Press Releases

2021 Whitley Award winners

Whitley Fund for Nature awards grassroots conservation heroes for their fight to protect some of the world’s most endangered species

UK charity Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) has recognised seven of the world’s leading grassroots conservationists for their work with communities to protect endangered wildlife and threatened habitats.

Sir David Attenborough, WFN Trustee, said: “Whitley Award winners are local environmental heroes, harnessing the best available science and leading projects with passion. I admire their courage, their commitment, and their ability to affect change. There are few jobs more important.”

The prestigious Whitley Awards support grassroots conservationists from the Global South, leading impactful projects in their home countries. After an international search, in 2021 they recognise work to safeguard Southern Ground-hornbills (South Africa), Hooded Grebes (Argentina), Lahille’s bottlenose dolphins (Brazil), bats (Nigeria), Amur Falcons (India) and elephants (Kenya).

On Wednesday 12 May, the 2021 winners were celebrated at a virtual awards ceremony hosted by WFN Ambassadors Tom Heap and Kate Humble. During the celebration, the winners were inspired with special messages from Patron, HRH The Princess Royal and Trustee, Sir David Attenborough. They were each awarded £40,000 in project funding, with £100,000 going to the Whitley Gold Award winner, as well as training and PR support that will help them leverage their success.

Since the charity was founded in 1993, WFN has given £18million to over 200 conservations, benefiting wildlife, habitats and communities in more than 80 countries.

In a year critical for changing the course of our biodiversity and climate crises, Whitley Award winners are the grassroots heroes turning political ambitions to ‘build back better’ into a green reality. Winners have, in equal measure, a genuine understanding of local context, the scientific knowledge to put solutions into practice, and the leadership skills to affect change. Rooted in community participation, winning projects employ environmental education, advocacy, policy work and sustainable livelihood development to deliver positive, pragmatic results. This work comes at a critical time for those in the Global South, on the frontline of the environmental emergency.

This year’s Whitley Gold Award, the charity’s top prize, honours previous Whitley Award winner and Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu, who has received £100,000 in support of her outstanding work securing justice for wildlife and citizens, in the fight against ivory trafficking and habitat destruction.

Paula first won a Whitley Award in 2014 and went on to receive WFN Continuation Funding in 2016. With this support she launched the ‘Hands off our Elephants’ campaign, supported by First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, which inspired public demonstrations by thousands of Kenyans and contributed to decisive action against ivory poaching. Paula’s subsequent ‘Eyes in the Courtroom’ campaign, which monitored wildlife crime court cases, has been recognised as the most authoritative account of wildlife justice in Kenya and raised convictions to over 90%. ‘Wildlife Warriors’, a ground-breaking TV series produced and presented by Paula, is the first TV series made by Africans, for an African audience. It’s watched by millions of Kenyans.

With her Gold Award Paula will continue her pioneering approach, protecting the country’s wildlife while recognising Kenyans’ legitimate aspirations for economic development. CEO of WildlifeDirect, the funding will enable her to expand her efforts, empowering concerned citizens through the first ever Environmental Justice Desk, educating field rangers in the collection of evidence admissible in court, and defending iconic habitats from unchecked development by powerful interest groups that override environmental concerns with impunity. Paula will foster a culture of public participation in environmental decisions and promote African leadership of wildlife conservation across the continent.

Whitley Gold Award winner, Paula Kahumbu, said: “I want to see a global shift in the narrative where Africans are the storytellers about African wildlife and assume the lead in efforts to protect it”.

Charity Patron, HRH The Princess Royal said: “The Whitley Fund for Nature chooses leaders who have a real understanding of the challenges facing local people, which is especially important in these very worrying economic times. Their goal is to enable people to understand why conservation is so important and to empower them to support global efforts to protect the environment.”

Edward Whitley, Founder of WFN, said: “With key events including the biodiversity COP15 and climate COP26 approaching, there has never been a more important time to act on the climate and biodiversity crises we face. The 2021 Whitley Award winners have highlighted some of the finest examples of grassroots conservation through programmes that protect threatened wildlife, restore ecosystems and benefit indigenous people. We are honoured to welcome this year’s winners into our Whitley Awards family and are proud to acknowledge and support the expansion of their remarkable projects.”


  • Lucy Kemp | A community-based approach to conserve the Southern Ground-hornbill | South Africa | Winner of the Whitley Award donated by Anne Reece
  • Nuklu Phom | Establishing a biodiversity peace corridor in Nagaland | India | Winner of the Whitley Award donated by the MAVA Foundation
  • Iroro Tanshi | Bats from the brink: Participatory action to save the short-tailed roundleaf bat | Nigeria | Winner of the Whitley Award donated by the Arcus Foundation
  • Kini Roesler | Hooded Grebe: Guardian of the Patagonian Steppe | Argentina | Winner of the Whitley Award donated by The Frank Brake Charitable Trust
  • Pedro Fruet | Building bridges to encourage coexistence with the Lahille’s bottlenose dolphin | Brazil | Winner of the Whitley Award donated by The William Brake Foundation


  • Paula Kahumbu | Justice for people and wildlife | Kenya | Winner of the Whitley Gold Award donated by the Friends of Whitley Fund for Nature


Press materials available:

Copyright-cleared photographs of the Whitley Award-winning project are available here:

Short films featuring the winners, narrated by WFN Trustee, Sir David Attenborough, are available here:

Notes to Editors:

  • Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is a UK registered charity supporting grassroots conservation leaders across the Global South.
  • The Whitley Awards are prestigious international prizes presented to mid-career conservationists leading successful projects in their home countries. Each winner receives training, media profile and £40,000 in project funding over one year.
  • Whitley Awards are normally presented to winners by charity Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, at an annual ceremony in London. This year, the winners were celebrated on a virtual stage due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The Whitley Gold Award is worth £100,000 and recognises a past Whitley Award winner who has gone on to make an outstanding impact. Joining the Judging Panel, the Gold recipient also acts as a mentor to Whitley Award winners and an international ambassador for conservation success.
  • Since its formation 28 years ago, the Whitley Fund for Nature has given £18million to more than 200 conservation leaders in over 80 countries.
  • WFN operates a rigorous application process involving expert panel representation from international NGOs including WWF-UK, Fauna and Flora International (FFI), the Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology (DICE) at the University of Kent and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). This year, WFN received 107 applications that passed through four stages of assessment, reviewed at every step by expert screeners and panellists who kindly offer their expertise voluntarily.
  • The Whitley Awards are open to individuals working on wildlife conservation in countries that are poor in capital for conservation but rich in biodiversity.
  • Whitley Award winners receive professional media and communications training, network with leading conservation organisations, meet WFN donors and are interviewed by the media. The associated publicity of winning a Whitley Award puts a spotlight on their important work, boosting profile both in the UK and winners’ home countries.
  • The 2021 Whitley Awards week has been generously sponsored by Earlymarket LLP, Whitley Awards Partner.
  • Whitley Award winners join an international network of alumni eligible to apply for Continuation Funding. Awarded competitively, these grants allow winners to scale up effective conservation solutions over multiple years. Half of WFN’s annual Continuation Funding is directed to nature-based solutions that benefit the climate, wildlife and human wellbeing.
  • WFN is generously supported by: Anne Reece; Arcus Foundation; The Frank Brake Charitable Trust; The William Brake Foundation; The Badenoch Fund; The Benindi Fund; The Corcoran Foundation; Earlymarket LLP; The Evolution Education Trust; Thomas Gibson; Global Wildlife Conservation; The Britta & Jeremy Lloyd Family Charitable Trust; Lund Trust, a charitable fund of Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing; MAVA Foundation; Charles and Ruth Plowden; The Foundation for the Promotion of Wellbeing; The Rabelais Trust; The Rufford Foundation; Fondation Segré; The Shears Foundation; Maurice and Vivien Thompson; The Constance Travis Charitable Trust; The Waterloo Foundation; Garfield Weston Foundation; Whitley Animal Protection Trust; the Friends of Whitley Fund for Nature; all our partners and supporters and those donors who have chosen to give anonymously.