39 years protecting everything from the arts to the Artic

We just celebrated a special anniversary in the history of the conservation movement. On November 16th, 1972 the UNESCO General Conference adopted the World Heritage Convention (WHC). The Convention was a unique undertaking combining cultural conservation with nature conservation. By doing so it recognised the way in which people interact with nature, and the fundamental need to preserve the balance between the two. Since its ratification the organisation has inscribed 936 sites onto the World Heritage List and gained 188 members.

I joined the International Fund for Animal Welfare three years ago, just as the Convention was marking its 36th anniversary and was lucky enough to visit IFAW’s projects at the World Heritage Manas Wildlife Sanctuary in India soon after.

Manas has a troubled history. From the late 1980s to the early 1990s it was subject to a local insurgency which greatly impacted its forest and wildlife populations. Poaching was so severe that the populations of species such as swamp deer and rhinos were said to be locally extinct. This led in 1992 to the Sanctuary being placed on the WHC Danger List.

IFAW has been leading the fight to bring Manas back to its former glory. Taking on board the WHCs core belief to combine cultural conservation with nature conservation, in 2005 IFAW formed a 3-year partnership with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), the Bodoland Territorial Council and the British High Commission to nurture the rich conservation traditions of the Bodos. This partnership culminated in the creation of “Greater Manas” in 2008, which doubled the park’s area.

During this period IFAW/WTI rehabilitated and translocated rhinos, elephants, clouded leopards and even a tiger. We also trained and equipped frontline forest guards and anti-poaching staff as well as providing villagers with electric fences to keep animals off their fields, helping in turn to gain local support.

I was fortunate to see this work first hand and meet with those who worked so hard to bring Manas back to its former glory. Their passion and the hardships they undertook instilled in me a desire to help. That is why I was pleased to be asked to represent IFAW at the 35th UNESCO World Heritage Convention meeting in Paris this year when it unanimously voted to remove Manas from the “Heritage in danger” list.

The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, said this month, "Heritage stands at the crossroads of climate change, social transformations and processes of reconciliation between peoples. Heritage carries high stakes - for the identity and belonging of peoples, for the sustainable economic and social development of communities."

As I mark my 3rd anniversary at IFAW and the WHC approaches its 40th, I cannot help but think the approach taken to help Manas epitomises what the WHC is all about and shows how these words can be put into practice. The local Bodo people have returned to their historical role as the keepers of the wildlife. Where once they poached the animals they now risk their lives trying to protect their natural heritage.

-- SS

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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
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Tania McCrea-Steele, Campaigns and Enforcement Manager, IFAW UK
Campaigns and Enforcement Manager, IFAW UK
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
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