Meet the 2023 Whitley Award winners!

Announcing this year’s recipients of world-leading prizes for grassroots wildlife conservation…

The 2023 Whitley Awards, on Wednesday 26 April at the Royal Geographical Society in London, celebrated six grassroots conservationists identified after a worldwide search for locally-led solutions to the global biodiversity and climate crises.

We also recognised this year’s Whitley Gold Award winner, Shivani Bhalla, and her team at Ewaso Lions.

WFN’s 30th Anniversary, the special evening was hosted by WFN Ambassadors Tom Heap and Kate Humble. The Whitley Awards were presented by WFN Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, in front of nearly 500 guests and the event was  live-streamed to over 1,000 people and counting around the world, which you can watch here.

Please join us in congratulating our 2023 Whitley Award winners: inspirational grassroots leaders working to protect communities, wildlife, and landscapes.

The winners of the 2023 Whitley Awards are:

Shivani bhalla | WHITLEY GOLD AWARD

Samburu, Kenya | Catalysing a global movement for locally-led conservation | Winner of the Whitley Gold Award donated by the Friends of Whitley Fund for Nature

Kenya’s Dr Shivani Bhalla, a former Whitley Award winner has been honoured with the £100,000 Whitley Gold Award for her work with her team of Samburu warriors, elders and women to secure a future for lions in northern Kenya amid the worst drought in living memory.

Shivani is Founder and Executive Director at Ewaso Lions, where her all-Kenyan team is sustaining wildlife, livestock and people. Her community-led approach has been key to the success of the team, which has seen the local lion population rise to a record high even as lions remain more endangered than elephants or rhinos in Africa.

Her awarding-winning project aims to inspire a global movement to empower local leaders to define community-led conservation efforts by boosting the skills needed to fight mounting threats. It will build on the success of programmes including “Warrior Watch,” created in 2010 by Jeneria Lekilelei, then a young warrior and now director of community conservation at Ewaso Lions

yuliana bedolla

Mexico | Safeguarding seabird nesting sites on Mexican Pacific Islands | Winner of the Whitley Award donated by The William Brake Foundation

In Mexico, Yuliana Bedolla Guzmán is also working with fishing cooperatives and boosting the role of local women as she addresses the threat of invasive species — one of the top drivers of biodiversity loss. Mexican islands provide important breeding grounds for nocturnal seabirds, and are crucial habitats for one-third of the world’s seabird species. Yuliana will use her funding to boost the role of local women and fishing coops to strengthen seabird monitoring and protocols to prevent accidental introduction of invasive mammals, which can decimate seabird colonies.

albert salemgareyev

Kazakhstan | Building trust in data: Finding solutions for saiga antelope and people in West Kazakhstan | Winner of the Whitley Award donated by Goldman Sachs Morris Family Foundation

The vast steppe landscapes of Kazakhstan are a globally important carbon store and home to 95 percent of the world’s population of the Critically Endangered saiga antelope. Albert Salemgareyev will conduct research to better understand and resolve rising conflict between saiga and local herders over dwindling water resources, in a country at risk of water scarcity within a decade. The saiga is a keystone species of the Central Asian steppe whose population has rebounded to a record high, but this new conflict over water puts this global conservation success story at risk.

Serge Alexis Kamgang

Cameroon | Local lion guards: Promoting coexistence in the Bénoué Ecosystem | Winner of the Whitley Award donated by the Corcoran Foundation

Dr Serge Alexis Kamgang will use his Whitley Award funding to protect the last remaining stronghold of 250 lions in Cameroon’s Bénoué ecosystem. Dwindling habitat and a decline in prey along with a rise in human and livestock populations in protected areas have set the lions on course for conflict with local herders. Serge plans to enlist local youth to become lion guards and train park guards to monitor lion and cattle movement and mitigate human-wildlife conflict, one of the key drivers in the decline in African lions along with habitat loss.

tulshi laxmi suwal

Nepal | People and pangolins: Mutually beneficial conservation in Central Nepal | Winner of the Whitley Award donated by Anne Reece

In Nepal, where more than 3,000 fire incidences are reported every year, the country’s top pangolin expert Dr Tulshi Laxmi Suwal will use her Whitley Award funding to lead the country’s first impact assessment on the effects of fire on forest habitat of the Critically Endangered Chinese pangolin, one of the most trafficked mammals in the world. Tulshi’s work aims to address the growing prevalence of forest fires in one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change.

mamy razafitsalama

Madagascar | Lifeline for lemurs: Protecting forests and livelihoods in Madagascar | Winner of the Whitley Award donated by the Hempel Foundation

In Madagascar, rapidly disappearing forest cover has left one-third of lemur species Critically Endangered. Mamy Razafitsalama will accelerate his community-based fire management programme to protect lemur habitat in a country that the UN said experienced the world’s first climate change-induced famine.

leonard akwany

Kenya | Community stewards: Securing a future for freshwater fish in Lake Victoria | Winner of the Whitley Award donated by Inigo Insurance

The work of Kenya’s Leonard Akwany to bolster grassroots fisheries management at Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest freshwater lake, seeks to help native fish species recover after they more than halved due to unsustainable fishing and habitat degradation, which is tipping vulnerable waterside communities into food insecurity. Leonard’s plans include the creation of a community-managed fishery reserve, improving the capacity of five local Beach Management Units and will also address the poor involvement of women in fisheries management. Its success has the potential to have a much wider impact across Lake Victoria.

The charity’s flagship prizes, Whitley Awards are won competitively following a worldwide search. Applications are assessed by an expert Judging Panel, and winners receive £40,000 in project funding over one year. In addition, the Awards provide elevated profile, new connections and training – all tools that winners can use to better protect the natural world. Winners also join our 200-strong community of Whitley Award alumni – a global network of peers with whom they can share expertise, resources and encouragement.

We are so grateful to our Whitley Award donors, and to all of WFN’s supporters. This work would not be possible without you.

Special thanks goes out to WFN Ambassador Lord Robin Russell, The Britta and Jeremy Lloyd Charitable Trust and The Sarah and Patrick Wills Foundation for their generous match funding, and to all of those who have already doubled their donation through the Partners for Planet Matched Fund.

Congratulations once again to all of the 2023 Whitley Award winners!