Press Releases

Brazil’s Fernanda Abra Wins 2024 Whitley Award for Road-crossing Canopy Bridges to Save Amazon Primates


UK charity the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) recognises Fernanda Abra from Brazil with a Whitley Award for her pioneering work to build and monitor low-cost canopy bridges over Highway BR-174 in the Amazon rainforest in a project she plans to scale for widespread adoption to protect tree-dwelling mammals from road impacts.

Charity Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, presented the Whitley Award on 1 May at the Royal Geographical Society. The ceremony marked three decades since the very first Whitley Award was presented and 25 years since the Princess’ involvement as Patron. The event was livestreamed on YouTube.

“The Brazilian government is really interested in the Amazon’s preservation and from the perspective of road networks, we are very close to implementing the culture of sustainable infrastructure for wildlife in Brazil”

An associate researcher at Brazilian NGO Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas, (IPÊ), Fernanda plans to promote the use of the canopy bridges to benefit endangered primates, such as the Guiana spider monkey and other mammals, across the world’s most biodiverse country by first expanding her work to one of the Amazon’s most deforested areas.

Fernanda, who is also a postdoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, plans to address a scarcity of research on this subject in Brazil by systematically monitoring wildlife use of the bridges in one of the few science-based initiatives in the country to focus on threats of roads to arboreal mammals. This includes loss of connectivity in the canopy and road mortality caused by vehicle collisions.

Forty percent of primate species are endangered in Brazil with fragmentation and road accidents among the main threats they face. Brazil has the fourth-largest road network in the world. President Lula last year unveiled a 1 trillion reais (£156 billion) spending programme to boost infrastructure, expected to include the construction of new highways.

Sir David Attenborough, WFN Ambassador and long-term supporter of the charity, said the growing network of winners represents some of the most impressive conservation leaders in the world. “Whitley Award winners combine knowing how to respond to crises yet also bring communities and wider audiences with them.”

Key to the success of Fernanda’s “Reconecta Project” was winning the support of the Waimiri-Atroari Indigenous people, whose 2.3 million hectares of land the federal highway bisects, and whose territory is considered one of the best preserved in the Amazon.

More than 150 Waimiri-Atroari people participated in the construction and installation of the canopy bridges along a 125 km section of the highway. Fernanda also collaborated with Brazil’s federal transport and environment agencies – the National Transport Infrastructure Department (DNIT) and the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) – as well as with the Federal Amazonas University, or UFAM.

Brazil’s President Lula has made saving the Amazon rainforest a priority since his election in 2022, pledging to achieve zero deforestation by 2030 and directing more resources to agencies that maintain diverse ecosystems. The Waimiri-Atroari people have been lobbying for artificial canopy bridges for decades after Highway BR-174 became a source of wildlife mortality following its construction in the 1970s when Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship. The construction of the highway set off a surge in illegal deforestation and the Waimiri-Atroari people suffered the most serious case of genocide of Indigenous people in Brazilian history, according to the United Nations.

Since Fernanda and her team built 30 artificial canopy bridges to restore forest connectivity for wildlife in 2022, they have been used by eight arboreal species, with the Golden handed tamarin – an important cultural symbol for the Indigenous people – the most frequent user.

“The Waimiri-Atroari people, they are the heart of the project. They know everything about the local wildlife. They know about the ecology of the animals. They know about temporal and spatial patterns. And this was fundamental for us to establish the Reconnecta project here.”

Under the Reconecta Project, each canopy bridge is monitored with two camera traps, recording the numbers of animals approaching, crossing, or avoiding the bridges. The team recorded 500 crossings over an 11-month period, a number that’s expected to rise as mammals get used to them. The bridges were used within just 30 days of installation with some species showing a preference for specific canopy bridge designs.

The bridges consist of steel cables, ropes and nylon nets and are anchored by concrete posts. Fernanda’s team used two designs: a rope lattice and a single cable encased in braided rope attached to trees with the cost of materials about £1,500 per bridge.

With her Whitley Award funding, Fernanda plans to measure the success of the bridges in increasing habitat connectivity for tree-dwelling species and reducing road mortality on BR-174 and expand the project to Alta Floresta, a frontier town located in the state of Mato Grosso.

Eight primate species can be found in Alta Floresta, of which five are endangered specifically because of loss of natural habitat, fragmentation and road collisions: Groves’ Titi, Black-faced Black Spider Monkey, Schneider’s Marmoset, Spix’s Red-handed Howler Monkey, and Purus Red Howler Monkey.

Fernanda hopes to secure the support of the federal government for her work. Her team has identified five locations where canopy bridges are imperative for reconnection. She plans to train more than 200 people from the federal transport and environmental agencies that work with environmental licensing for roads in nine states in the Brazilian Amazon as part of her goal of establishing a culture of sustainable infrastructure.

As part of that goal, Fernanda is seeking to meet with Brazil’s environment minister, Marina Silva, and Renan Filho, the Minister of Transport, to discuss the potential to upscale the Reconecta Project to other roads in the Amazon and other forested biomes in Brazil.





The Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is a UK charity supporting grassroots conservation leaders in the Global South. Over 30 years it has channelled  £23 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.

WFN’s flagship prizes – Whitley Awards – are presented by charity Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, at a prestigious annual ceremony in London at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). Winners receive funding, training, and profile boost, including short films narrated by WFN Ambassador Sir David Attenborough.


  • The 2024 Whitley Awards Ceremony is on Wednesday 1 May at the RGS and streamed live to YouTube from 8pm BST. The 2024 Whitley Award winners are:
  • Dr Aristide Kamla from Cameroon who is restoring African manatee habitat in Lake Ossa, addressing threats from invasive species and pollution
  • Naomi Longa from Papua New Guinea who is safeguarding coral reefs in Kimbe Bay and creating a network of marine protected areas led by local indigenous women
  • Leroy Ignacio from Guyana who is leading an expansion of one of the country’s first indigenous-led conservation movements to protect the Endangered Red siskin finch
  • Raju Acharya from Nepal who is bolstering protection for owls in central Nepal after spearheading a government-backed 10-year plan to safeguard the birds
  • Kuenzang Dorji from Bhutan who is protecting Endangered Gee’s golden langur and implementing solutions for farmers whose crops the primates are targeting


  • 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 2024 Whitley Gold Award winner is India’s Purnima Devi Barman, recognised for catalysing a movement of tens of thousands of women in Assam to save the greater adjutant stork.
  •, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn



Carol Roussel, Head of Media Relations, Whitley Fund for Nature

E: [email protected]

T: 07379 019 804


Kate Stephenson, Head of Communications, Whitley Fund for Nature

E: [email protected]

T: 07460 136 571