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Bhutan’s Kuenzang Dorji Wins 2024 Whitley Award for Solutions to Protect Golden Langurs

UK charity the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) recognises Kuenzang Dorji from Bhutan with a Whitley Award for his work to protect Endangered Gee’s golden langur in the East Himalayas and his solutions for local farmers whose crops the primates are targeting as climate change drives a shift in their behaviour.

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

“The beautiful golden langur is Endangered; the numbers are decreasing as they constantly come into contact with anthropogenic threats.”

Kuenzang, a wildlife biologist at the Royal Society for Protection of Nature in Bhutan, is focusing his work on “building harmony” between people and primates in his community-led project in the world’s first carbon negative country which offsets more carbon than it emits. Forests cover about 71 percent of the kingdom’s land area however, changing weather patterns have disrupted the seasonal cycles of the trees whose leaves the monkeys rely on for food.

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

Bhutan’s constitution mandates the protection of at least 60 percent of forest cover however, habitat loss caused by economic expansion including hydro power projects, road construction and housing development, has forced many of the country’s 2,500 golden langurs into closer contact with humans. They were traditionally viewed as good omens in the small landlocked country of 700,000 people.

The Himalayan Ranges have grown ecologically fragile with many of Bhutan’s subsistence farmers living below the national poverty index and unable to absorb the cost of losses from langurs which have started to forage on crops, including oranges and guava. They have even been known to eat spicy chili peppers and then uproot the plant in frustration. Traditional approaches to guarding fields, such as scarecrows and electric fences, proved futile against the monkeys’ high cognitive abilities, according to Kuenzang, who is known locally as “Langur Kuenzang.”

Kuenzang is developing practical solutions to help langurs and people in his 6,500 square kilometre project area, which includes the six remote districts in Bhutan where the golden langur is found, including the Royal Manas National Park, a World Heritage Site. The area is home to 100,000 people and his work will focus primarily on Zhemgang and Trongsa districts, which are home to the largest population of the primate and where human-langur interaction is at its highest in Bhutan.

A former national park warden, Kuenzang has devised a series of deterrents to stop the langurs from foraging and to protect the primates from other threats. His initiatives include use of heatmaps to identify conflict hotspots; strengthening community-based intervention with alternative deterrents; protecting the langurs by installing signs to reduce road kill incidences and installing animal repellent near high voltage power stations where the langurs are at risk of electrocution. Under his plans, citizen scientists will learn how to collect primate data that supports long term monitoring.

“If I put myself in the shoes of the local people, I can really feel how frustrating life is in the middle of the forest.”

The protection of crops is already yielding results and helping to boost the income of local farmers – protecting as much as 80 percent of their crops while freeing women and children from standing guard over the land. Local people now acknowledge that while langurs may cause some harm, the ecosystem services they provide – through seed dispersal – far outweigh the damage they cause.

World leaders will provide updates on their plans to protect biodiversity and “live in harmony with nature” by 2050 when they meet for the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity conference (COP16) in Colombia in October. Bhutan, a predominantly Buddhist country, is regarded as a global leader in that front, spearheading many global initiatives such as the introduction of Gross National Happiness which was conceived in 1972 and which kickstarted a global industry in happiness; it banned plastic bags in 1999 and was the first country to announce a net zero target for its economy in 2015.

With his Whitley Award funding, Kuenzang plans to: halve the incidence of human-langur conflict; strengthen women’s farmers groups for increased crop protection; foster “conservation conscience” through outreach programmes at schools and villages which will reach 300 people; reduce electrocution and vehicle-langur collision, and nurture future primatologists through research fellow awards to 10 budding primatologists.



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:
  • Fernanda Abra  from Brazil who is pioneering the use of low-cost canopy bridges over highway BR-174 in the Amazon rainforest to restore connectivity for tree-dwelling mammals and save them from road collisions
  • 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


  • 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.
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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