AMIT sankhala, encounters asia
How do you feel that your history best prepares you for service on the ATCF Board?
I was born in India and our family has worked in wildlife conservation for 3 generations. Our company, specialises in natural history trips to South Asia and has established 3 wildlife lodes in high density wildlife areas where man animal conflict is on the rise. We started the 'Star Bed' model in India recently, which was a relationship building experience called 'the Guest and the Farmer'. By establishing Star Beds on the fields of farmers, where wildlife frequents, the farmer was made aware that he can earn more money from tourism than farming, which in the near future will result in re-establishing wildlife corridors.
Describe prior experience you have working with nonprofits and conservation groups?
We have established our NGO 'Tiger Trust' in the early 90s to work with the communities in and around national parks. Over time, we have taken this project to give legal training to forest guards and train the first batch of all female staff in recent years. Encouraging local communities to protect the wildlife around them, is essential in today's world. Tourism can play a big part in this and we feel that if the proper training, education and resources are given to local communities, they will step up, to protect the last remaining Tigers of India. I have worked with various non profit / conservation groups through my life. Our businesses, support various organisations on the ground, depending on which area we are working in for that season. For example, for the last 3 years, we have developed relationships with Snow Leopard Conservancy and 17000 Ft, in Ladakh, where we run trips to see Snow Leopards. We work with communities to stay in their homes, while funding organizations like above who are promoting this home stay experience and working in the field of education to train teachers in the remotest part of the Himalayas.
Outline the specific skills you bring or contributions you hope to make to the ATCF Board.
- My experience of working with communities and wildlife.
- My contacts from around the world in the field of Sustainable tourism and Wildlife Conservation.
- My links in organisations like WWF, Panthera, Wildlife Conservation Society, and many such organisations.
- I am going to be sitting on the board of an organisation called Wild Landscapes, whose primary objective would be to set up lodges while working with local communities in major national parks of the US. My contacts there can be beneficial in the long run for ATCF.
Why do you seek a position on the ATCF Board of Directors?
I think, that working with like minded people from around the world leads to common goals. I have traveled throughout the world understanding the relationships of communities and wildlife. Weather it was Brazil, Chile, Namibia, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Norway or my very own India. This has given me wide experience on how different models work and I am eager to share my knowledge with ATCF. There are many organizations doing excellent work worldwide. I want to be able to link them together and to understand each other and see how problem solving can be done while learning from each other. I have already made many such contacts since my 8 years at ATTA and I hope I can grow this network.
Describe any experience with sustainable tourism.
Our lodges were one of the first eco tourism lodges in the country in the late 80s. Using Solar Haart, Solar Cooker, mud and bamboo huts in the early 90s was revolutionary for its time. In recent year, when we set up Jamtara, our entire camp has been set up from reclaimed wood and furniture. The impact on land has been minimal. Working with the local communities in all these areas, has been top priority. From this season, our guests will be given an opportunity to support the local community as well. A chalk board in the main area, will list the present need of the local villages (from new chairs in the school, to a new well for a family), and guests will have the opportunity to donate towards a project. Our travel company, Encounters Asia (also known as Dynamic Tours Pvt Ltd), has been a leader in promoting sustainable practices and is a part of various organizations that do the same. Tiger Trust, is also supported by the travel company which does various field work throughout the country. Currently, very active in the North East of India.
Describe any experience working in fundraising and development.
Being in the conservation world for so long, we have had very good contacts worldwide with like minded people. US Fish and Wildlife was a major partner of Tiger Trust, funding upto 100,000 USD per year for various projects we did. Tiger Foundation, based in Canada, generated over 200,000 USD over the years for our various projects. I was working on a big project with the Animal Wildlife Refuge in the United States recently, to establish India's first community conservancy, but the funding has been majorly cut under the new administration.
Our new partnership with Reliance Foundation, will work together with us, to provide alternate jobs to farming for villagers in the Jamtara area, so we can re-establish much bigger corridors for wildlife. The villagers will get guaranteed income and benefits of learning a new skill which will result in more income in the near future. We want to work towards decreasing the man animal conflict to a minimum. I established a relationship with Born Free in the UK, to raise funds for one of my organisations that I helped set up in the UK called Tiger Nation. This worked like Tiger Diaries, which allowed you to follow specific Tigers in the wild, making them celebrities.
Describe any experience working with indigenous/community groups.
The lodges we run and own, are 99% run by local tribal communities. Jamtara, which was established 3 years ago, in an area where there was no tourism. Man Animal conflict in this area was on the rise and many youth were moving to big city's for work. Our establishment here, has been quite positive, and within 3 years, we have managed to train over 90% of the staff from the local village of Jamtara. They help provide the true farm to table experience and are the best trackers one can find. Similarly, in the Himalayas, we work with the communities in the Ulley village, where they have completely changed their profession to tourism. Living in a remote village, where there are only 5 homes, the severe winter leaves them to hide inside their homes with little opportunity to raise money. We have changed this in the entire village, where we use their homes as a homestay for our snow leopard trips, giving them enough revenue in 3-4 months to sustain them for the entire year. They have learnt the value of protecting this cat, which in the earlier days used to kill their Yak.