Urs and Christine Breitenmoser are the husband and wife dream team at the heart of Eurasian lynx science and conservation in the Alps. Meeting on an ornithological field trip in the 1980s they soon realised they had complementary skills.
“Urs is the head and I am the engine! He is a very strategic thinker, and I try to find ways how we can realise his visions.”
Beginning a life’s work
When Urs undertook his Masters on Eurasian lynx at the University of Bern in 1983, wildlife ecology was in its infancy and he never dreamt the animal would become his life’s work. In Christine, he met his match, and soon after getting married a two-year stint researching snowshoe hares and lynx while living in a log cabin in northern Canada fuelled their passion for applied work. And on returning to Switzerland they founded KORA.
Passion, patience and excellence
What makes Urs and Christine’s research unique is not just scientific enquiry of the highest quality but its focus on the long-term effects of carnivore reintroduction on the landscape. As a top predator, their presence can radically alter and benefit ecosystems but effects take time to manifest.
“You need a lot of passion and a lot of patience! And even then, you realise one lifetime isn’t enough. What we are most proud of is our ability to support young people around the world to take up -cat conservation.”
Changing hearts and minds
The 21st century carnivore landscape is no longer a wilderness, and managing predator interaction with communities long used to their absence, is at the heart of KORA’s mission to conserve these magnificent creatures.
“The reappearance of lynx and wolves is an amazing phenomenon. Managing the practicalities of their integration with people is possible but the bigger challenge is changing hearts and minds, and finding acceptance for such demonised animals.”
Sometimes, perhaps always, simplicity is the key. For Angelika Abderhalden-Raba, who helped set up Fundaziun Pro Terra Engiadina in 2009 to protect the natural and cultural wealth of the Lower Engadine valley in Switzerland, this is certainly true.
“Engiadina brings people together to sort things out and get things done. It’s a common sense approach about finding a common language and building trust.”
On ancient terraces
At the centre of the Rhaetian Alps, in the east of Switzerland, the Engadin is characterised by small communities, flourishing meadows and a dry, sunny climate. It first drew Angelika in 1989 when she came to Ramosch to study the rich culture and biology of the ancient cereal terraces. Settling in Zernez, Angelika now works as a planning consultant, running Engiadina in her spare time.
“I’m passionate about synergy. There are so many similar projects and initiatives –it makes sense for us to share as much knowledge and information as we can.”
Seeding change, passing the baton
Angelika is all about connection – for both people and nature. Engiadina is a platform that enables everyone with an interest in the valley – from farmers, businesses and cantons, to tourism offices, NGOs and the Swiss National Park – to come together to shape a joint healthy future for people and wildlife.
With expertise in conservation, planning, and natural resource management, as well as access to sophisticated geo-database technology, Engiadina have become the go-to players for decision-makers and communities alike. Current work on water stewardship with WWF captures Engiadina’s essence and Angelika’s simple philosophy of initiation and impetus.
“We’ve proposed a workshop on holistic water management, and now the Engadin administration has picked up the baton. That’s how it should be. We’re happy to come up with an idea, use our connections, and then take a back seat.”
Reaching out, investing together
Extolling the virtues of the valley beyond its borders, with tourists and companies alike, is also key. Engiadina’s team-building ‘Nature Active’ days, delivered in partnership with WWF, offer hands-on experience, helping farmers repair dry stone walls or clear meadows – all fuelled by rich local produce!