AMIT sankhala, encounters asia
How do you feel that your history best prepares you for service on the ATCF Board?
I have spent my life exploring wildlife and remote cultural experiences around the world. My interest has always been studying the relationship between communities and the wildlife that lives amongst them. And how, wildlife tourism can be a force for good. I own and run a travel company in the Indian Subcontinent with a focus on natural history and three wilderness lodges in high density wildlife areas where man animal conflicts are common. Our newest camp - Jamtara Wilderness, looks at the very issue of community challenges around wildlife parks. I have been fortunate to be a part of a legacy, where my grandfather was the first director of Project Tiger in India. Hence, all our businesses, reflect the values of sustainability, community partnerships and how we give back to make the world a better place. Our focus last year has been to work together with Snow Leopard Conservancy and establish partnerships with villages so that Snow Leopard Tourism can actually improve the lives in these remote corners of the world. We successfully raised 45,000 USD, half of which was generated through our guests visiting the Himalayas. Our next years focus, will be working with NGO's to expedite compensation for domestic livestock in the central Indian landscape.
Describe prior experience you have working with nonprofits and conservation groups?
I am a Trustee of an organization called Tiger Trust, which was started by my grandfather. Our projects include - legal training workshops for forest guards, education awareness in schools of big city's, women guard training workshops, etc. Primary funding for this organization has been through US Fish and Wildlife Service. I am a board member at Wild Landscapes, which is a US based NGO working on securing larger Acres of wildlife habitat. Majority of the Projects of the organization are in US National Parks and Refuges, but their International Funding goes towards a project in Kaziranga (North East India) and Laikipia (Northern Kenya). The Project is again to work with communities and in Kenya's case Conservancies to secure a greater Habitat for Rhinos.
Recently, Discovery Channel made a film on my grandfather, which I will be taking on a Roadshow this summer to raise awareness and donations for Project CAT, run by Discovery in Far East Russia for the Siberian Tiger.
Outline the specific skills you bring or contributions you hope to make to the ATCF Board.
My experience of working with communities and wildlife. Been fortunate to have traveled to several country's in the world and connect with like minded people. My contacts from around the world in the field of Sustainable tourism and Wildlife Conservation.
Because of my travels and knowledge of various conservation models from around the world, allows me to speak confidently of why different models of conservation are required in different parts of the world. What works in Africa, does not work in India.
I am a part of various communities, either the travel industry, conservation organizations, governmental and non governmental organizations, allowing me to reach out for possible funding which can help with projects around the world.
I am constantly investing in myself, to be involved in conferences, trade shows where new innovative ideas in the field of organization are developed. I have just returned from Conservation Lab in South Africa, where 75 Travel Trade organizations fund 75 conservation leaders for a dialogue on issues surrounding communities and wildlife. Various types of organizations are represented from philanthropic funders, Universities, Conservancy owners, community leaders who have done exceptional work, hunters (As the dialogue should be open to all), etc. My talk at the Lab addressed - What works for Africa, does that work for India?
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 9 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. 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.
I have delivered countless lectures on Sustainable Tourism and have been on many boards that address this issue as well.
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.
Describe any experience working with indigenous/community groups.
We afterwork with Community and Indigenous groups, when forming partnerships for Tourism. Our latest camp, Jamtara Wilderness, works with the community of Jamtara, to address wildlife human conflict, create awareness of how tourism can be used as a tool for job security as the dependence on Farming without proper Irrigation facilities, crop damage from wildlife and unpredictable weather has resulted in big losses. Our relationship with the Snow Leopard Conservancy is an aim to build better community relationships (many which we have already done).