As a child, Sonam had to walk miles to simply reach his local school. Hailing from a remote village in Eastern Nepal provided him with few avenues for education and even fewer modern conveniences. When the WWF came to his village, bringing a conservation education program with them, he found himself instantly fascinated. After graduating with a degree in Forestry, Sonam was fortunate to receive an opportunity to work with the same project of WWF in his village, where his work eventually led him to discovering the red panda. Sonam was hooked and soon joined the fledgling Red Panda Network during its inception in Nepal in 2006.
He became responsible for training red panda ‘forest guardians,’ who patrolled the forests and have managed to successfully catch poachers in action. The program grew from just ten guardians to 54 forest guardians today. Sonam also worked extensively with citizen scientists to teach them successful monitoring techniques and gather valuable data about endangered species throughout Nepal, and he will now further his studies on the illegal poaching and health aspects of wild red panda in Nepal through a masters’ degree program between Lincoln University in New Zealand and the University of Gottingen in Germany.
Through his work, Sonam has gained a deeper understanding of the critical role the local communities play in the conservation of species and habitats. Having come from a position where he grew up knowing very little about this himself, Sonam eventually wants to create eco-tourism programs to benefit the local villages and give them an incentive to be involved in conservation efforts, both as a means to save the planet and to provide them with a valuable form of income, far more than poaching would provide. One day, he hopes to also receive his PhD, and we have no doubt that he will.