2017 WCN Scholar: Suraj Upadhaya
Having grown up in rural Nepal, surrounded by mountains and forests, Suraj felt a special bond with nature at a very young age. This led to him eventually pursuing a career in environmental conservation. In the late 1990s, he got his first break in conservation as the junior ranger at the Shey Phoksundo National Park in Nepal—the largest and only trans-Himalayan national park in Nepal, rich in wildlife, including the elusive snow leopard—which our partners at the Snow Leopard Conservancy started supporting not long afterwards.
Suraj became particularly enamored with the snow leopard, a keystone species with a wide reach throughout the Nepalese environment. He graduated at the top of his class in forestry at the Institute of Forestry in Nepal, and then went on to conduct his undergraduate thesis on snow leopard predator-prey dynamics at the Kathmandu Forestry College. He received his Master’s in Forestry from the University of Kentucky in the United States and is now pursuing his PhD in the Integrative Conservation of Nature (ICON) at the University of Georgia. Suraj plans to dedicate his life and research to the protection of wildlife and nature, especially in the rural, remote areas of Nepal that are as yet largely unexplored, but incredibly important biodiversity hotspots.
He works closely with the local community in Nepal, and trains local livestock herders in the proper ways to protect their herds from snow leopard attacks, in this way helping to mitigate human-snow leopard conflict. In addition, he is actively engaged in nurturing and encouraging a spirit of conservation among local youth groups, through his role as the Executive Director of Youth for Nature-Dolpa—an organization established and organized by young people interested in nature and conservation.
Suraj is especially interested in advancing wildlife based ecotourism in Nepal by involving local households and communities through partnerships with the government and NGOs like the Snow Leopard Conservancy. He plans to continue focusing his efforts on the snow leopard and it’s habitat in Nepal long after he completes his PhD. As a strong leader and team player who thrives in a variety of cultural environments, there’s no doubt in our minds that he will play a key role in fostering the long-term conservation of the alpine and forest ecosystem of Nepal, including the neglected, remote districts like Dolpa and Mugu which compromises the best snow leopard habitat in the Himalayan country of Nepal.