20 Wildlife Conservation Wins in 2020

Happy New Year! As we begin January and another lockdown, our winners' achievements make for an inspiring reflection on what went right last year.

1.  Thanks to decades of marine conservation efforts from 2011 winner Rachel Graham, the Belize Minister for Environment signed an agreement to phase out gillnet fishing by 2022. With gillnets to be banned countrywide, Rachel and her team will help fishers transition to more sustainable equipment and alternative livelihoods that reduce bycatch of endangered sharks and rays.

2.  2016 winner Farwiza Farhan launched the first all-women community patrols to protect the rainforests of Sumatra. Situated in the Damaran Baru village, the team will spearhead conservation efforts to preserve the precious forests and ecosystem services on which communities and unique wildlife rely. Farwiza has also made major strides in creating a Leuser Ecosystem Spatial Plan to strengthen protection against development, that is expected to be passed by Indonesian government in 2021.

3.  A new national park was created in Patagonia, thanks to the work led by 2018 Gold Award winner Pablo Borboroglu. This is Argentina’s 40th national  park and protects valuable natural and cultural resources. It encompasses five islands which provide habitat for 464 terrestrial and marine species and the northernmost Magellanic penguin colony on the southwest Atlantic Ocean.

4.  After years of conservation efforts from 2012 winner Budiono, a new freshwater reserve incorporating Irrawaddy river dolphin habitat, has been established in Borneo’s Kutai Kartanegera District. This encompasses 43,117 ha of sustainable fishery zones and restricted core conservation areas and is vital to the recovery and improved management of riparian swamps and forests, which in turn, provide nursery sites for aquatic life and sequester carbon, tackling climate change.

5.  WFN’s first Whitley Award winner, Amanda Vincent, became the first marine conservationist to receive the Indianapolis Prize. Over 30 years, Amanda has put a spotlight on trade in seahorses in the Philippines, tackled destructive fishing practices such as bottom-trawling and influenced progressive marine management and policy-making initiatives with her NGO, Project Seahorse.

6.  It was quite the year for 2009 winner and gorilla vet, Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, winning the 2020 St. Andrew’s Prize, the Aldo Leopold Award, and the Uganda Veterinary Association’s World Veterinary Day Award. As the founder of Conservation Through Public Health, she is recognised for distinguished professional service as a leading wildlife veterinarian and conservationist working to preserve mountain gorillas whilst improving the health of communities surrounding Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda – even more pressing during the Coronavirus pandemic, with recently confirmed transmission of COVID-19 to captive gorillas.

7.  India’s Supreme Court ratified a state government decision to earmark the Sigur plateau as an elephant corridor. This landmark judgement is vital for preserving safe passage for Asian elephants and reducing human-wildlife conflict in the region, with 2001 winner Vivek Menon and his work with local champions largely contributing to this outcome.

WFN Continuation Funding winner Gerardo Ceballos in Mexico

8.  2006 winner Gerardo Ceballos was a finalist for the 2020 Indianapolis Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious awards for nature conservation. This was in recognition of decades of work to expose and address species extinction. Gerardo focuses on reintroduction and preserving important nature reserves in Mexico, particularly within the 500,000 ha Janos Reserve, home to prairie dogs, the black-footed ferret and bison.

9.  Following tireless efforts from 2019 winner Nikolai Petkov and his team, the Ministry of Environment has declared a no-hunting zone around the Shabla and Durankulak lakes in Bulgaria – an important site for migratory water birds. The area has more than tripled to 350m, protecting habitat for Red-breasted Geese, which during cold winters play host to the entire global population of the species.

10.  Not all is lost from the devastating fires in Brazil: 2015 winner Arnaud Desbiez and 2008 Gold Award winner Patricía Medici launched an emergency campaign to rescue and rehabilitate animals from the blaze including lowland tapirs, giant anteaters, and armadillos. To safeguard against future fires, they are establishing the first community led-firefighting force in the Pantanal. Last year Arnaud also featured in WFN Trustee, Sir David Attenborough’s BBC documentary, Extinction: The Facts, and Patricia received the 2020 Whitley Gold Award.

Whitley Award winner Caleb Ofori-Boateng

11.  12,132 acres of key frog habitat were legally designated as a municipal-level protected area in Ghana, led by 2019 winner Caleb Ofori-Boateng. This includes habitat home to the whistling frog, a rare and Critically Endangered species endemic to Western Africa, which was thought to be extinct for nearly 40 years until its recent rediscovery by Caleb and fellow scientists.

12.  Record-breaking breeding success was seen for Grey Crowned Cranes in Kabale, Uganda: 73 chicks fledged in the 2020 breeding season, thanks largely to the efforts of 2010 winner, Jimmy Muheebwa. He works on the protection of this endangered national bird, improving management of the wetlands it calls home and facilitating the creation of local conservation champions.

13.  2014 winner Shivani Bhalla and her team successfully vaccinated 2,642 animals against rabies and canine distemper in Samburu County, Kenya. This monumental task was achieved through the support of numerous organisations contributing time, effort and resources to cover such a vast landscape. Vaccinations help improve domestic dog welfare and reduce the transmission of canine diseases to endangered wild dog populations by way of adopting a “One Health” approach to conservation that balances the health of people, domestic animals and wildlife.

14.  2010 winner Angela Maldonado won the 2020 National Geographic Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation: Latin America. She is recognised for her work to prevent illegal wildlife trade across the tri-border of Colombia, Brazil and Peru. Angela works alongside policymakers on law enforcement actions for the conservation of wildlife, including the night monkey, used for unsubstantiated biomedical research and photo tourism, and with communities to reduce the extractions of natural resources from pristine forests.

Diving picture of Mediterranean monk seal, Gokova Bay Turkey.

15.  The Turkish government approved a further 350 km2 of protected coastline in the Mediterranean thanks to the continual work of 2017 Gold Award winner Zafer Kizilkaya and his team. This is a significant expansion of the existing marine protected area network where Zafer has established sustainable fisheries management models to protect the most overfished sea in the world and was responsible for bringing these fragile marine ecosystems back to life with the return of sandbar sharks and Critically Endangered Mediterranean monk seals.

16.  2014 winner Luis Torres completed assessments to update the Red List status of some of Cuba’s threatened and endemic plants. He and his team documented strategies for the long-term survival of 15 species and began implementation of species recovery plans. Along the way, he discovered 10 new plant species and rediscovered 13 presumed to be extinct, one of which was last seen in 1864.

17.  FoProBiM Director and 2014 Gold Award winner Jean Wiener strengthened protection of Haiti’s marine ecosystems when he signed the country’s first ever co-management agreement with the National Protected Areas Agency. This agreement follows years of involvement in the conservation of Haiti’s sea life. In March 2020, Jean finally received his medal for his entry into the Order of Agricultural Merit as a Knight in 2018, where he was recognised for his influential work to make Haiti’s fisheries more sustainable and protect coastal and marine resources.

18.  Plans for two logging concessions in the Ebo Forest in southwestern Cameroon were cancelled due to a collective plea to the government from 60 conservationists, including 2013 winner Ekwoge Abwe. This 1,500 km2 forest is a biodiversity hotspot where he has worked since 2010 and has been involved in the preservation of the recently discovered, Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee subspecies.

19.  2005 Gold Award winner Charu Mishra consulted governments, herders, youth, elected representatives and partners to draft a strategic policy for a new snow leopard friendly cashmere initiative in India that is both socially and environmentally sustainable. Charu has dedicated his life to conservation of snow leopards and their habitat and recently won the E.O. Wilson Award. He also completed a 100-mile marathon, running 24 hours non-stop, to raise money for the Snow Leopard Trust during lockdown.

20.  2017 winner Purnima Barman continued inspiring communities to preserve the Greater Adjutant Stork in Assam, India. Her project which is rooted in conservation and female empowerment brings women together, educating and improving the livelihoods of communities living in and around the stork’s habitat. Over 10,000 women have joined forces to support her campaign who also produced and distributed face masks in response to the pandemic crisis.

A member of Whitley Award winner Purnima Barman's hargila army