South-east Asia is home to exceptionally rich biodiversity but many of the region’s vertebrate species are at risk of extinction. The IUCN SSC Asian Species Action Partnership (ASAP) is a partnership platform with over 200 organisations (ASAP Partners) with the collective aim of halting species extinctions in South-east Asia.

A key part of ASAP’s mission is to strengthen capacity to equip its partners with crucial skills and resources to conserve species. Animal groups such as freshwater fish, of which over 90 species are Critically Endangered in South-east Asia, the highest number of any major taxa in the region, have almost no targeted conservation action. Equipping conservationists with the capabilities to design, implement, and manage effective conservation programmes is essential for species recovery. We carried out desk-based research and consulted with conservation practitioners across the region to understand capacity needs and gaps. We also identified training opportunities and competences (e.g. knowledge, skills, abilities) needed for species conservation. This knowledge is crucial to guide the development and mobilisation of resources for strategic and sustainable regional initiatives.

Internal training session at Save Vietnam’s Wildlife. Photo: SVW/Ho Thi Kim Lan

We found a strong interest in professional development for conservationists in South-east Asia. However, opportunities tend to have a broader target audience, occur inconsistently across the region, be highly competitive and primarily in English. In line with other studies, there is a mismatch between the training available and the diversity of competences required to deal with the complexity of conservation, as well as those fundamental to plan and deliver effective programmes. Species biology and conservation research tend to dominate training agendas, often with limited reference to leadership and management competencies. Rarer still are training opportunities which address individual adaptive competences such as flexibility, resilience, as well as how to keep updated with current knowledge and skills.

ASAP Women in Conservation Leadership Programme participant, Lan Ho from Save Vietnam’s Wildlife. Photo: Lan Ho

Regionally, it is imperative to focus on priority needs that are not readily available, support delivery in local languages to increase accessibility, whilst recognising the need for enhanced English language skills to facilitate access to international opportunities. Location of training may be a barrier to participation, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made way for creative online and blended learning approaches. Short courses can combat time constraints, but longer-term support including mentoring and peer-to-peer learning can enhance application and retention. Encouraging a learning culture within organisations is vital for improvement of individual and organisational performance, and to ensure transfer of individual learning outcomes to the wider organisation. The importance of shared learning is equally true of those funding and implementing capacity development for conservation. The pandemic has tested the resilience of organisations and accentuated the need for capacity development initiatives to invest at the institutional level.

Tailored capacity development initiatives need to be undertaken at a scale required to ensure effective conservation action has the desired impact. This requires recognition that capacity development should be prioritised with adequate financing and resources. Donors and capacity development practitioners have to work collaboratively to identify, deliver and monitor key competencies required for species conservation.

Stakeholder engagement workshop on the conservation of Macaca nigra, Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photo: Selamatkan Yaki

By sharing these results, we hope to advance longer-term capacity development initiatives to support conservation practitioners to effectively conserve highly threatened species in the region.

Using results from this study, ASAP has started to facilitate training opportunities for ASAP Partners and in 2021 launched the ASAP Women in Conservation Leadership Programme. This programme provides targeted training to strengthen capacity and build leadership skills for women conservationists conserving some of the South-east Asia’s most threatened species. It brings together women from across the region, providing a unique opportunity to engage with and learn from each other.

Arakan forest turtle. Photo: Roland Wirth, Right: Penang Island Larut skink. Photo: Evan SH Quah

The article Strengthening capacity for species conservation in South-east Asia: a provisional assessment of needs and opportunities for the Asian Species Action Partnership is available in Oryx—The International Journal of Conservation.


IUCN SSC Asian Species Action Partnership: Kay Farmer (Capacity Development Lead), Mary-Ruth Low (Partnerships & Communications Manager), Nerissa Chao (Director). The IUCN SSC Asian Species Action Partnership is a partnership platform made up of more than 200 partner organisations with the collective aim to avert species extinctions in South-east Asia. ASAP creates an enabling environment to catalyse action and increase impact for species conservation through mobilising resources, strengthening regional capacity and steering attention towards neglected species. ASAP champions conservation action for South-east Asia's most threatened species and works to support ASAP Partners to have the resources, skills and visibility to carry out their work more effectively and save species.

Thirza Loffeld is the Community Manager at WildHub and Lecturer in Conservation Social Science at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent, UK. She studied African great apes in captive to wild settings, before moving to South-east Asia to work in community-based conservation, focusing on regional capacity development. She obtained her PhD on capacity development for conservation and advises on competency framework and gender equality projects.