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Whitley Award donated by the MAVA Foundation

A new Biodiversity Peace Corridor: Indian conservationist awarded for changing fate of the Amur Falcon

Indian conservationist Nuklu Phom has been awarded a prestigious Whitley Award, worth £40,000, for creating a new network of community-owned forests to protect Amur Falcons and increase biodiversity in Nagaland.

The Whitley Awards are presented annually to individuals from the Global South by UK-based charity the Whitley Fund for Nature. Nuklu is one of six conservationists recognised in 2021 for their commitment to conserving some of the planet’s most endangered species and spectacular natural habitats. During a virtual celebration, they received messages of support from charity Patron HRH The Princess Royal and Trustee, Sir David Attenborough.

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.


Nagaland, part of the Indo-Burma Hotspot, is home to the Naga: Tibeto-Burman people who share their mountainous, forested state with a rich diversity of wildlife. Communities have historically hunted wild animals for food and medicine, but in the last few decades a surge in unemployment, unsustainable management and shifting cultural priorities have put pressure on natural resources. The worrying drop in biodiversity has received little international attention.


Amur Falcons are the world’s largest migrating raptors. After breeding in south eastern Siberia and northern China, they migrate in their millions across India then spend five weeks roosting at sites in Manipur, Assam, Meghalaya and Nagaland. Their arrival coincides with the emergence of flying termites and the falcons act as important bio-control agents, feeding on the insects that would otherwise destroy crops. The raptors’ 22,000-kilometre migratory route is one of the longest amongst all avian species.

Some people have recently begun hunting and selling the falcons in large numbers, with 14,000 individuals killed annually in one village alone. Nuklu and his team at the Lemsachenlok Society want to offer alternatives that engage communities in conservation using the Amur Falcon as a flagship. Since the project began in 2007, a huge reserve covering 800 hectares has been set aside and the number of roosting falcons has risen dramatically, from 50,000 to one million.


Nuklu’s expanded Biodiversity Peace Corridor will incorporate 16 villages across four districts. By switching to sustainable, non-extractive land-use practices, his team can ensure that the area supports both biodiversity and livelihoods, uniting some of the most economically constrained communities in a common cause. Nuklu will also revive the tribal education system and enable elders to teach traditional knowledge to the younger generation. He is a true grassroots hero.

Whitley Award winner, Nuklu Phom, said: “For me, the Amur Falcon represents a free world without borders – they don’t just roost in our forests during their annual migration, but they travel across continents. Through their migration, they bring together different communities, tribes, languages, policy makers, scientists and nations. The Whitley Award will be a life-changing and transforming honour and I am so grateful to receive it.

Edward Whitley, Founder of the Whitley Fund for Nature, said: “Nuklu’s work is exactly the kind of grassroots conservation WFN exists to support through the Whitley Awards. His project is reviving traditional systems to conserve the rich biodiversity of this region and manage land sustainably. We are thrilled to provide Nuklu with the funding to expand his work, allowing him to replicate the impressive results that have been achieved to date via a network of community reserves.

This year’s Whitley Gold Award, worth £100,000 GBP, honours Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu for her outstanding work securing justice for wildlife and citizens. Paula is pioneering a new approach, that protects the country’s wildlife and habitats while recognising Kenyans’ legitimate aspirations for economic development. CEO of WildlifeDirect, her Whitley Gold Award 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”.


  • 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
  • Sammy Safari | Transforming the future of sea turtles through coastal stewardship | Kenya | Winner of the Whitley Award donated by The Corcoran Foundation
  • 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 Nuklu’s project are available here.
  • A tailor-made short film featuring Nuklu narrated by WFN Trustee, Sir David Attenborough, is 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.