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Lisa's love

Thursday, July 28 2011

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MANATEE KNOWLEDGE: Member of Parliament for Cumuto- Manzanilla, Minister in the Ministry of National Security, Collin Partap is shown a brochure on th...
MANATEE KNOWLEDGE: Member of Parliament for Cumuto- Manzanilla, Minister in the Ministry of National Security, Collin Partap is shown a brochure on th...

The Manatee Conservation Trust, an environmental non-governmental organisation, based in Manzanilla has recently nominated unopposed Lisa Ramkissoon-Maharaj as its President for a second three-year term.

She is a founding member of the Trust and was a natural choice to become its President three years ago, and now to continue in this position, having been working steadily in the Trust’s “engine room” from the onset.

In serving as president, Lisa has made her mark in empowering members, 75 percent of whom comes from the Manzanilla community and environs. Keeping true to the core object of the Trust, to protect manatees and other endangered wildlife in their native habitat at Nariva Swamp; she has organised a series of training programmes to ensure continuous learning and skills development towards better undertaking of activities. She has also placed a strong focus on education and awareness, and has promoted several poster exhibitions hosted at the Emperor Valley Zoo and the Trust Headquarters in Manzanilla.

Lisa confesses that she is passionate about the biodiversity of Nariva, having been indoctrinated with her first sighting of manatees, stating, “Manatees are such gentle giants, and I am privileged to contribute to the protection of this population. I am grateful that the San Juan Rotary Club took up the mantle to bring attention to the plight of manatees in Nariva some 20 years ago and that we at the Trust are in a position to actually implement conservation activities.”

For those who have known this dynamic individual and followed her progress, this devotion to protecting this country’s environment comes as no surprise. In addition to the lure of the animals themselves, she grew up in an environment where service to country and people came first. Her father Krishendath Joe Ramkissoon is a well-known public figure, having once held the position of District Governor in the Rotary family and is deeply involved to Indian culture and national service. Perhaps this is what may have influenced Lisa to leave a promising career in the capital city and take up her conservation portfolio on a full-time basis. What makes this remarkable is that she is doing this on a voluntary basis; for the love of it is an apt description. Her family’s influence can also be seen in her community spirit and she is a familiar figure among the schools in the environs, stepping up to the Trust’s corporate social responsibility.

The Trust is for the most part a self-financing organisation, and this is where Lisa has made a huge impact. Her drive and entrepreneurial skills contributed to putting the Trust on a stable financial footing through investments in agriculture. Lisa recalls the early times and said, “We worked hard to cultivate watermelon and other crops to raise much-needed funds. We were determined to realise our goals of having the manatee habitat at Nariva, approximately 500 acres protected in trust for perpetuity.” She recalls driving that treacherous coconut-lined stretch every morning and evening from the north for several years, but never regretting this decision to be a steward in her own right for Nariva’s wildlife.

Lest we think that Lisa’s only focus is on manatees, she is very much involved in conservation of whales, dolphins and marine turtles. At the very start of her Presidency at the Trust, she was able to oversee the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) which facilitates collaboration to protect these species. Under her stewardship, there have been successful outcomes, so much so that IFAW recently renewed the MOU for a further three years. Using her networking skills as leverage, she has been able to join with IFAW, the Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago and the Wildlife Section, Forestry Division to bring training to first responders for whale stranding incidents and leatherback turtle patrollers at Manzanilla Beach. Lisa would be the first to downplay her role in these capacity building exercises, but her organisational skills have served her well in this regard.

In giving an account of her achievements, mention must be made of the nature park at Brigand Hill, Manazanilla, a joint initiative of the Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago and the Manatee Conservation Trust. Credit must be given in part to Lisa for the progress made with this facility in just under three years. She provides assistance with managing the park’s human resources and development of trails and gardens. It is to her credit that Lisa whose background is that of information technology and event planning, having chosen a vocation in a completely different field for the pure love of it, has sought out and continues to keep abreast of current trends in the conservation arena. Lisa has benefitted from hands-on training in manatee research and management at Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa, Florida in 2008 and at Guyana Zoo earlier this year. She has also attended technical workshops of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and several seminars and workshops held nationally on wildlife and the environment, all contributing to her personal growth and development.

One only has to be out in the field with Lisa to see her commitment to the cause and realise that the Trust is in good hands, sources said. As Lisa herself says, “All that I do is with the support of the entire membership, who continues to provide encouragement and assistance. What we do is for the sake of these defenceless animals, which need us to be their guardians.”

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