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Madagascar’s Mamy Razafitsalama Wins 2023 Whitley Award to Save Lemur Habitat from Fires

“Lemurs are the most endangered group of animals on the planet and they are only found in Madagascar. If lemurs go extinct it would be a huge loss to Madagascar and the whole world.”

London, 26 April: UK charity Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is recognising conservationist Mamy Razafitsalama with a 2023 Whitley Award to accelerate his community-based fire management programme to protect lemur habitat in Madagascar where rapidly disappearing forest cover has left one third of lemur species Critically Endangered.

WFN Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, will present the prestigious £40,000 prize to Mamy 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.”

Mamy, Country Director of Planet Madagascar, will focus on fire management and prevention in Ankarafantsika National Park in northwest Madagascar, one of the largest remaining fragments of primary forest in the country, which is threatened by fires, logging, construction, slash-and-burn agriculture and domestic grazing.

Ninety-five percent of fires in Western Madagascar are caused by humans. The country has lost an estimated 44 percent of its natural forest cover since the 1950s, and climate change is compounding poverty, putting more pressure on the forests. The UN has said Madagascar experienced the world’s first climate-change induced famine.

Mamy’s work aims to improve local livelihoods to reduce pressures on the dry deciduous forest and engage communities in fire management and prevention efforts. The project will protect 8,000 ha of forest in Ankarafantsika from fire, grazing and extraction incidents through community patrols, who will also maintain firebreaks. In addition, Mamy and his team will increase local awareness about the impact of fires on lemurs, forests and people through educational programmes and radio broadcasts.

Ankarafantsika is home to eight lemur species, five of which are threatened with extinction, and all of which live within Mamy’s fire management zone: Coquerel’s sifaka; mongoose lemur, common brown lemur, Milne-Edward’s sportive lemur, western woolly lemur, fat-tailed dwarf lemur, golden-brown mouse lemur and the gray mouse lemur.

The country is a global biodiversity hotspot with 82 percent of plants and 90 percent of vertebrate species in Madagascar endemic to the island, which is the size of California. It is home to 150,000 species found nowhere else on Earth, including 112 species of lemur which are important seed dispersers, contributing to the health of the forest ecosystem.

This funding will be critical to continuing a fire management program that started in 2015 and to support ongoing patrols to protect the forest from human disturbance. The work has seen Planet Madagascar do hundreds of radio broadcasts to communicate conservation messages with local communities, andach project is run by project staff from the communities themselves. This intimate connection keeps community members engaged in conservation. Mamy says “local communities are the decision makers – they can save biodiversity.

“The biggest threat to our project is economic insecurity in Madagascar. If residents in and around the national park have no opportunities they will turn to extracting resources from the park… our fire management team is made up of community members who benefit through ongoing employment and we benefit from their local expertise.”





  • 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.
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Carol Roussel, Head of Media Relations at Whitley Fund for Nature

E: [email protected]

  1. 07379 019 804


Kate Stephenson, Head of Communications at Whitley Fund for Nature

E: [email protected]

  1. 07460 136 571