Ximena Velez-Liendo, 2017 Whitley Award Winner 

“A bear called Paddington tells the story of a bear who moved to the UK after losing his home in the forests of darkest Peru. With this story Paddington won the hearts of the world. I didn’t know about this bear until I too emigrated from the darkest forests of Bolivia and also became a fan of marmalade! The first time I saw a bear in the wild was, and still is, one of the most memorable moments of my life. I was in the middle of the cloud forest looking for Andean bear droppings and then I saw a bear! Scared, I didn’t know what to do … should I run, take photographs, or notes? But in the end, I did nothing, I just looked at the bear and at that moment I knew I would study bears.

Since then, I have learnt that the only chance this bear, and its habitat has lies in the hands of the people; of you, me and the people who live with the bear on a daily basis.  I started with the story of Paddington for one reason – he ended up homeless. My work, with the support of Whitley and Savitri, will allow us to protect his home and better understand human-bear conflict, so his clan will remain in the darkest forests of Bolivia and our children will I hope one day, get the same goose bumps I got when I saw the first bear in the wild.”

"Coexistence with large carnivores is possible when conservation efforts are initiated and owned by local people" Ximena Velez-Liendo


Maithly and Chaina 

Maithly and Chaina were poor farm labourers, owning a small area of land in their village Juna Gaon. Due to the lack of irrigation, they were unable to take crops on their field and so mortgaged their land and migrated to an urban town, where they started doing daily waged manual labour to survive and to pay back their heavy debt from the mortgage of Rs. 20,000. Living hand to mouth, they were only able to purchase their rent each day at a time and any leftover money was used for food. They lived like this for over 10 years, spending 8-10 months away from their home. Their three children missed out on years of school in order to help them earn a living for the family. Last summer Maithly attended a local meeting and was successfully granted a new dug-well. This has completely transformed their lives. Not only are Maithly and Chaina able to grow three crops on this land per year, but they are also cultivating fruit and vegetables to generate further income and keep their family secure. They also happily report that their children are now attending school.

“Before this water user group, we were lonely, we worked in isolation – now we work together it’s much better, its improved our spirits.