20 things to feel good about as we start 2020
As we begin the new year, we are reflecting on our Whitley Award winners’ conservation achievements from the last 12 months. Their success gives us reason to start 2020 with optimism!
2019 highlights from our winners include:
- 2018 winner Anjali Watson documented 24 leopards – including residing and breeding females – in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka. This important discovery has led to the proposed creation of a new ‘Peak Ridge Forest Corridor Conservation Area’, which if approved will protect 40 km2 of critical habitat for this majestic species.
- 2001 winner Vivek Menon and his team have established India’s first network of ‘Green Corridors’ allowing safe passage for Asian elephants across human landscapes. Vivek also became the Elected President of the Society of Conservation Biology in 2019, a milestone achievement.
- It was a major win for 2016 winner Farwiza Farhan and her team in Sumatra when the permit to build the Tampur Hydrodam inside the Leuser Ecosystem was revoked in court. The 173m high dam would have destroyed free-flowing river ecosystems, drowning 4,000ha of pristine rainforest that represents the last link connecting populations of the Critically Endangered Sumatran elephant as well as prime orangutan habitat.
- The current global estimate of mountain gorillas has grown from 1,004 to 1,063 individuals. The newly released census also estimates that the number of mountain gorillas have increased to 459 in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, where 2009 Gold Award winner Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka works on promoting community health and gorilla conservation. Gladys was a Tusk Award finalist in 2019.
- Following the collaborative efforts from 2013 winner Aparajita Datta and other partners in the publication of the 10-year Helmeted Hornbill conservation action plan, in 2019 the government of Indonesia agreed to establish ‘The National Partnership for Indonesia Hornbill Conservation’. As the first phase of a broader national action plan, it covers all Indonesian hornbill species, and is the first bird-focused initiative of its kind in the country.
- Two new marine protected areas were created in Patagonia thanks to the work led by 2018 Gold Award winner Pablo Borboroglu. Spanning almost 100,000km2, the Yaganes Marine National Park and Namuncurá-Burdwood Bank II Marine National Park are important habitats for species including king and magellanic penguins, sharks, rays and rare coldwater corals. Pablo also won the 2019 Rolex Associate Laureate Award in recognition of his global work on penguins.
- Longfin and shortfin mako sharks are now listed in CITES Appendix II thanks to the efforts of 2012 Gold Award winner Rodrigo Medellin. As a representative from Mexico, he presented the proposal at the CoP18 conference and was voted in favour with record-breaking support. Mako sharks are globally endangered, with populations disappearing primarily due to the demand for shark fin soup. Their inclusion in CITES Appendix II is a critical step towards improving global protection and reducing overexploitation for the ‘cheetahs of the sea’.
- The largest Greater Adjutant Stork nesting colony was declared an Important Bird Area thanks to the work of 2017 winner Purnima Barman. Leveraging her ability to engage local communities, Purnima led 400 women in the ‘Hargila Army’ – building a groundswell movement to safeguard these storks in Assam, India. Assam is the last stronghold for this endangered species, where 75% of the remaining 1,200 global population is found. Purnima was an Indianapolis Prize nominee in 2019.
- The Mongolian government expanded the Tost Nature Reserve by 150km2. As the country’s first nature reserve for snow leopards, it now spans a total of 8,965km2 as the result of 2005 Gold Award winner Charu Mishra’s lifelong work. In 2019, Charu became the first international Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust.
- Navigating a complex political climate, 2013 winner Eugene Simonov saw the signing of a bilateral agreement between Mongolia and Russia for the cooperation of energy integration. This promotes energy development under the Belt & Road Initiative based on equitable social, environmental and economic factors. Eugene and partners from over 30 organisations also published the ‘Heritage Damned’ report; the most comprehensive work to-date to safeguard the world’s most imperilled freshwater ecosystems.
- Seven African vulture species have declined by 80% in only 50 years, with poisoning as the main driver of mortality. Through education campaigns and human-wildlife conflict mitigation, 2018 winner Munir Virani and his team in southern Kenya significantly reduced annual vulture mortality in the Maasai Mara, from 33% in 2010, to less than 10% in 2019.
- 2004 Gold Award winner Randall Arauz delivered a petition with over 54,000 signatures to the Costa Rican President. This included a call to stop all exports of hammerhead shark fins from Costa Rica and to assure the species’ declaration as ‘wildlife’ for official protection under the country’s Wildlife Conservation Law.
- 2018 winner Kerstin Forsberg was listed as one of Fortune Magazine’s ‘World’s Greatest Leaders’ and successfully tracked the movements of giant manta rays for the first time in Peru. These research findings will now inform the development of sustainable management plans to reduce harmful interactions with fishers.
- Due to 2009 winner Emil Todorov’s work to increase the breeding success of the Dalmatian Pelican, in 2019, 24 pairs and 30 fledged pelicans were recorded in the Lower Danube in Bulgaria. This is the highest number confirmed since the colony was established in 2010.
- 2006 winner Pedro Vaz Pinto and his team found a 17% increase in the giant sable population in Angola from 2016 to 2019. Last year 15 new GPS collars were deployed to track sable movements to inform management plans and strengthen patrol and anti-poaching efforts as this Critically Endangered antelope recovers.
- 12 Chaco Eagle nests were identified by 2019 winner José Sarasola in Argentina; the highest number recorded in the last 20 years. Last year, the team installed rescue ramps over 485,000ha to prevent birds drowning in water reservoirs and retrofitted 80km of powerlines. This will prevent electrocution across nearly 1 million ha of habitat, giving these eagles and other birds a fighting chance of survival.
- 2006 winner Sergei Bereznuk scaled up his work to include Russia’s new Bikin National Park. In 2019 the team patrolled over 93,000km2 as part of their anti-poaching efforts protecting the Critically Endangered Siberian tiger. Only 500 Siberian tigers are estimated to remain, making this project crucial to the species survival in the Far East.
- 2019 Gold Award winner Jon Paul Rodriguez’s project to conserve the charismatic Yellow-Shouldered Parrot yielded another record-breaking year, with 140 fledglings recorded in Venezuela! Over the last three years, a total of 310 chicks have flown free from protected nests, a 100% increase from the historic average of 50 per year.
- A total of 748 Grey Crowned Cranes were recorded in Rwanda’s third national census of the species, a 54% increase from 2018. This is a result of collective conservation efforts including 2018 winner Olivier Nsengimana’s work on reducing illegal trade, and improving the management and protection of this endangered species and its wetland habitat with local communities acting as conservation champions. Olivier also received a Future for Nature Award in 2019.
- Madagascar’s President has committed to triple the country’s marine protected areas thanks in part to the tireless work of 2019 winner Vatosoa Rakotondrazafy and her team. Working with the government and multiple stakeholders, Vatosoa will establish a legal framework on community management of fishing grounds, focusing on locally-managed marine areas.
Image credits: Lawrie Brailey (snow leopard)