Each year a member of our alumni network is selected to receive the Whitley Gold Award, a profile prize worth £60,000 in project funding, awarded in recognition of their outstanding contribution to conservation.
Jon Paul Rodríguez co-founded his NGO, Provita, 30 years ago to conserve threatened wildlife in Venezuela, including the nationally Endangered Yellow-shouldered Parrot (YSP). Focusing on Margarita Island in the Venezuelan Caribbean, this threatened species hotspot has seen much of its suitable habitat lost to development. Poaching of YSPs for the domestic and international pet trade is rife here, with more parrots in captivity than in the wild.
After the local extinction of the YSP on neighbouring islands, Jon Paul set out to safeguard these aptly named parrots on Margarita. After receiving his Whitley Award in 2003, today, the YSP is on the road to recovery in Margarita but elsewhere in Venezuela, populations continue to decline, making scale up of his successful approach to the species’ entire range crucial.
In 2016, Jon Paul became the elected Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, the first person from outside of Europe or North America to hold this title. This influential position has allowed him to convene leading experts, test new approaches locally and contribute to international species conservation and environmental policy. His work is now more important than ever in the face of the current challenge to make space for nature globally, against a backdrop of social and economic crisis in Venezuela which is forcing conservation and scientific research into the background.
A Whitley Award winner in 2003 and a recipient of further funding from WFN in 2004, 2013 and 2016, with the support of WFN and other partners, Jon Paul and his team have:
- Decreased nest raiding by 83% since 2004. Fewer YSP chicks are now being lost to poachers each year thanks to round the clock surveillance involving communities, the police and national authorities.
- Increased fledgling success, with 126 parrots flying the nest in 2018 – the highest number in the project’s history!
- Built partnerships with sand mining companies to safeguard and restore wildlife habitat, including a 700 ha Conservation Area.
- Offered communities alternative livelihoods as Eco Guardians. Through this cooperative, local people receive income to monitor parrot nests during the breeding season to protect them from poaching. The scheme is successfully converting ex-poachers into parrot protectors.
- Repaired nests damaged by poaching and planted 3,000 native trees to increase the availability of nesting and feeding sites for parrots and other species endemic to Margarita.
- Conducted long-term monitoring of the parrot’s population and biology, providing vital information to support its ongoing conservation.
- Environmental education has been integrated into the local curriculum, with 13 schools engaged with learning.
- Begun work to examine the causal factors behind the pet trade in YSP on Margarita, working with conservation psychologists to develop outreach campaigns that facilitate positive behaviour and attitudinal change.
- As a result of their collective efforts, the YSP population has more than doubled on Margarita, from 700 birds when work began to 1,700 today.
With his Whitley Gold Award, Jon Paul will:
- Develop the first conservation action plan for the Yellow-shouldered Parrot using IUCN standards. This plan will act as a blueprint for YSP conservation throughout their entire range, and provide a model approach for other parrot species.
- Actively engage other Whitley Award winners to develop and oversee this strategy, including input on design, invitation of feedback and visiting Jon Paul’s team in the field. In this way, WFN alumni will work together to conserve this species and maximise their impact.
- Scale up the project’s reach from Venezuela to benefit parrots on the neighbouring island of Bonaire, involving new NGO partners as part of a species-wide conservation recovery plan.
- Consolidate 30 years of work to continue to reduce poaching intensity, bolster fledgling success and increase the extent of suitable breeding habitat in order to improve the YSP’s population status in Venezuela.
- Establish and train a growing team of 12 Eco Guardians to safeguard and monitor nests at risk of poaching, alongside authorities.
- Team up with local tree nurseries and sand mining companies to restore degraded habitat and assure conservation of breeding sites, focusing on corridors and high priority areas as part of a long term habitat restoration plan.
- Use the results of the sociological investigation to shape future behaviour change interventions and expand the coverage of Provita’s campaign to further discourage parrot poaching and illegal ownership.
- Collaborate with Whitley Award alumni to publish on globally relevant issues in biological conservation; allowing the voices of those working at the coalface to be heard.
“From a personal, professional perspective, the support from WFN greatly contributed to increasing my international visibility and projecting me to the global conservation arena.”
Image credits: Sean Southey (headshot), Neil DeMaster (featured image)