Neahga Leonard, Director, Cat Ba Conservation Project
An incredible interview straight from the field. Neagha Leonard and his team are fighting to help preserve not only the Cat Ba Langur, but all the biodiversity of the Cat Ba Island and region. While Neahga grew up in the United States, he is indeed a world citizen. Below are excerpts taken from his biography from the University of Vermont where Neahga attended graduate school.
Neahga’s passion for environmental conservation grew out of a childhood spent close to the natural world in coastal northern California. His family frequently moved around the state and traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada during his youth.
“My exposure to a wide range of environments and ecosystems helped instill in me a good eye for patterns and relationships, seeing how things fit together, often in a similar way from one environment to another,” says Neahga.
Neahga turned his keen eye and passion for the environment into a Master’s degree from the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources in the University of Vermont’s Field Naturalist and Ecological Planning program. The unique curriculum matches students with real world partners and conservation projects. Neahga partnered with Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to develop a protocol to monitor rare plant species and changes in their distributions attributed to climate change.
From Vermont to Vietnam, Neahga transferred his lessons in wildlife and habitat conservation to help in the fight to save the rarest primate in Vietnam and the third rarest in the world. A leaf-eating, tree- and cave-dwelling monkey, the Cat Ba langur, lives on the steep limestone karsts and in the dense interior jungle of the island in several isolated sub-populations.
Neahga battles overhunting of the langur for traditional medicine and sport, poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation, development, and poorly regulated tourism. He spends much of his time building long-term working relationships with local stakeholders, politicians, and government agencies.
“People are the most important part of conservation,” states Neahga. “Much of the job of conservation is to get people to change their behaviors and to convince government officials of the importance of conserving biodiversity.”
In Vietnam, rampant poaching of almost all plants and animal species has resulted in rapid biodiversity loss. Neahga supervises a team of four project staff who run regular monitoring patrols in Special Protected Areas of the island, assist Cat Ba National Park rangers, and coordinate with local citizens and landowners who help to keep people out of sensitive langur areas.
Outside of the Special Protected Areas, Neahga and his staff run three anti-poaching teams that go into the forest up to 22 times each month to collect and destroy illegal traps. These teams are made up of local villagers, unassociated with the park, many of whom are reformed hunters who also provide a vehicle for adult education in the villages.
“Our goal is to restore the Cat Ba langur population to a long-term viable number and to maintain the rich biodiversity of Cat Ba Island into the future,” says Neahga. “For me, this project is important more for how the conservation actions provide a window into the larger conservation issues of the region and offer a bit of leverage to address those issues.”
Thank you, Neahga Leonard, for such an insightful interview and we hope it inspires everyone who listens to participate in environmental conservation in their own way.