Winner Case Studies

25 Years of Impact

As part of our 25th Anniversary Impact Assessment Report, we looked to our diverse Winner Network to demonstrate how WFN support can impact a conservationist’s career. Below are four case studies. To view the full report, click here.

From Local to Global

For over 20 years, Dr. Charudutt Mishra has been a champion for snow leopard conservation. Founding Trustee of Nature Conservation Foundation and Director of the Snow Leopard Trust, Charu began his work in the Himalayas on human-snow leopard conflict mitigation, for which he received his Whitley Gold Award in 2005. His vital research on snow leopard populations and his emphasis on community involvement led to the establishment of India’s community-based initiatives for snow leopard conservation, including livestock insurance programmes and community-run wildlife reserves.

Since then, Charu has leveraged several WFN Continuation Funding grants to become a global leader in human-wildlife conflict and research. Working with the government of India, he and his team established Project Snow Leopard, a national conservation strategy for the entire Indian high Himalayas. With WFN support, Charu’s team of international scientists conducted the most successful snow leopard radio-collaring project in the world to date in the Tost mountains of Mongolia. This research led to the region becoming a nature reserve, preventing mining activities and preserving important snow leopard habitat. He has also been integral in establishing the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Programme, a high-level intergovernmental alliance of all 12 snow leopard range countries, aiming to enhance protection over 25% of the global range of snow leopards. Their robust ecological and sociological research programme has been the most significant contributor to existing literature and knowledge of wildlife and human ecology across the snow leopard range.

Charu and his team have continued to engage local communities, partnering with villages that now protect more than 110,000 sq. km of snow leopard habitat in 5 countries, and using his experience in community-based conservation, he has written a set of (PARTNERS) principles to create an impactful training programme for the next generation of conservationists. Charu is a vibrant representative of the WFN Winner Network, and has grown his impact from the community level to now cover the snow leopard’s entire range.

Restoring Landscapes

2002 Whitley Gold Award winner, Laury Cullen, leads a long standing reforestation programme in the Atlantic Forest region of Brazil, and with the support of several WFN Continuation Funding grants – in 2004, 2008, 2009, and 2014 – his work on landscape connectivity has achieved outstanding results for wildlife and local communities in the area. Currently, there remains only 23% of the biodiverse Atlantic Forest due to habitat fragmentation caused by unplanned agricultural settlement, cattle ranching and mass sugar cane production. However, it is believed to harbour nearly 7% of global biodiversity, much of which is endemic and threatened with extinction.

With WFN support, Laury and Brazilian NGO IPÊ have collectively planted 1.4 million native trees and completed a 6,000 ha wildlife corridor – Brazil’s first and biggest corridor – linking the two largest protected areas of the interior Atlantic Forest in the state of São Paulo. This was achieved in partnership with local communities and landowners who have profited from selling seedlings to the programme and from other income opportunities related to reforestation and agroforestry activities. This area includes important habitat for 18 Endangered or Critically Endangered species, including the black lion tamarin (BLT). Laury has proven how a landscape approach can be implemented to deliver widespread benefits locally (for impoverished communities and wildlife); regionally (through water and food ecosystem services), as well as globally (from CO2 mitigation).

IPÊ received the 2017 Award for Excellence in Forest Restoration from the World Conference on Ecological Restoration. As a result of this work, the previously Critically Endangered BLT has been down listed by the IUCN to Endangered, whilst many other threatened species now have much larger areas of linked habitats. The astounding success of Laury’s reforestation efforts has led to this being one of the most cited community-based conservation projects in the Neotropics.

Harnessing the Power of Communication

2017 Whitley Award winner Purnima Barman has maximised the profile boost associated with winning a Whitley Award for the conservation of the Greater Adjutant Stork (GAS) in Assam, India. She illustrates the snowball effect of increasing visibility and media coverage, harnessing these opportunities to widen her network and increase engagement. As her profile grows, she benefits from increased access to funding, and is more able to influence higher level policy. In only two years, Purnima has become a ‘local hero’ and has been incredibly effective in leveraging her Whitley Award to receive regional, national and international accolades and opportunities. In 2018, Purnima received the Nari Shakti Award from the President of India – the highest civilian award for women in India – and was also recognised by the State Governor of Assam and the Chief of Police. She even became a state symbol for ethical voting in Assam!

Her increasing public renown has been critical to providing Purnima a credible and influential platform to change local negative perceptions of the birds she is trying to protect. As a result, the local Greater Adjutant Stork (GAS) population saw an increase from 750 to 800 and is currently the largest GAS nesting colony in the world. The region has been recognised as an Important Bird Area secured under the Indian Biodiversity Act. Additionally, the award also helped grow her conservation movement, the ‘’Hargila Army’’, which saw over 400 local women, engaged and empowered, pursue and benefit from sustainable horticulture and educational opportunities in 2018. Purnima’s ability to engage, communicate and resonate with local, regional and national audiences has given this uncharismatic species a much deserved profile. Her combination of conservation and social impact initiatives has formed a virtuous circle that is poised to continue growing in the years to come.

Sustainable Scale-Up

Zafer Kizilkaya provides a compelling case study for how WFN’s laddered funding approach can lead to large-scale growth of effective conservation solutions. Since receiving his Whitley Award in 2013, Zafer and his team have had a profound impact on the recovery of the marine ecosystem in Gökova Bay, Turkey. Over exploitation had previously led to Gökova Bay becoming one of the most over-fished areas in the Mediterranean. In addition, climate change and rising water temperatures had resulted in the migration of invasive marine species into the area, with damaging effects on the ecosystem.

To address overfishing and as President of the Mediterranean Conservation Society, Zafer set-up Turkey’s first network of no-take zones (NTZs) and secured Europe’s largest ban on trawling and pur-seining in sensitive sites. A community-led marine ranger programme was initiated, working with local fishers, the Coast Guard and Ministry to protect these reserves. In 2015, Zafer was awarded WFN Continuation Funding to coordinate patrolling and enforcement within the NTZs using a SMART monitoring system, the first application of this technology in a marine environment.

He also initiated a campaign to bolster fishers’ livelihoods through promoting the consumption of invasive species, with income increasing four-fold! As a direct result of his work, fish numbers are recovering and biomass has risen by an astounding 800%. Critically Endangered Mediterranean monk seals have recently returned to the bay, with sandbar sharks, loggerhead turtles and even blue-fin tuna also being recorded – all indicators that Zafer’s efforts have brought this coastal ecosystem back from its tipping point.

In 2017, Zafer received the Whitley Gold Award to continue work in Gökova Bay and scale up his successful approach to nearby Fethiye Bay. Leveraging his success, Zafer went on to secure a grant in 2018 from the Endangered Landscapes Programme for $3million USD to replicate this model across 500km2 of Mediterranean coastline. Zafer’s initiative demonstrates that sustained support and well-managed reserves can deliver real wins for communities and wildlife, with his work now deemed one of the most successful marine projects in the world.

Image credits: Lawrie Brailey (snow leopard), Rolex Awards (Laury with farmers), Anupam Nath (woman with facepaint)