Many villagers live their lives around national parks, but almost none of them are allowed to visit the protected mountains nearby. In other words, what they know and how they feel about their neighboring national park is mostly based on what they see on TV rather than on first-hand experience. The resulting lack of understanding can cause resentment among people if they feel that their right to explore the countryside around them is not being respected. This in turn can be the basis for serious conflict between conservation agencies and communities all around the world.
At Project Future4Leopards we are pursuing a different approach. Our view is that as long as people have no sense of what exists in their own backyard they will not be willing, let alone able, to protect the wildlife with which they share their natural environment. Thus, there is a need for local people to get to know the national park in their area (although we do have be careful that poachers don’t accompany such trips as fake visitors!). In spring 2017, more than 250 local school kids and their teachers from 12 main villages around Tandoureh National Park were invited by the Project to visit the park. During what would have been a once in a lifetime experience for many of these children they visited the park’s visitor center, where a collection of the park’s animals is exhibited. Then they were taken on an excursion into the park to see a waterhole and places where we captured one of our leopards. Eco-trips like this are an important part of our outreach programs because they give locals not only awareness and information but, more importantly, a passion for nature and the natural surroundings in which they coexist with leopards and other animals.