Our first Sanctuary is in Bhutan. Its protection was ratified in law by the Bhutanese Government in 2018.
Our other current projects 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 Mayans of the Yucatan), Brazil (working with the Javari of the Amazon) and Ecuador (working in the Choco region). We have also had early stage discussions regarding projects in Chile, Indonesia, Japan, New Guinea and Polynesia.
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 Kenya 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 Mayan of the Yucatan
In the Yucatan, we are partnering with the Baktun Foundation and TAE to protect and promote Mayan culture and traditional language. Mayan culture is alive and, in some ways, thriving and the Mayan people are proud and strong but the culture is under great threat. Climate change and economic realities are such that many Mayans leave their land to work in Cancun and other cities and the forces of commerce, modernity, population rises and forest degradation are having a profound effect on the connection of young Mayans to their roots. The culture is stretched and loses relevance and the written Mayan language is increasingly not known by the young. We are producing a documentary on the beauty and complexity of Mayan culture and we are building a Living Museum in the centre of Izamal: a gathering place for the community and a focus for workshops, arts and crafts and a living, breathing destination for locals and tourists to learn about Mayan culture.
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 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 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 to act as a centre for local tourism.
4. Kenya – The Maasai of the Amboseli
The Amboseli/Tsavo ecosystem in Maasailand in Kenya, in the shadow of the magnificent Mount Kilimanjaro, is home to about 125,000 Maasai – and some of the most stunning landscapes and vital wildlife in the world. Although the Maasai are well known and while there are many NGOs doing superb work in the area focusing on the urgently needed protection of the land and its populations of lion and elephant, active protection of the Maasai community’s culture and traditional knowledge and of the Maa language is surprisingly absent. As always, preservation and celebration of the local culture and knowledge are a crucial element in protecting the ecosystem. We are working with the elders and the warriors of the Maasai community ranches and with the Big Life Foundation to create a Maasai cultural and language education centre, complete with a photographic and technology centre. Watch this space!
“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