Meet the 2024 Whitley Award winners!

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

On Wednesday 1 May at the Royal Geographical Society in London, the 2024 Whitley Awards ceremony recognised and celebrated six grassroots conservationists for their locally-led solutions to the global biodiversity and climate crises.

We also recognised this year’s Whitley Gold Award winner, Purnima Devi Barman and her army of ‘Stork Sisters’.

The inspiring 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 400 guests and the event was live-streamed to over 1,100 people and counting around the world, which you can watch here.

Please join us in congratulating our 2024 Whitley Award winners: outstanding conservation leaders working to protect communities, wildlife, and landscapes.

The winners of the 2024 Whitley Awards are:

Purnima Devi Barman | Whitley Gold Award

Assam, India | International scale-up: Doubling the numbers of Greater Adjutant Storks across their global range | Winner of the Whitley Gold Award donated by the Friends of WFN

Purnima Devi Barman, a wildlife biologist from Assam, India, who won a Whitley Award in 2017, has been honoured with the £100,000 Whitley Gold Award for her work to protect the Greater Adjutant Stork and its wetland habitat with her team at Aaranyak.

Before her intervention, the stork – known as ‘hargila’ in the local language – were thought of as smelly, dirty and unwanted vermin and their numbers had dwindled to an estimated 450 birds in the state. Changing attitudes and galvanising local people, primarily women, to safeguard nests, their numbers have now quadrupled to more than 1,800.

Looking ahead, Purnima now wants to double the global population of the bird to 5,000 by 2030, working across the stork’s range in India and Cambodia. Her project aims to grow community-driven conservation initiatives to bolster the number of Greater Adjutant breeding pairs, expanding support of local women to grow the ‘Hargila Army’ of ‘Stork sister’ advocates. She will also establish a collaborative network of WFN alumni, students, scientists and policymakers, providing conservation education and promoting a knowledge exchange programme.

Leroy Ignacio

Guyana | Red alert: Land and fire management to protect Guyana’s Red Siskins | Winner of the Whitley Award donated by Inigo Insurance

In Guyana, Leroy is protecting the range of the endangered Red Siskin across both indigenous-titled land and state land. Whilst an Indigenous community can create rules and protect the species on their own land, they cannot do this on adjacent state land. With his Whitley Award, Leroy is creating a co-management plan, including a legal framework for an agreement between communities and government, which can provide opportunities for paid employment for local people (as rangers, or managing ecotourism initiatives), allowing Indigenous communities to receive financial compensation for directly preserving their biodiversity. His Whitley Award will allow him to double the size of the Red Siskin Community-Based Conservation Management zone to 150,000 hectares and train community members in methods to reduce habitat destruction and improve the monitoring and effectiveness of the conservation zone.

Naomi Longa

Papua New Guinea | Empowering women to conserve coral reefs | Whitley Award donated by the William Brake Foundation

Kimbe Bay is an area of staggering marine biodiversity within the Pacific Ocean’s Eastern Coral Triangle. The bay contains 76% (605) of the world’s coral reef and 800 species of fish. This marine region, however, is under threat from overfishing, habitat degradation and climate change. Naomi and her team at The Sea Women of Melanesia work directly with local communities, primarily women, to design and implement Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs) to allow reefs to recover. By providing continuous mentorship and skills development to empower women to take leadership roles within their communities, they hope to start a wave which will encourage other women to drive positive change.

Kuenzang Dorji

Bhutan | Living with langurs: Promoting co-existence | Whitley Award donated by Anne Reece

One of the last remaining ranges of the Gee’s Golden Langur, Bhutan’s rapid development has brought wildlife in closer contact with humans. Kuenzang’s project addresses the increasing conflict between people and primates – local farmers and Endangered Gee’s golden langurs – through the use of non-lethal deterrents and, crucially, by redefining the role of local people in conservation efforts in Bhutan. Communities will help gather critical data to better understand the langur’s behavioural patterns. Kuenzang will also train 30 locals and foresters in primate survey and social research that supports long term monitoring in the ecologically fragile Himalayan Ranges, and will provide fellowships to five local students who are keen to pursue research in primatology.

Aristide Kamla

Cameroon | Restoring Lake Ossa: Improving freshwater management for African manatees | Whitley Award donated by The Corcoran Foundation

African manatees living in the freshwater of Lake Ossa are under threat from an invasive plant species known as giant salvinia, which covers the water’s surface and prevents the manatees from surfacing to breathe. The invasive plant is able to take hold due to increased nutrients in the lake’s water from industrial pollution. In response, Aristide has been using ‘biological control’ in the form of the salvinia weevil, which naturally eats the giant salvinia plant, to clear the weed from the water’s surface. He is undertaking a study to showcase how poor management of the watershed upstream affects aquatic ecosystems and livelihoods downstream. His project will provide the foundation for better water resource management, while simultaneously improving the livelihoods of the local people by supporting community-managed fish farming and developing opportunities for ecotourism.

Raju Acharya

Nepal | An action plan to safeguard Central Nepal’s owls | Whitley Award donated by the Frank Brake Charitable Trust

Central Nepal comprises of forest, farmland, glaciers and grassland, providing habitat for 19 species of owl. Recognising they are a low conservation priority in the country, Raju Acharya led on the development of the ‘Owl Conservation Action Plan for Nepal,’ which identifies the major threats to owls as hunting, illegal trade, habitat loss and degradation. Whitley Award funding will now support him in implementing the solutions from this action plan. His project will train ‘owl envoys’ to protect 500 old trees, enable 11 training events to increase the capacity of law enforcement agencies, policy makers, and local owl envoys to reduce the rate of hunting and trade, and allow the installation of 100 artificial nests, giving owls space to thrive.

Fernanda Abra

Brazil | Building bridges: Primate canopy crossings in the Amazon | Whitley Award donated by Hempel Foundation

The construction of highways through Brazil’s forests is destroying habitat connectivity, with the associated effects being one of the main causes of declining primate populations. One such highway, BR-174, cuts through Amazon forest including the Indigenous territory of the Waimiri-Atroari people. Fernanda collaborates with this community and the Federal Transportation Agency to install artificial canopy bridges that allow primates to safely cross highways from above, avoiding deadly road impacts. Her project will maintain and monitor these crossings, as well as install new bridges and train 200 people from Federal and State transport environmental agencies to scale wildlife-friendly infrastructure.

The charity’s flagship prizes, Whitley Awards are won competitively following a global search and rigorous application process, assessed by an expert Judging Panel. Winners receive £50,000 in project funding over one year, in addition to elevated profile, new connections and training – all tools that winners can use to better protect the natural world. Winners also go on to join our community of over 200 Whitley Award alumni – a network of peers across the Global South with whom they can share expertise, resources and support.

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

Congratulations once again to all of the 2024 Whitley Award winners!