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Whitley Gold Award donated by the Friends of Whitley Fund for Nature

Justice for people and wildlife: leading Kenyan conservationist receives Whitley Gold Award

Kenyan wildlife conservationist, Paula Kahumbu, has received a prestigious Gold Award from the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) for her outstanding leadership of Africa’s conservation movement.

The Award – worth £100,000 in project funding and the charity’s top prize – acknowledges Paula’s pioneering approach to protecting the country’s wildlife while recognising Kenyans’ legitimate aspirations for economic development.

During a virtual celebration, Paula, CEO of WildlifeDirect, received messages of thanks from charity Patron, HRH The Princess Royal and Trustee, Sir David Attenborough.

In Kenya, wildlife faces multiple pressures. Elephants, rhinos, pangolins and many other species are targeted by poachers to supply the global illegal wildlife trade, which generates millions for kingpin criminals, exploits local communities and takes advantage of lax laws.

An even greater threat is posed by the destruction and degradation of natural habitat that wild species need to survive. Unchecked development including large- scale agriculture, mining, and infrastructure is transforming wildlife corridors and buffer zones adjacent to iconic protected areas, causing a crisis of human-wildlife conflict with deadly consequences. For example, the Amboseli ecosystem is currently at risk from avocado farmers who wish to create a farm in the Kimana wildlife corridor. The fear is that the corridor will become blocked and wildlife will not be able to migrate or access grazing areas and water, with potentially catastrophic effects.

Backed by powerful interest groups that override environmental concerns with impunity, their opponents can feel isolated, powerless, and fearful of taking a stand. The loss of the nation’s wildlife is an environmental and humanitarian injustice.

With her Whitley Gold Award Paula will increase accountability, transparency and local participation in decision making, while strengthening environmental law and its application to secure justice for people and wildlife.

Upon receiving her Whitley Gold Award, Paula Kahumbu said: “I am very grateful to be a recipient of the Whitley Gold Award. It will significantly contribute to our vision of African-led wildlife conservation and having the continued support of WFN will be a huge vote in confidence that will help raise our profile internationally.”

“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.

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.

Her Whitley Gold Award funding will help establish the first Environmental Justice Desk (EJD), empowering citizens and organisations to respond to threats to wildlife at a local and national level and broker win-win solutions to human-wildlife conflict. The desk will be monitored by a team who will respond to the growing number of enquiries from members of the public. The service will collate, provide advice, and forward issues to the relevant agencies and offer legal action where necessary.

The EJD will address issues such as wildlife crimes, illegal harvesting, illegal developments in buffer zones surrounding protected area and the wildlife corridors that connect these areas. The creation of the EJD will in turn help create a culture of public participation and empowerment in environmental decision making.

At a national level the project will contribute to increased transparency in environmental decision making, and accountability of decision-making bodies, as well as improvements to environmental law and more effective application of existing law. This project will serve as a model for similar initiatives in Africa and across the world.

Paula will also promote African leadership of wildlife conservation efforts across Africa, engaging fellow WFN alumni via her TV show, ‘Wildlife Warriors’.

Edward Whitley, Founder of the Whitley Fund for Nature, said: “Paula is without doubt one of the most influential and respected conservationists in Africa. She has made remarkable progress in tackling Africa’s elephant poaching crisis and continues to empower communities to become a catalyst for change.

“Her work is proof that grassroots conservation has the power to make impact nationally and internationally and she has raised the bar for what can be achieved through tenacity and know-how. As a past Whitley Award winner, we are delighted to honour her in 2021 with our top prize – the Whitley Gold Award – and support her ambitions to secure justice for people and wildlife.”

The Whitley Awards are presented annually to individuals from the Global South by UK-based conservation charity the Whitley Fund for Nature. Six other conservationists were recognised with Whitley Awards and will receive £40,000 in funding to support their work with a range of threatened species.


  • 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 Paula’s project are available here.
  • A tailor-made short film featuring Paula 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.