Every year, UK charity Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) recognises seven of the world’s leading grassroots conservationists with the Whitley Awards – desgined to support conservationists from the global South, This year, work to safeguard black lion tamarin monkeys (Brazil), helmeted hornbills (Indonesia), rare amphibians (South Africa), chimpanzees (Nigeria), hirola antelope (Kenya), and alpine musk deer (Bhutan) will benefit. Each winner has each been awarded £40,000 in project funding to allow them to expand their conservation work.
The 2020 Whitley Gold Award winner is: Patrícia Medici – Tapirs as conservation flagships, Brazil
Brazilian conservationist Patrícia Medici received this year’s gold award for her work protecting South America’s largest land mammal, the lowland tapir.
- Patrícia won her Whitley Award in 2008 and is a world expert in the science of tapir conservation, leading the largest tapir study in the world to shed light on this little-known species [Image: Joao Marcos Rosa]
- Patrícia [Image: Liana John]
- [Image: Joao Marcos Rosa]
- Patrícia also engages communities through environmental education programmes, using tapir as a flagship for largescale habitat preservation [Image: Joao Marcos Rosa]
- Patrícia’s project includes mapping routes used by tapirs and using reforestation activities to connect fragmented areas of forest [Image: Laurie Hedges]
- [Image: Laurie Hedges]
- The Whitley Gold Award will enable Patricia and her team to expand their work to the embattled Amazon, which faces unprecedented deforestation rates [Image: Laurie Hedges]
Abdullahi Hussein Ali – A landscape-level approach to conserve the hirola antelope, Kenya
Kenyan conservationist, Abdullahi Hussein Ali, founded the Hirola Conservation Programme and is fighting to prevent the species from becoming the first extinct mammal since the Tasmanian tiger was wiped out in 1936.
- A field assistant helps track collared hirola
- The project is based near the Kenya-Somali border; a remote and volatile region. With support from his Whitley Award, Ali will work with communities to restore grasslands for the benefit of the hirola and at the same time teach herders to use the land more sustainably to prevent overgrazing and support their livelihoods
- Abdullahi Hussein Ali – Hirola numbers have declined by more than 95 per cent in the last four decades. With fewer than 500 individuals remaining, the antelope is currently among the top 10 focal species at risk of imminent extinction
- Worsening droughts and livestock overgrazing has resulted in grasslands becoming overgrown by trees. While these wooded areas are good for some wildlife, they are strictly avoided by the hirola who need the safety of open land
- Ali and his team have carried out vital research to understand the continuous decline of the species – which has sunglasses-like markings on its face – pinpointing habitat degradation as a key threat
- Ali and his team will provide training to a network of Somali pastoralists to track sightings of hirola, and work with schools teaching young students the importance of wildlife
Gabriela Rezende – Connecting populations of black lion tamarins in the Atlantic Forest, Brazil
Gabriela is the coordinator for the Black Lion Tamarin Conservation Programme.
- Together with community-run nurseries, Gabriela and her team have already restored Brazil’s largest tree corridor for wildlife
- Through tree planting with saplings grown in community-run nurseries, Gabriela’s approach provides jobs for some of Brazil’s most marginalised communities
- Once spanning over 1.3million km2, only 14 per cent of the Atlantic Forest now remains due to land conversion for vast sugar cane plantations and cattle ranches [Image: Luis Palacios]
- Gabriela and her team work to connect these scattered black lion tamarin populations by partnering communities to restore forest corridors that connect the fragmented patches of habitat [Image: Katie Garrett]
- Gabriela Rezende [Image: Katie Garrett]
- With just 1,600 black lion tamarins left in the wild, their remaining habitat is now highly fragmented, with populations split among forest patches [Image: Katie Garrett]
- [Image: Luis Palacios]
Jeanne Tarrant – A country-wide strategy for South African amphibians
Jeanne Tarrant, known locally as the ‘Frog Lady’, works for the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), where she manages the Threatened Amphibian Programme. EWT is the only NGO in South Africa to include frogs as a conservation focus.
- In some South African cultures, frogs can be associated with witchcraft, making them often feared by locals. Jeanne’s educational work aims to dispel such myths and raise awareness and appreciation of the important role frogs play in the health of the environment and ecosystem
- Cape River frog – a combination of threats from habitat loss due to mining, agriculture and pollution are putting the country’s frogs at risk
- Pickersgills reed frog – Amphibians are the most threatened group of animals on the planet with 41 per cent of all species at risk of extinction
- Pickersgills reed frog
- Pickersgills reed frog – Almost two-thirds of the South Africa's 135 frog species are found nowhere else, making South Africa a priority for amphibian conservation
- Jeanne has inspired school children with her ‘Frogs in the Classroom’ learning programme, gaining young fans and earning her the title of the ‘Frog Lady’
Phuntsho Thinley – Stepping up patrols to preserve the endangered alpine musk deer, Bhutan
Phuntsho Thinley works for the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), the first and only wildlife conservation organisation in Bhutan.
- Delivering a speech to local communities of Laya to garner support – the Alpine musk deer forms an important part of the food chain and its loss would have a catastrophic effect on the area’s ecological balance
- Despite being a protected species, the alpine musk deer is targeted by poachers for its musk pod, with an estimated 100 deer killed in Bhutan each year. . Only found in male deer, a musk pod is worth more than gold on the international black market for its perceived pharmaceutical properties
- Phuntsho Thinley – Situated three days’ walk from the capital of Thimphu, Phuntsho’s project is located in the vast Lingzhi Park Range
- Posing with the trainees – with just 16 park staff patrolling a massive 74,500 ha of park, there is an urgent need to scale up efforts and put boots on the ground
Rachel Ashebofe Ikemeh – Advancing participatory conservation action for rare chimpanzees, Nigeria
Director and Founder of the SW/Niger Delta Forest Project, Rachel’s research and conservation work addresses the decline of chimpanzees and their habitat.
- Rachel approach combines patrolling, education, research and policy reform to protect this newly discovered primate
- Chimps are under threat from poachers, hunted for their body parts
- Over the past eight years, Rachel and her team have led a genetic study amongst other relevant activities, which in 2018 found that whilst chimpanzee populations in the South West and Niger Delta of Nigeria share ancestry with the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, they are in fact a distinct group. This discovery reinforced the urgent need to protect this group of chimpanzees, helping Rachel to gain support for her cause
- With her Whitley Award, Rachel aims to work with government to establish about 40,000 ha of conservation areas, and to advocate for revised laws to protect the area’s wildlife
- With 80 per cent of forests lost to uncontrolled farming and logging, chimpanzee habitat has been disappearing at an alarming rate
YokYok (Yoki) Hadiprakarsa – Saving the last stronghold of the Helmeted Hornbill, Indonesia
Yoki, founder and principal investigator for Rangkong Indonesia (Indonesia Hornbill Conservation Society).
- Yoki works closely with communities to provide them with the skills needed to earn an income through tourism, using the colourful hornbills to attract tourists to the area [Image: Aristyawan]
- Yoki estimates that in 2013 alone, 6,000 Helmeted Hornbills were shot and decapitated in West Kalimantan [Image: Nanang Sujana]
- Yoki Hadiprakarsa [Image: Aristyawan]
- The Kapuas Hulu District, where Yoki’s work is based, is a population stronghold and hotspot for poaching, with local people driven by necessity to kill the birds for economic gain [Image: Nanang Sujana]
- [Image: Nanang Sujana]
- Yoki believes that birdwatching and ecotourism will allow local people to earn an income from the birds in a humane, sustainable way – ensuring hornbills are worth more alive than dead [Image: Yoki Hadiprakarsa]
- Intricate carved ornaments made from the casque and bills of helmeted hornbills have become highly coveted on the international black market, resulting in a sharp rise in hornbill poaching in recent years [Image: Yoki Hadiprakarsa]
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