THE VOICES OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES & LOCAL COMMUNITIES
WCS Conservation Hero: Dorje Jyal/China
December 2, 2022
Dorje Jyal was born and raised in a rural Tibetan community. “All the memories I have about my childhood are the stories between nature, humans, and wildlife. I still remember when I was around five, my grandparents showed me all these wild animals and taught me math foundations. Like, ‘that’s one animal, two birds, three birds’…So since I was a kid, my mind has been hardwired with wildlife,” he says.
In 2007, after being away for nearly six years, Dorje returned home to visit his grandparents. He was shocked to discover it had drastically changed due to urbanization. Dorje became increasingly interested in what was happening and who was in charge of these modern developments. “Because I had all these curious questions in my mind,” he says, “I wanted to learn about conservation when I was applying for universities. [However], it is challenging for Tibetan students to get into science universities, so I thought learning English might give me a better chance to study in this field.”
After obtaining an associates degree in English, Dorje applied to be a research assistant on a grassland degradation project. His proficiency in English, Mandarin, and Tibetan gave him an edge and landed the job.
Four years of grassland conservation work stirred up more curiosity in Dorje. He was eager to learn more about the interplay between policy, wildlife conservation, and human behavior. “All these questions came to me…so I tried to seek more opportunities with scientists from overseas and from China, and try to learn from [them],” he says.
Dorje met field biologist and WCS senior conservationist George Schaller when he was conducting a research project on snow leopards in Qaidam Basin. Dorje became his assistant and interpreter.
That’s when Dorje met George Schaller. The field biologist and WCS senior conservationist was conducting a research project on snow leopards in Qaidam Basin. Dorje became his assistant and interpreter. After just one month of field work, George recommended him to WCS and in 2016, Dorje became the senior program officer of WCS on the Tibetan Plateau.
During Dorje’s time with WCS, he played a vital role in protecting the area’s management, research, and human and wildlife conflicts. He also trained rangers in wildlife monitoring and data collections.
Dorje recalls an especially exceptional training experience he had: “I saw the power of capacity building after our team trained six community rangers. They expanded our 500 square kilometers of snow leopard research site into 2,500 square kilometers within a week…It was so impressive to see their skills and abilities. These rangers received the sixth Wildlife Defenders award from the National Forestry Bureau. How amazing is that? Local people are able to collect data by themselves if given the opportunity.”
“Every single moment I spent with my coworkers, observing the beauty of wildlife or through interactions with local communities, became a sources of my knowledge.”
While Dorje has many more amazing stories of his time working with WCS, he valued all parts of his position. “Every single moment that I spent and enjoyed with my coworkers, observing the beauty of wildlife, or interactions with local communities, these are sources of my knowledge, and forces of my conservation career,” he says.
According to Dorje, it’s always easier to advise others what to do and what not to do in the context of conservation. But when it comes to coexisting with wildlife, he believes that Indigenous Peoples and local communities are the experts. “As a Tibetan, I would say local Tibetans found [a] sustainable way to live for thousands of years, not only in terms of land and resource management, but also sharing one’s habitat with surrounding beings,” he says.
Like local Tibetans, Dorje recommends that all people consider implementing traditional lifestyle and conservation practices. “It doesn’t mean to keep ancient hunting and gathering lifestyles, but lead a life that includes positive traditional practices.”
All photos courtesy Dorje Jyal.