“Lions are top predators; the loss of this keystone species impacts the entire ecosystem and can be seen as one of the indicators for the degradation of the entire habitat.”
London, 26 April: UK charity Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is recognising Dr Serge Alexis Kamgang of Cameroon with a 2023 Whitley Award for his work to protect a critically important population of lions in the Bénoué ecosystem, where habitat loss and a decline in prey, along with a surge in human and livestock populations have escalated conflict between lions and local herders.
WFN Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, will present the prestigious £40,000 prize to Serge and five other winners on 26 April at the Royal Geographical Society in a ceremony that also marks the 30th anniversary of the Whitley Fund for Nature, livestreamed to YouTube.
WFN Trustee Sir David Attenborough said that the work of conservationists has never been more urgent: “We need the work of Whitley Award winners to succeed and to help them to whatever extent possible.”
Despite being home to only 250 adult lions, the Bénoué ecosystem in northern Cameroon is one of three remaining hotspots for lions in West and Central Africa. The vast 30,000 km² landscape, is also home to elephants, leopards and spotted hyenas. The region which includes three national parks — Faro, Bénoué and Bouba-Ndjidda — is at risk of over-exploitation by the expanding communities which flank its borders. The human population is growing and now exceeds 25,000; 100 times more people than lions.
Serge’s project will address the biggest challenge facing lions and large carnivores: increased numbers of cattle inside protected areas attracting lions that kill the livestock; herders, whose livelihoods are at stake, in-turn respond with retaliation killings. Founder and Executive President of the non-profit organisation BEDD, which translates as Biodiversity, Environment and Sustainable Development, Serge leads the only lion conservation project in the region, which forms a key link for lions between Central and West Africa’s savannah landscape.
Using Whitley Award funding, Serge and his team will train 45 park guards and six community lion guards, who will work together to monitor lion and cattle movements and mitigate human-lion conflict and other pressures, such as poaching, lion bone trafficking, illegal mining, expanding agriculture and wildfires. Lion guards have been working successfully in the Bénoué ecosystem for almost 10 years and are recruited among the local youth who assist the National Park warden and his rangers. They are trained to focus specifically on large carnivores and are equipped with motorbikes, GPS and mobile phones.
Serge’s programme will improve the knowledge of 1,500 stakeholders – including park staff, local government, and conservationists – on the status and distribution of lions and their prey in the area to inform future management. He’ll also work with communities to raise awareness of lion conservation through educational campaigns.
“Lion guards have seen increased reporting of human wildlife incidences, which indicates the local community are gaining confidence in lion guards to be intermediaries with Park authorities.”
Serge projects that this sustainable approach involving local communities will help recover populations of the lion subspecies. He says, “It will take time but people in this area have historically shown encouraging tolerance to lions and other countries in Africa have also shown that farmers and the local populations of lions can co-exist.”
HIGH-RES IMAGES AVAILABLE HERE.
NOTES TO EDITORS – WHITLEY FUND FOR NATURE
- Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is a UK charity supporting grassroots conservation leaders in the Global South. Over 30 years it has channelled £20 million to more than 200 conservationists across 80 countries.
- An early pioneer in the sector, WFN was one of the first charities to channel funding directly to projects led by in-country nationals. Its rigorous application process identifies inspiring individuals who combine the latest science with community-based action, to benefit biodiversity, climate 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 Trustee, Sir David Attenborough.
- The 2023 Whitley Awards Ceremony is on Wednesday 26 April at the Royal Geographical Society, streamed live to YouTube from 8pm BST. The 2023 Whitley Award winners are:
- Yuliana Bedolla in Mexico who is protecting marine bird life from invasive species on the Baja California Pacific islands
- Tulshi Laxmi Suwal is a world expert on pangolins who plans to conduct Nepal’s first forest fire impact assessment on pangolins, the most traded mammal in the world.
- Mamy Razafitsalama is working to improve livelihoods and reduce forest fires in Madagascar, which has lost nearly half of its forest cover and where one-third of the country’s 110 lemur species are now Critically Endangered
- Serge Alexis Kamgang in Cameroon will expand the only lion-focussed project in the Bénoué ecosystem where lion numbers have fallen to just 250
- Albert Salemgareyev in Kazakhstan plans to find sustainable solutions to emerging conflict between saiga antelope and local pastoralists over water resources in the country’s newest protected area
- Leonard Akwany in Kenya works in Lake Victoria where native fish species have more than halved to 200 and local livelihoods are threatened. He plans to create community managed protected areas to allow fish populations to recover.
- Every year, a past Whitley Award winner is chosen to receive the Whitley Gold Award, worth £100,000, in recognition of their outstanding contribution to conservation. Joining the Judging Panel, the Whitley Gold Award recipient also acts as a mentor to Whitley Award winners and an international ambassador for conservation success. The 2023 Whitley Gold Award winner is Kenyan conservationist Shivani Bhalla, recognised for her community-led work to secure a future for lions in northern Kenya.
- whitleyaward.org, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn
FOR INTERVIEW REQUESTS AND INFORMATION, CONTACT:
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