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Whitley Fund for Nature #PeopleforPlanet Summit Starts Nov 6 in COP28 Countdown

London, Nov 1, 2023: The Whitley Fund for Nature, a London-based nonprofit backed by Sir David Attenborough, will host a two-day #PeopleforPlanet summit with the world’s top conservationists mapping out how to save biodiversity at London’s Royal Institution on Nov. 6 and 7.

Dr Paula Kahumbu, Africa’s best-known environmentalist, will speak at the event, timed ahead of COP28, to highlight how saving nature is our best defence against climate change. The summit will illustrate the outsized role conservationists now play in saving wildlife — and ecosystems which store and absorb carbon — in partnership with local people.

New research published today shows how the Whitley Award-winning community of grassroots conservationists has influenced more than 200 environmental policies in their home countries and internationally. This includes a historic treaty in which all 12 snow leopard range countries agreed to protect 25 percent of snow leopard habitat.

“People often ask me why I’m so driven. When it comes to protecting nature, I cannot waver. I must consistently stand for the creatures that can’t defend themselves, and demonstrate what’s possible for younger generations,” says Paula Kahumbu, CEO of Kenya-based NGO WildlifeDirect and 2021
Whitley Gold Award winner. The summit will focus on big wins and breakthrough solutions with Whitley Gold Award winners.

Dr Rachel Graham, described as the “Jane Goodall of sharks,” Professor Rodrigo Medellin, known as “The Bat Man of Mexico,” Dr Pablo Borboroglu, Global Penguin Society founder, Dr Charu Mishra, Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust, will be among the speakers coming from Latin
America, Africa and Asia. They will be joined by Whitley Fund for Nature Ambassadors Alastair Fothergill, Danni de Niese and Tom Heap.

Scientists estimate that our planet is now losing species at 1,000 times the natural rate. Scorching temperatures and ocean heatwaves lay bare the challenge and urgency of the work ahead. “With the acceleration of climate change and species declines, we have few options. Every time I face rejection, I have to come back stronger because there’s no way back from extinction,” says Dr Kahumbu.

The Whitley Fund for Nature was set up to accelerate the work of grassroots conservationists and has funded more than 200 conservationists since it was founded by Edward Whitley OBE 30 years ago. It has awarded £21 million in conservation grants.

Forty five million hectares of conservation areas have been created as a result of winners’ work, of which at least 29 million hectares have formal protection, an area about the size of the Philippines. By including local people as stakeholders in saving ecosystems, today’s conservationists are helping the world’s most vulnerable people to climate change, land grabs, food insecurity and water scarcity.

All the conservationists are available for interview. Bios below. Session topics and a full agenda is available on our website. The Whitley Fund for Nature’s 30 year Impact Assessment is here.

For more information please contact:

Carol Roussel, Head of Media Relations at Whitley Fund for Nature
E: [email protected]
T. 07379 019 804

Kate Stephenson, Head of Communications at Whitley Fund for Nature
E: [email protected]
T. 07460 136 57



Dr Shivani Bhalla is founder of Ewaso Lions in northern Kenya, whose work with her team of Samburu warriors, elders and women has seen local lion numbers rise to a record even as the number of lions plunges across Africa amid deepening droughts. Lions are more endangered than elephants and rhinos in Africa. Shivani is accelerating an expansion in local leadership to protect the lions of Samburu and rolling out a worldwide programme for conservation to boost the skills needed by local people so they can continue to coexist with wildlife. She is the 2023 Whitley Gold Award winner and a National Geographic Explorer. Shivani has a PhD from Oxford.


Dr Pablo Borboroglu from Patagonia, Argentina, is a leading penguin expert, whose work has led to the protection of 32 million acres of marine and coastal areas as well as 3.5 million penguins. With a PhD in marine biology, Pablo is founder and president of the Global Penguin Society, an international organisation dedicated to penguin conservation through science, habitat protection and education. Co-founder and co-chair of the IUCN Penguin Specialist Group, he says penguins are “the perfect indicator of ocean health” and has dramatic examples of how nature can recover: under his watch, a colony of 12 penguins severely impacted by human disturbance and plastic pollution now exceeds 8,000. Pablo is the 2018 Whitley Gold Award winner as well as the winner of this year’s Indianapolis Prize.

Rachel Graham

Dr Rachel Graham has been described in the New York Times as the “aquatic Jane Goodall” for her work with sharks, creating new and inclusive approaches to research and achieving species and site protections for several fish species in Belize. She is the founder of MarAlliance which works with coastal communities across multiple tropical countries, including Panama, where she is now based, to seek win-win outcomes for fishing communities and threatened marine wildlife. Her work received pioneering funding as part of Belize’s debt-for-nature swap. Rachel is the 2011 Whitley Gold Award winner and a member of the IUCN’s Shark Specialist Group, the Species Monitoring Group and the World Commission on Protected Areas.


Dr. Paula Kahumbu is the CEO of WildlifeDirect. She has a PhD from Princeton and is an ecologist committed to transforming conservation results in Africa and the world through science, advocacy and education.

Paula is one of Africa’s best-known wildlife conservationists and sits on the boards of WWF International and National Geographic. She is the brainchild of the Hands Off Our Elephants campaign with Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta, the immediate former First Lady of the Republic of Kenya. The campaign is widely recognized for its singular successes in advocacy and the engagement of the people of Kenya to support the protection of elephants.

Dr. Kahumbu is the producer and presenter of Africa’s first wildlife documentary series made by Africans called Wildlife Warriors which seeks to transform the conservation literacy in Africa by shining a light on the continent’s front-line conservationists. The award-winning series is broadcast on free to air channels and in schools across Kenya through the Wildlife Warriors Kids program which takes children on scientific wilderness expeditions.

She holds the title Order of the Grand Warrior (OGW) and is the Rolex NatGeo Explorer of the Year 2021, winner of the Whitley Gold Award 2021, and is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and was recognized by the Financial Times as one of the 25 most influential women of 2022. In her most recent venture, she joined Nat Geo as talent to present film a landmark series Secrets of the Elephants.


2017 Whitley Gold Award winner Zafer Kizilkaya established Turkey’s first network of no fishing Zones in the Mediterranean Sea, a model that has now been scaled up across 500km2 of Turkey’s coastline. One of the most overfished areas, the Med is now experiencing an invasion of lionfish from the Red Sea on a “one-way ticket” to warmer waters. Zafer has a solution – getting them on the menu at restaurants, removing harmful invasive species from the ecosystem and allowing native fish to bounce back. A photographer and civil engineer, Zafer is president of the Mediterranean Conservation Society based in Gokova Bay. He is this year’s Goldman Prize winner. Zafer’s work to expand Turkey’s marine protected areas has been highlighted by the United Nations at COP15 to illustrate the benefits of ecosystem restoration.


Dr Dino J Martins is a Kenyan entomologist and evolutionary biologist. His work on pollinators and with farmers has focused on the “little things that run the world” and the deep intrinsic connections between human life, livelihoods, and nature. The 2015 Whitley Gold Award winner, Dino is now a trustee of the Whitley Fund for Nature. Dino is CEO of the Turkana Basin Institute, leading research at the intersection of evolution, genomics, climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development. He has researched insect-plant interactions and worked with farmers on sustainable agriculture. Author of “Our friends the pollinators,” Dino has examples of crops, including passion fruit and eggplant which have seen a tenfold increase in yields thanks to better pollination. Dino has a PhD from Harvard.


Professor Rodrigo Medellin is known as “The Bat Man of Mexico,” and is an expert in ecology and biodiversity conservation. Rodrigo has studied and protected “the tequila bat,” for 40 years. This bat is the only pollinator of agave, tequila’s key ingredient. He is persuading tequila brands to become “bat friendly” by setting aside some agave plants and enabling them to flower instead of harvesting them all, allowing bats to feed. Senior Professor of ecology at the Institute of Ecology, University of Mexico and adjunct professor at Colombia University, Rodrigo is the former head of the Wildlife Department of the Mexican Federal Government, has authored over 300 publications, directed over 60 theses, and is founding director of the Latin American Network for Bat Conservation as well as co-chair of the IUCN Bat Specialist Group. He is the 2012 Whitley Gold Winner and subject of an award-winning Sir David Attenborough documentary about bats. Rodrigo is a COP-appointed scientific counsellor for the Convention of Migratory Species and a National Geographic Explorer-at-Large. His work has been featured in films by the BBC, National Geographic and more.


Dr Charu Mishra is Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust. His collaborative work with international partners led to a historic treaty in which all 12 snow leopard range country governments agreed to protect 25 percent of snow leopard habitat. Charu pioneered the “Partners Principles’ — a framework for conservation practitioners on how to engage with local communities effectively and ethically for conservation. This approach was described as an “outstanding conservation practice” by COP15. Today, local and indigenous communities of High Asia working with the Snow Leopard Trust’s partner network protect more than 50,000 square miles of the species’ habitat. Charu is the 2022 Whitley Gold Award recipient and a National Geographic Explorer. Along with other Whitley and National Geographic Explorer alumni, Charu is launching a global alliance to trigger a worldwide movement in ethical conservation and to train practitioners in the skills of how to effectively engage with local and indigenous communities for conservation.


Conservationist and dentist, Indonesia’s Dr Hotlin Ompusunggu started giving free dental care to locals in a remote corner of southwest Borneo so they would not be forced to log orangutan habitat to pay for healthcare fees. Founder of nonprofit ASRI, Hotlin has expanded a successful healthcare
model to Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem, one of Asia’s largest carbon sinks and the largest intact place on earth where orangutans, elephants, tigers and rhinos coexist. Hotlin provides dental care to communities at a discounted rate or accepts conservation payments in lieu, such as tree seedlings to reforest degraded areas. Hotlin is the 2016 Whitley Gold winner and a National Geographic Explorer.


Professor Çağan Şekercioğlu established Turkey’s first wildlife corridor for Europe’s brown bears, wolves and lynx, and is now focused on saving Turkey’s rapidly disappearing wetlands. Turkey’s most prolific wildlife documentary maker and the 2008 and 2013 Whitley Gold Award winner, Çağan is the founder of the NGO, KuzeyDoğa Society, which was instrumental in securing recognition for Lake Kuyucuk as a Ramsar wetland of international importance. To secure the official protection of the Aras River wetlands, Çağan has mounted a continuing legal challenge to stop the construction of a large dam, originally planned for construction in 2013, by evidencing the importance of the habitat for thousands of migratory birds. He is a National Geographic explorer and photographer, the youngest recipient of Turkey’s top scientific award and among the most cited 1% of ecologists and ornithologists worldwide. Çağan has worked at Stanford and Harvard universities and is a professor of ornithology and conservation ecology at the University of Utah and Koç University.


Biologist Jean Wiener created Haiti’s first six marine protected areas and his goal is to increase the value attributed to mangroves in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, where 80 percent of the population live in low-lying coastal zones. Founder of the NGO, FoProBiM, Jean pushed through legislation which protects all of Haiti’s mangroves along 1,700 km of coastline. Coastal mangroves sequester carbon at a rate that is five times greater than tropical rainforests and protect from storm surges. Jean is a member of multiple IUCN commissions and won the 2014 Whitley Gold award, the Erick Eckman award (the first environmental award given by Haiti), the Goldman Environmental prize, and a Knighthood from the government of France, a Chevalier dans l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole.