bhutan. Its protection was ratified in law by the Bhutanese Government in 2018.
Our other current projects (rather delayed for obvious reasons by Covid) are in Mongolia (working with the eagle hunter community in the West), Kenya (working with the Maasai of the Amboseli/Tsavo ecosystem), Mexico (working with the Mazahua community living in the buffer zone of the Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Michoacan and with the Mayans of the Yucatan), Brazil (working with the Javari of the Amazon) and Ecuador (working in the Choco region). We are also in early stage discussions regarding projects in Japan, New Guinea , Canada and Peru and, importantly, involving ocean communities.
Each of our Sanctuary projects is unique and the requirements of each community very different but a snapshot of our work in each of Bhutan, Mexico, Mongolia and Brazil gives you a flavour of our approach.
1. Bhutan – The Olep community of Rukha
Bhutan’s government and royal family provide a role model in taking a long-term, holistic view on all decision making relating to its people and land and, with 70% of the country required by law to remain under forest cover, it is the only carbon negative country in the world. But Bhutan’s culture is vulnerable and is under threat from climate change and economic pressures. We work with the Olep of Rukha, Bhutan’s oldest indigenous community. Rukha valley is stunningly beautiful and the community is almost entirely self-sufficient in living off the forest and the land. The villagers are proud but fearful of their youth moving away and of their culture dying. Only a handful can still speak the traditional Ole language. It has been an honour to work with the community and to call them our friends. With them, we have created the first dictionary of the Ole language, completed a full survey of the Olep culture and built a community centre that doubles as a homestay to welcome visitors. The Bhutanese government now wants to replicate our Rukha project in 21 other areas.
2. Mexico – The Mazahua of Michoacan
In the state of Michoacan, we are working with the Mazahua community in the town of Crescencio Morales and with ECOLIFE Conservation to protect and promote the Mazahua culture and language. Living in the buffer zone around the famous Monarch Butterfly Reserve, the Mazahua are proud and strong but their land and culture are under great threat. Climate change and economic realities are such that many Mazahua leave to find work in cities and abroad and the forces of commerce, modernity, and deforestation are having a profound effect on the connection of the community to their roots. The culture is stretched and loses relevance and the Mazahua language is increasingly not known by the young. We are creating a community cultural centre in Crescencio Morales as a gathering place for the community and a focus for workshops, crafts, textiles, music and dance, a classroom for teaching the Mazahua language and a vibrant living, breathing destination for locals and tourists to learn about Mazahua culture, the Monarchs and local conservation.
3. Mongolia – The eagle hunters of the West
Our project in Mongolia focuses on the eagle hunters (or falconers, to use the term preferred locally) located in the grasslands of the far West of the country. The community is made up of proud, hardy and family-focused people and to witness the extraordinary relationship between the falconers, their huge golden eagles and their horses is to see something as astonishing as it is unique. Alongside climate change, increased tourism brings its own challenges. International and national agencies attract visitors fascinated by the beauty of the vast Mongolian landscapes and richness of culture but, all too often, the communities receive only the downside of tourism and none of its benefits. We are working with the community and a number of local Mongolian partners to help change that, to help bring eco- and cultural-tourism that brings opportunity and economic advantages and to build a large community centre (in the local style of a ger) to support the community and local conservation and to act as a centre for local tourism.
4. Brazil – The Javari Community of the amazon
We are working with a number of Brazilian and international partners, including Celine Costeau's The Javari Project and Forest Trends, on a project with the Javari community in the Brazilian Amazon. The Vale do Javari covers an area larger than Austria and is the second largest indigenous territory in Brazil. It is also one of the ten irreplaceable areas of the world for its unique values in terms of biodiversity. The community is highly endangered - threatened not only by lack of services, healthcare and education (and badly affected by Covid) but also by illegal logging and mining. The Javari culture and land are both under great duress. We are working with the community to create a community and educational centre and to provide alternative sustainable livelihood support, healthcare support and habitat protection. These remote communities are the natural protectors of their forest but urgently need support - both to protect their culture, knowledge and language and to protect their very home.
“Indigenous people’s rights need to be protected in the best way possible, not just for them but because they are also able to provide solutions to many of the world’s problems - from climate change to biological diversity…They are the most effective stewards of these key areas…The needs of these indigenous people are converging with the wider environmental needs to protect these areas.” Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples