Hana Ridha has spent the past seven years of her career as a woman conservationist working in the midst of the turmoil that has enveloped Iraq. She is fighting to keep the spirit of conservation alive and working to protect the natural beauties of Iraq when the cruelties of war have swept so many ideals away. She and her team persevered through worsening recession, limited budgets, and dismal security conditions in many war-afflicted areas in order to conduct surveys of the fauna and flora indigenous to these areas.
They managed to survey over 200 sites throughout Iraq and assess the ecosystems and habitats in each site they visited, in the process becoming the only reliable source of information on biodiversity in Iraq. They were also able to discover plants new to science and vastly improve available records of the ranges and breeding patterns of birds for the country. They also registered the first ever documented evidence of the existence of the rare and elusive Persian leopard in the country. Despite there being proof of the existence of the leopard in the mountains of the Kurdistan region, there is no tangible documentation of its exact occurrence. Hana now means to lay the groundwork for the conservation of the Persian leopard, which is the only remaining top predator roaming these mountains today.
This project represents the first stepping-stone towards a transnational Persian leopard protection endeavour with Iran. Besides, she sees this award as a great opportunity to have a positive impact on the conservation front in Iraq.
“Hana Ridha’s application gives me hope for our messed-up world. If a woman can spearhead innovative, dynamic conservation initiatives in Iraqi Kurdistan, then many things are possible. She is clearly willing to do the difficult thing, including seeking collaboration with conservationists in neighbouring Iran. Her work with communities and enforcement officials appears to have led to increasing wildlife populations where you would not expect them.” – 2017, Simon Stuart, International Selection Committee