Transforming global ambitions into grassroots action: six wildlife conservationists win 2022 Whitley Awards
The Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) has recognised seven grassroots wildlife conservationists with Whitley Awards for their pioneering solutions to the biodiversity crisis. They were presented by WFN Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, in London on Wednesday 27 April, live streamed to thousands of people on YouTube.
With one million species at risk of extinction and warnings of inextricable links between biodiversity loss and climate change, the winners will use the funding to accelerate their breakthrough work to reverse declines in species from Sumatran rhinos to red pandas in Nepal. The Whitley Gold Award, worth £100,000, went to Dr Charudutt Mishra, the world expert on snow leopards for his groundbreaking work over 25 years.
Ahead of world leaders meeting later this year to set targets to address mass extinction at the UN Biodiversity Conference, or COP15, our Whitley Award winners will each receive £40,000 to accelerate their dramatic progress on the ground which has reduced poaching, restored habitat and recovered populations of animals and plants essential for functional ecosystems – vital life support systems for humanity.
Estrela Matilde, São Tomé and Príncipe, NGO: Fundação Príncipe
Stemming the tide of plastic pollution: an island-wide effort to save sea turtles
Videos recorded by tagged turtles now contain more plastic debris than fellow turtles. Impacting over 700 species through ingestion, entanglement and degradation of the marine environment, plastic pollution presents an increasing threat to wildlife as well as fisheries that provide protein for coastal communities. With her Whitley Award Estrela Matilde will fit plastic bottles with innovative GPS transmitters to capture data on distribution and catalyse a government commitment to reducing plastic imports, as well as starting waste-based businesses with female entrepreneurs, recycling washed-up flipflops and beer bottles into jewellery.
“We, as consumers, have driven these gentle giants to the edge of extinction. The items found on our beaches come from the USA, Singapore, Senegal… it’s scary. Every single item you consume can end up being eaten by a sea turtle.”
Sonam Lama, Nepal, NGO: Red Panda Network
People and red pandas: mutually beneficial conservation in the Himalayas
A local emblem and international star, the red panda is Critically Endangered. Record numbers of illegal pelts were seized during 2021, with habitat fragmented into over 400 isolated patches. Sonam Lama, who lives and works in the foothills of the world’s third largest mountain, will use his Whitley Award to turn red panda poachers into protectors and diversify sustainable income – particularly for women and young people – through tree nurseries, forest restoration, and community land stewardship.
“Future generations should have the right to see this charismatic species. I would love my daughter to know about red pandas, wouldn’t you?”
Pablo Hoffmann, Brazil, NGO: Sociedade Chauá
Rooting for the future: nurturing wild plant diversity in the Araucaria Forest region
Less than 1% of southern Brazil’s Araucaria Forest remains. While deforestation rampages, reforestation efforts have lacked the diversity of plants essential for a functional ecosystem that can support wildlife, adapt to climate change and sequester 40 times more carbon than monoculture plantations. Pablo Hoffmann is creating the most diverse Araucaria plant nursery in the world, containing over 80% of known tree species from the region. With his Whitley Award he will map wild tree populations and collect seeds from mother trees across 40 sites, then produce over 60,000 seedlings for reintroduction to 20 areas as a nature-based solution to the climate and biodiversity crises.
“Any ecosystem out of balance is a long-term global danger. New viruses, lack of food, lack of rain, chains of extinction… We are completely connected; the consequences of the destruction of forests in Brazil reach the UK with ease.”
Dedy Yansyah, Indonesia, NGO: Leuser Conservation Forum
Last stand for the Sumatran rhino: looking out for Leuser’s ecosystem engineers
Habitat loss and poaching have left Sumatran rhinos perilously close to extinction with fewer than 80 individuals left in the wild. While captive breeding and reintroduction programmes are established, the Leuser Ecosystem is the species’ last viable wild habitat. Intensive efforts have achieved a zero-poaching rate and with his Whitley Award, Dedy Yansyah will expand the 33 teams of 165 local rangers to safeguard these elusive ecosystem engineers.
“There is a huge probability this project will be our last chance to save the remaining Sumatran rhino population from extinction.”
Micaela Camino, Argentina, Organisation: Proyecto Quimilero
Empowering communities to defend their human rights and conserve Argentina’s Dry Chaco
The Dry Chaco is the largest sub-tropical dry forest in the world but faces one of the highest deforestation rates, with 25% logged in two decades. It is home to the indigenous Wichí and the Criollo people who are being forced off their land by industrial agriculture, with additional ramifications for wildlife that relies on the forest like Chacoan peccary – pig-like mammals with a punk hairstyle. If no action is taken, Micaela Camino’s latest research shows that this endemic species will be extinct within 30 years. With her Whitley Award, she will collaborate with local people on solutions to these interlinked ecological and social crises, including equipping them with knowledge of their human rights to resist unlawful deforestation.
“We urgently need to act at the grassroots. No greenwashing is going to make a difference, we need real action based on real knowledge.”
Emmanuel Amoah, Ghana, NGO: Threatened Species Conservation Alliance
Tales from the riverbank: safeguarding the last stronghold of West African slender-snouted crocodile
The West African slender-snouted crocodile is one of the rarest reptiles in the world, having declined by 90% in 75 years due to degradation of nesting riverbanks and domestic water pollution. Emmanuel Amoah will use his Whitley Award to reduce habitat loss, train local conservation champions to deter illegal logging, and restore riverbank nesting sites along for this Critically Endangered crocodilian.
“I feel a sense of responsibility to secure a better future for the next generation.”
2022 Whitley Gold Award winner: Charudutt Mishra, India, NGO: Snow Leopard Trust
Building Global Capacity for Community-Led Conservation
WFN also recognised Whitley Award alumnus Dr Charudutt Mishra with its top prize, the Whitley Gold Award, for his international success. A snow leopard conservationist working across the big cat’s range of 12 countries including India, Afghanistan, China and Russia, Mishra’s pioneering approach to community-led conservation has been named an outstanding global practice by the UN Biodiversity Conference. With ‘fortress conservation’ having displaced an estimated 130 million people worldwide, community-based conservation that champions the co-existence of people and wildlife offers a transformative solution to the biodiversity crisis. The Whitley Gold Award will enable Mishra to train conservationists on every continent in equitable approaches.
“I often notice that when people are starting off with their conservation work, they feel their ideas may be too small. And my view is that no step is too small. Do not hesitate, go out and do things and get your hands and feet dirty.”
WFN’s Director, Danni Parks, said: “This year’s Whitley Award winners, and the Whitley Gold Award winner, give us seven inspiring examples of conservation in action: as world leaders reconvene at the UN Biodiversity Conference in China this year, these grassroots communities are coming together to implement tangible benefits to wildlife, landscapes and their own livelihoods. By channelling support directly to this locally-led work, which is addressing the interconnected crises of species extinction, climate change and social inequality, WFN is ensuring that the best hands for the job have the tools they need to succeed.”
NOTES TO EDITORS
- Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is a UK registered charity supporting grassroots conservation leaders in the Global South. Over 29 years it has channelled £19 million to more than 200 conservationists in 80 countries.
- A pioneer in the sector, WFN was one of the first charities to direct funding to locally-led projects. Its rigorous application process identifies inspiring individuals who combine the latest science with community-based action, to benefit wildlife, landscapes, and people.
- WFN’s flagship prizes – Whitley Awards – are presented by Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, at a prestigious annual ceremony in London. Winners receive funding, training and media profile including films narrated by charity Trustee, Sir David Attenborough. The 2022 Whitley Awards took place on Wednesday 27 April at the Royal Geographical Society, live streamed to YouTube.
- Whitley Award winners join an international alumni network eligible for WFN Continuation Funding, allowing successful conservation solutions to be scaled up. Projects receive up to £100,000 over two years and include nature-based solutions that jointly address the climate and biodiversity crises.
- Every year, a Whitley Award alumnus is chosen to receive the Whitley Gold Award, worth £100,000, in recognition of their outstanding contribution to the conservation sector. Joining the Judging Panel, the Whitley Gold Award recipient also acts as a mentor to Whitley Award winners.
FOR HIGH-RES IMAGES, INTERVIEWS AND INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Amy Forshaw, Head of Communications at Whitley Fund for Nature
E: [email protected]
T: +44 (0)7746 412189
Images: Sea Turtle © Dario Paraiso; Estrela Matilde © Yves Rocher; Sonam Lama © Janam Shrestha; Dedy Yansyah © Kike Arnal for Arcus; Snow leopard © Prasenjeet Yadav