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Dedy Yansyah wins Whitley Award

Last stand for the Sumatran rhino: saving the species from imminent extinction

Indonesian conservationist, Dedy Yansyah, has won a £40,000 prize from UK wildlife conservation charity the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN), for his efforts to save wild Sumatran rhinos from imminent extinction in the last place on earth where rhinos, orangutans, elephants and tigers co-exist.

“There is a huge probability this project will be our last chance to save the remaining Sumatran rhino population from extinction.”

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.

Whitley Awards are world-leading prizes for wildlife conservation. On Wednesday 27 April they were presented by WFN Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, to six grassroots conservationists pioneering solutions to the biodiversity crisis, live streamed to YouTube.

With one million species at risk of extinction and warnings of inextricable links between biodiversity loss and climate change, Whitley Award winners will use the funding to accelerate their breakthrough work to reverse declines in species from red pandas to sea turtles.

Poaching for rhino horn was the initial cause of the Sumatran rhino’s rapid decline but intensive efforts have maintained a zero-poaching rate, spearheaded by Leuser Conservation Forum patrol teams, supporting the Gunung Leuser National Park authority and Aceh Environment and Forestry Department.

Today, the main threat to the species’ survival is its inability to breed where tiny populations have become isolated by road construction, urban encroachment and logging. Thanks to a commitment from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Indonesia’s Sumatran Rhino Emergency Action Plan will bring together isolated individuals in eastern Leuser through a new breeding centre currently under construction. In years to come, the aim is for the offspring of these rhinos to be reintroduced into the Leuser Ecosystem’s viable habitat.

To bridge the gap, Yansyah and his team will scale up successful patrolling efforts to deter poaching and illegal logging in eastern Leuser, with WFN support enabling them to expand their 33 teams of 165 local rangers. They will also gather data to ensure that future reintroductions are successful.

The Leuser Ecosystem on the island of Sumatra is known as the real-life jungle book, being the last place on Earth where orangutans, rhinos, elephants, and tigers co-exist. Each is a vital ecosystem engineer – the rhino regenerating the rainforest by eating fruits then spreading nutrient-rich dung, full of seeds, across the environment. This particular plant-animal symbiosis cannot be replaced by another species, meaning extinction will have a knock-on impact on the landscape – spanning 2.2 million hectares within Aceh and supporting 4 million Acehnese people.

“We often forget how much humans depend on nature. When we speak about conserving the environment, we are really talking about taking care of our future, because nature provides essential resources for our survival and the next generation.”

Danni Parks, WFN Director, said: “Dedy and his Leuser Conservation Forum ranger teams are taking responsibility for saving one of the million species now at risk of extinction: the elusive Sumatran rhino. With this Whitley Award they can double down on protecting wild populations while plans for captive breeding and reintroduction progress. As an ecosystem engineer for one of the largest conservation areas in Southeast Asia – the unique Leuser Ecosystem – their valiant efforts are also ensuring the future of the forest and the ecosystem services it provides to people.”

WFN also recognised Whitley Award alumnus, Dr Charudutt Mishra, with its top prize – the Whitley Gold Award worth £100,000. 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.


  • 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 £40,000 funding over one year, training and media profile including short films narrated by Trustee, Sir David Attenborough.
  • The 2022 Whitley Awards took place on Wednesday 27 April at the Royal Geographical Society, live streamed to YouTube. The 2022 Whitley Award winners are:
  1. Emmanuel Amoah, Ghana
    Tales from the riverbank: safeguarding the last stronghold of West African slender-snouted crocodile
  2. Micaela Camino, Argentina
    Empowering communities to defend their human rights and conserve Argentina’s Dry Chaco
  3. Pablo Hoffmann, Brazil
    Rooting for the future: nurturing wild plant diversity in the Araucaria Forest region
  4. Sonam Lama, Nepal
    People and red pandas: mutually beneficial conservation in the Himalayas
  5. Estrela Matilde, São Tomé and Príncipe
    Stemming the tide of plastic pollution: an island-wide effort to save sea turtles
  6. Dedy Yansyah, Indonesia
    Last stand for the Sumatran rhino: looking out for the Leuser’s ecosystem engineers
  • 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. The 2022 Whitley Gold Award winner is world-leading snow leopard conservationist, Charudutt Mishra.


Amy Forshaw, Head of Communications at Whitley Fund for Nature

E: [email protected]
T: +44 (0)7746 412189

Images: 2022 Whitley Award winner Dedy Yansyah © Kike Arnal for Arcus, Fieldwork © Junaidi Hanafiah/ Leuser Conservation Forum, Sumatran rhino © Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry