Langur monkeys waiting next to prayer flags in Bhutan. [Image: Jacob Maentz / Getty Images]

Six Bhutanese Scientists are Winners of USAID Grant to Collaborate on Conservation Research with US Universities


On February 1, USAID provided $500,000 to six Bhutanese scientists to work on projects focused on conservation, food security, and climate change with US-based researchers. USAID provided the funds through the Partnership for Enhanced Engagement in Research Program (PEER), grant program.

In 2011, USAID and the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine initiated PEER. Over the years, PEER has funded over 400 scientists, of which 156 were women. Through these funds, PEER seeks to support capacity building by allowing the scientists in developing countries to work on development issues while collaborating with United States-based researchers. This year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine collaborated with the Bhutan Foundation to provide PEER grants to six Bhutanese scientists.

The scientists will work with US institutions such as the University of Montana, Yale University, Michigan Technology University, Brigham Young University, and Central Washington University. Kuenzang Dorji is an example of a grant recipient.

Dorji will work with Lori K. Sheeran, a researcher at Central Washington University, to build a harmonious human-primate society. Sheeran, whose areas of expertise are in wildlife conservation, endangered species, and behavioral ecology, previously worked with Dorji in Bhutan on a project regarding golden langur winter sleeping sites. In their second collaboration, Dorji and Sheeran will further their study on golden langurs but with a focus on conservation.

Bhutan is a small, landlocked country located in the eastern Himalayas between China and India with a population of 754,000 people. Bhutan prioritizes environmental conservation and has 51% of its land protected, the largest of any Asian country.

Dorji and Sheeran’s project, Building a Harmonious Human-Primate Society: A Citizen Science Primates Conservation Research in Bhutan, intends to balance farmer and langur needs. Previous research indicated local Bhutanese often interfere with primates, and vice versa. This causes damage in crops and high mortality in primates like golden langur. The project will address these issues by including several conservation approaches.

Due to the lack of data on the abundance of primates in the area, Dorji’s project will conduct a nationwide census of Bhutan’s primates, focusing particularly on the golden langur species. Once the data is gathered, the goal of the study is to minimize human-primate interference. To accomplish this, the study will implement changes such as adding species protection activities in certain areas. The study will also be able to apply these practices for six other primate species in other regions in Bhutan.

To spread awareness for conserving biodiversity in the area, the project also seeks to teach conservation principles to school children, and to adults by association. In addition to engaging children and parents, the project will designate rural Bhutanese women as conservation ambassadors and include monks to advocate for social and environmental programs by instilling their harmonious view of nature to the local communities.

This project will further contribute to conservation efforts in Bhutan and US-Bhutan research collaboration. By solving the human-primate confrontation, Dorji and Sheeran’s project will protect primates as well as enhance the development of the local communities.

Ruivaldo F. Viana is a participant of the Young Professional Program at the East-West Center in Washington D.C. He is a senior undergraduate student at Luther College studying Economics with a focus on Environmental Policy.