In the lush, verdant landscapes of the Western Himalayas, where human settlements intertwine with dense forests inhabited by majestic creatures like tigers and langurs, Trisa Bhattacharjee is on a mission to create harmony between human and animal communities. 

When humans negatively affect the needs of wildlife, or when the needs of wildlife negatively affect humans, we speak of human–wildlife conflict. In the Western Himalayan region of India, where the majority of the population lives close to and shares spaces with animals, this is a major challenge. Take tigers. Every year, both humans and animals die because of human-tiger conflict. Here, our intrepid Fellow Trisa wanted to provide a solution with a “conflict zone map”. Her initiative aimed to create mitigation models that will reduce negative interactions, and restore India’s tiger populations.

Her journey so far

The young changemaker – who gained experience with conservation NGOs and worked across India — studies the perceptions of all stakeholders, looks into invasive populations,researches biodiversity and prey-predator ratios. 

Trisa’s passion for ecology led her to pursue a master’s degree, but it was during an internship in 2021 that she truly found her calling in conservation. Immersed in projects focused on communities facing daily conflicts with wildlife, Trisa witnessed firsthand the complex dynamics at play. She realized that conservation efforts often overlooked the voices and needs of the local communities, leading to friction and ineffective solutions.

Determined to make a difference, Trisa embarked on a path to bridge the gap between policymakers, conservationists, and the communities directly impacted by wildlife conservation efforts. Her approach is grounded in understanding the perceptions and aspirations of the people she seeks to help.

How Trisa is taking her mission to another level

We’re delighted to witness Trisa’s rise, as she was recently awarded a grant to help launch one of her key initiatives which involves conducting perception studies to gauge the sentiments of local communities towards wildlife conservation measures. Armed with this knowledge, she aims to involve these communities in the decision-making processes and empower them to become stewards of their natural surroundings.

Trisa’s work extends beyond research and advocacy; she actively seeks to improve the livelihoods of marginalized communities living in wildlife habitats. By identifying economic opportunities such as artisanal crafts and creating markets for local products, she hopes to alleviate poverty while reducing human-wildlife conflicts.

Trisa also became a Restoration Steward as part of the Global Landscapes Forum, through which she began working on the  Himalayan Langur Project, aimed at conserving the endangered Chamba Sacred Langur. Through years of community engagement and education, Trisa and her team have successfully rallied local support for forest restoration efforts, showcasing the transformative power of grassroots initiatives.

She talked about equipping local communities with the education and tools to lead the conservation effort themselves; 

‘’So there will always be people who will love the tigers and langurs and who love their region. So my idea is to reach these people and teach them why and how they can conserve the animal. Because they are locals, local people tend to listen to them more than they would listen to an outsider like me. So it’s about training these people and involving the communities affected the most.’’

Through their collaboration they were able to secure a major win for the reforestation of the region; 

‘’So my team spent eight years collaborating with and educating the people and helping them understand  why forests are important for humans and animals. Last year we were so lucky because 28 villages came to us and told us they wanted to give us 860 hectares of our farmland to convert back into forestland. They gave it to us and they told us we don’t want anything from you in return. We have never forced them for anything. So this gives me hope that if you can make people realize that they are the ones who can bring the change, the world, the power and if you give the onus they will engage in a profound way.’’

Implementing learning into her practice

Trisa also discussed how the bV program helped her on her path to securing funding and turning her goals into a reality; ‘’So one of the most important things was when we had our Regional Summits, I met people who have similar viewpoints. Everyone wants to bring climate action, but through different areas. The goal is the same, but the paths are different for all of us. And then by interacting, some of them were doing PhD, some of them wanted to do funded programs. So that helped me form a group of like minded friends who were always there to bounce ideas off of, inspire me, push me.’’

She also shared how the module on personal sustainability helped her deliver her core messaging and pitch her idea and herself for funding opportunities. ‘’There were a lot of classes that were planned in that module that were very helpful in writing my letter of interest and planning the entire application where I had to pitch my project. So, yeah, that section was very helpful in making me write that pitch.’’

Looking towards the future

Despite facing numerous challenges, including limited funding and logistical hurdles, Trisa remains steadfast in her commitment to conservation. Recently securing 3,000 euros in funding, she plans to further her research while simultaneously investing in community development initiatives.

Trisa’s story is a testament to the profound impact that individuals can have when driven by passion and purpose. As she continues her journey, Trisa embodies the spirit of collaboration and resilience, striving to create a world where humans and wildlife coexist harmoniously.

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