Mingma Norbu Sherpa

Mingma Norbu Sherpa

Mingma Norbu Sherpa, 50, a leading figure in Himalayan conservation, was among the 24 conservationists who died in a helicopter crash in Nepal on September 23 on their way back from establishing a nature park around Kangchenjunga, the third-highest mountain in the world. He was serving as the Managing Director, WWF Eastern Himalayas.

Mingma was born in 1955 in a Sherpa village near Mt. Everest and became of prot?g? of Sir Edmund Hillary, whose focus on building schools around Everest helped Mingma start his career. He went on to receive a diploma in Parks and Recreation from Lincoln College, University of Canterbury in New Zealand in 1980 and a Masters degree in Natural Resources Management from the University of Manitoba in 1985.

Mr. Sherpa joined the World Wildlife Fund in 1989 and directed the group’s programs in Nepal and Bhutan. “Mingma,” as he was commonly known in conservation circles, was also involved with WWF’s Tibet program, based in Lhasa.

“He was a role model for us. No matter whether you were a Bhutanese, a Sherpa, a Tibetan, if you had slight interest in the environment and conservation Mingma la’s was a name that you could not ignore,” said Bhuchung Tsering, ICT’s Director.

WWF’s Tibet work has focused on Saving the Tibetan Antelope through partnerinng with local NGOs and government agencies to mount a major public and private campaign. WWF is also building the capacity of nature reserves by training resource managers and local people to conserve wildlife and manage grasslands sustainably. While Mingma had no formal oversight on WWF’s Tibet work, he traveled there on numerous occasions to help start up and guide the program.

Mingma played a key role in shaping public opinion in Tibet on issues relating to environmental conservation. In November 2005 during a presentation to his Holiness the Dalai Lama at a National Geographic hosted symposium, Mingma highlighted the problems of trafficking of illegal animal parts between India, Nepal and Tibet. He requested the Dalai Lama to use his good offices to curtail this menace. Coincidently, about a month after that, at a Kalachakra teachings that was attended by thousands of Tibetans from Tibet, the Dalai Lama exhorted Tibetans to stop wearing furs of endangered animals on their clothing. Within weeks, Tibetans in different parts of Tibet responded by undertaking actions, including public burning of furs, to stop wearing such animal products.

Mingma was known above all for his modesty. Always giving credit to others and downplaying his own role was a hallmark of Mingma. If asked about any link between the Dalai Lama’s initiative, and his role, Mingma surely would have denied any possible connection, preferring to let others take the credit. And while other conservationists and organizations were appealing to the Dalai Lama, it is not unlikely that the Dalai Lama was moved by Mingma, the modest, yet persistent Sherpa who in his lifetime, moved mountains.

Mingma has also been awarded the Order of the Golden Ark Award from His Royal Highness Prince Bernard of the Netherlands for his conservation achievement in the Himalayas.

Mingma Sherpa, who lived in Falls Church, Virginia is survived by his wife, Phurba Sona Sherpa, and two children, Dawa Phuti Sherpa and Tenzing Norbu Sherpa.