Tibetans Mourn Environmental Activist


2006.10.02
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Yeshi Choeden Lama. Photo: WWF

DHARAMSALA—Tibetans are mourning the loss of a leading environmental campaigner whose helicopter crashed in the Himalayas.

Yeshi Choedon Lama, 37, died when the helicopter in which she was traveling crashed into the side of a mountain in eastern Nepal in bad weather Sept. 22. All 24 people on board were killed, including a minister in the Nepalese government.

'“The better half of my life is gone,” Yeshi Choedon’s husband, Tashi Dorjee Lama, told RFA’s Tibetan service. “This tragedy has turned my life to emptiness. I am speechless and I cannot express it.”

Yeshi Choedon was a prominent member of the exiled Tibetan community in India, known for her environmental work to protect the sensitive mountain ecosystems of the Himalayas. She was a mother of two children.

“The Himalayan region is considered by people in India and Nepal to be a holy place, and their work was to conserve this region,” Tenpa Tsering, a relative of Yeshi Choedon, said.

“Their projects were going very well, and their last trip was to celebrate and hand over projects to local people.”

The better half of my life is gone. This tragedy has turned my life to emptiness.

'A huge blow'

“As His Holiness the Dalai Lama stressed on several occasions, her focus was on the conservation of the environment. We were very proud of her work and contributions,” he said.

Born in 1969 to the head of a major monastery and the daughter of a leading Buddhist teacher, Yeshi Choedon was educated at Bethany School and the Loreto Catholic convent school in Darjeeling, and at the Bishop Cotton School in Bangalore, southern India.

After graduating from Middlebury College in the United States, she returned to India and joined the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 1997.

The colleagues we have lost had dedicated their lives to conserving the extraordinary natural resources of Nepal and of the Earth. Their deaths are a huge blow to conservation efforts in Nepal, and worldwide. They will be greatly missed.

Seven WWF staff from Nepal, Britain, and the United States were on board, as well as high-ranking government officials, representatives of other agencies, journalists, and Russian crew, WWF said in a statement.

“The colleagues we have lost had dedicated their lives to conserving the extraordinary natural resources of Nepal and of the Earth,” WWF-UK Chief Executive Robert Napier said. “Their deaths are a huge blow to conservation efforts in Nepal, and worldwide. They will be greatly missed.”

The wreckage of the Shree Air helicopter was found 1.8 kms (1.15 miles) from Ghunsa village, about 300 kms from the Nepalese capital Kathmandu.

It had been flying to a ceremony in which the Nepalese government was to turn over conservation of the wildlife and habitats surrounding Kangchenjunga—also spelled Kanchanjanga or Kinchinjunga, and the world’s third-highest mountain—to a coalition of local communities.

The helicopter was due to land in Taplejung but failed to arrive. An air and land search began quickly but was hampered by poor weather, which reduced visibility, and the remote location.

The Kangchenjunga Conservation Area is known for its rich biodiversity, spectacular scenery, and vibrant cultural heritage.

Launched in 1998, it is designed to conserve globally threatened wildlife species such as the snow leopard and red panda while supporting local communities through health services, informal education, and income-generating activities.

Original reporting by RFA’s Tibetan service. Edited and translated by Karma Dorjee. RFA Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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