Conservation leader from the Democratic Republic of Congo
wins 2013 Whitley Award
The Whitley Awards celebrate 20 years
of global conservation achievements
London, UK: 2 May 2013 – HRH The Princess Royal today presented a Whitley Award, a prestigious international nature conservation prize, to John Kahekwa Munihuzi at a special ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society in honour of his gorilla conservation work in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
John Kahekwa Munihuzi is one of eight exceptional individuals to have been awarded a share of prize funding worth £295,000 by the Whitley Fund for Nature, winning a Whitley Award donated by Goldman Sachs. In a region in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo that has suffered from what has been named the bloodiest conflict since the Second World War, conservationist Kahekwa strives to protect endangered Eastern Lowland Gorillas, also known as Grauer’s Gorillas, as well as other species which share the land with millions of people who suffer from extreme poverty and an ongoing humanitarian crisis.
With 30 years of experience working in the field with gorillas and other wildlife, as well as implementing successful community conservation programmes, Kahekwa was formerly Chief Gorilla Habituation Officer of the Kahuzi Biega National Park, which was one of the backdrops for the iconic ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ film. Now, as Founder and Managing Director of the Pole Pole Foundation, Kahekwa wishes to take his organisation’s experience and expertise and replicate its success elsewhere, with the goal of protecting the entire home range of the Eastern Lowland Gorilla. His ambitious project is based on three pillars: understanding the communities’ needs and opinions about nature conservation; implementing conservation education programmes; and providing local communities with economic alternatives that will enable them to refrain from exploiting their precious natural resources.
HRH The Princess Royal, the charity’s patron, says: “The secret of the Whitley Fund for Nature is that they find exceptional grassroots conservation leaders. Whitley Award winners hail from all over the world and come from a range of backgrounds, but they all have in common a fierce commitment and determination to make a real difference to local people and wildlife in their home countries. Every winner has a close connection with their community, as well as experience and an understanding of the issues, which often relate to human-wildlife conflict, but they also know how to make an impact through practical solutions, engaging people and initiating change at government level. That’s a rare skill. Let’s face it, there are ‘experts’ out there, who don’t always have that skill, but the Whitley Award winners do.”
This year, which marks the 20th anniversary of the Whitley Awards, saw a surge in applicants, with the highest number of entries yet to the scheme. First awarded in 1994, the Whitley Awards are presented annually to outstanding grassroots leaders in nature conservation across the developing world. Since then, the Whitley Fund for Nature has given almost £10 million to conservation and recognised 160 conservation leaders in more than 70 countries.
“For 20 years now, the Whitley Awards have pioneered effective ways to protect wild nature,” says Sir David Attenborough, a Trustee of the Whitley Fund for Nature. “Perhaps the greatest legacy of the charity is the growing network of winners themselves who represent some of the best conservation leaders in the world. The range of challenges the winners face is remarkable, the solutions are diverse; and together their reach is truly global.”
Other winners in the 2013 Whitley Awards are:
• Whitley Award donated by Fondation Segré, Ekwoge Enang Abwe: Local community protection of the endangered great apes of Ebo Forest, Cameroon
• Whitley Award donated by WWF-UK, Aparajita Datta: Threatened hornbills as icons for the conservation of the Himalayan forests of Arunachal Pradesh, India
• Whitley Award donated by the Scottish Friends of the Whitley Fund for Nature, Zahirul Islam: On Land and Sea: Community based sea turtle conservation, Bangladesh
• Whitley Award donated by The William Brake Charitable Trust, Zafer Kizilkaya: Turkey’s first community managed marine protected area in Gökova bay, Turkey
• Whitley Award donated by The LJC Fund in memory of Anthea and Lindsey Turner, Daniel Lejaroi Letoiye: Restoring grasslands for the coexistence of Grevy’s Zebra and free-ranging livestock, Kenya
• Whitley Award donated by The Shears Foundation, Eugene Simonov: Keeping Rivers Wild and Free: International protection of the Amur River basin and wetlands in China, Russia and Mongolia
During their trip to London to accept their award, winners had the opportunity to meet the judges and HRH The Princess Royal, network with the other finalists, attend receptions with leading conservation organisations and academics, meet Whitley Fund for Nature donors and participate in professional development training.
HRH The Princess Royal also presented a special prize donated by the Friends of the Whitley Fund for Nature, the Whitley Gold Award worth £50,000, to Çağan Şekercioğlu of Turkey, a past Award winner who has used his grant money to particularly outstanding effect. Joining the Judging Panel to assist in selection, the Gold winner also acts as mentor to Whitley Award winners receiving their Awards in the same year.
Visit www.whitleyaward.org to find out more about the charity, its donors and past winners.
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For further information or to arrange interviews contact Firebird PR: Jane Bevan or Susannah Penn at Firebird PR on +00 44 01235 835297 / +00 44 07977 459547 or via email to [email protected]
Press materials available:
• Copyright-cleared photographs of John Kahekwa Munihuzi, his project and the awards ceremony will be available to download online via Picasa from 22.00 GMT on Thursday 2 May: https://picasaweb.google.com/105548002819098368093
• Video footage of the awards ceremony and an individual film featuring John Kahekwa Munihuzi will be available upon arrangement with Firebird PR: contact Jane Bevan or Susannah Penn at Firebird PR on +00 44 01235 835297 / +00 44 07977 459547 or via email to [email protected]
Notes to Editors:
• Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of its flagship Whitley Awards, the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is a UK registered charity that champions outstanding grassroots leaders in nature conservation across the developing world.
• The Whitley Awards are prestigious international prizes presented to individuals in recognition of their achievements in nature conservation. Each Award Winner receives a prize worth £35,000 to be spent over one year. The charity’s patron, HRH The Princess Royal, presents the Awards each year at a special ceremony in London.
• WFN operates a rigorous application process involving expert panel representation from international NGOs including WWF-UK and Fauna and Flora International. This year, WFN received nearly 200 applications which passed through four stages of assessment, reviewed at every step by the screeners and panellists who kindly offer their expertise voluntarily.
• The Whitley Awards are open to individuals working in developing countries. Further eligibility criteria are available from Firebird PR.
• Whitley Award winners join an international network of Whitley Alumni eligible to apply for Continuation Funding. These follow-on grants are awarded competitively to winners seeking to scale up their effective conservation results on the ground. Each grant is worth up to £70,000 for projects of between one to two years in length.
• The Whitley Gold Award recognises an outstanding past recipient of a Whitley Award who has gone on to make a significant contribution to conservation. Joining the Judging Panel to assist in selection, the Gold winner also acts as mentor to Whitley Award winners receiving their Awards in the same year.
• WFN is generously supported by: Arcadia; The William Brake Charitable Trust; Byford Trust; Natasha and George Duffield; The Evolution Education Trust; Goldman Sachs; HSBC Holdings Plc; The LJC Fund; The Rufford Foundation; The Schroder Foundation; Fondation Segré; The Shears Foundation; Whitley Animal Protection Trust; The Friends of the Whitley Fund for Nature; WWF-UK; and many individual donors.