Each year a past Whitley Award winner is selected to receive the Whitley Gold Award – worth £100,000 of project funding – in recognition of their outstanding contribution to conservation. Donated by the Friends of WFN.
Kenyan conservationist Dr. Shivani Bhalla has dedicated her life to promoting coexistence between people and wildlife in northern Kenya. Founding Ewaso Lions in 2007, Shivani and her team have spent nearly two decades addressing lion declines through their community-initiated and led solutions which now cover over 4,500 km2. Through their efforts, the Ewaso landscape is now one of the only regions in northern Kenya where lion numbers are increasing outside of protected areas.
Shivani has long recognised that local leadership is crucial for sustained solutions. By Ewaso Lions’ various programmes having been designed and led by Samburu community members from across all demographics, it has ensured that their conservation interventions are sustainable, culturally appropriate, and truly beneficial for people as well as wildlife. Globally, however, while many projects recognise the importance of community engagement, it is still rare to find conservation programmes actually being led by people from the communities where projects are operating. There is an urgent need for conservation practitioners to address this gap.
“Locally-led conservation is the only solution we have to the current biodiversity crisis. We need to be investing in local leaders from all demographics to provide their own, sustainable solutions.”
Building local leadership and ownership needs to happen at multiple levels – in each conservation initiative, it matters how teams are hired and trained, how transition and mentoring of the next generation is addressed, and how sustainable avenues of knowledge transfer and funding are achieved. Offering up Ewaso Lions’ model of locally-led programming to improve others’ conservation practice, Shivani and her team will collaborate with the Ewaso community and conservation practitioners from across the globe, including WFN alumni, to develop an open-source framework which lays out clear pathways for conservation practitioners to build skills within their teams to ensure that conservation decision-making happens at a local level. Sharing the framework across international channels, this project will catalyse a movement of community-led conservation globally, with the ultimate goal that for local communities, conservation will become a way of life.
Having attended 2022 Whitley Gold Award winner Charudutt Mishra’s PARTNERS Principles training in ethical community engagement, Shivani is building upon and complementing this initiative with her 2023 Gold Award – a wonderful example of the ripple effects and collaboration that WFN seeks to foster through its global Winner Network.
A Whitley Award winner in 2014, Shivani received Continuation Funding in 2016 and 2019. With the support of WFN and other partners, Shivani and her team have:
- Stabilised lion populations across the Ewaso landscape over the last 10 years through community-led programmes, with 50 lions recorded in 2022, up from 11 known lions before 2008.
- Scaled up lion monitoring efforts to cover 4,530 km2, and partnered with the Kenya Wildlife Service to conduct the first National Carnivore Survey in Kenya – a first of its kind in Africa – with findings shaping conservation actions.
- Reduced disease transmission to wild carnivores by maintaining the health of domestic dogs to achieve a healthier balance between people, livestock, and wildlife.
- Reduced human-wildlife conflict and significantly increased positive attitudes towards lions among Samburu warriors, bringing retaliation killings in the region down to zero in 2021 and 2022.
- Formed the ‘Mama Simba’ initiative, designed by and for Samburu women, to reclaim their place as protectors of wildlife through environmental literacy and lion habitat recovery activities
- Invested in a new generation of conservationists, educating local children on wildlife and the environment through the widely popular Ewaso Lions’ Kids Camp.
- Reignited communities’ pride in the wildlife they live alongside, bringing 1,500 members on safaris – many of whom have never seen wildlife up close in a safe environment.
With her Whitley Gold Award, Shivani and her team will galvanise a global movement to ensure that conservation decision-making and leadership happens at the local level, while deepening the cultural values of communities which have always lived alongside wildlife. They will:
- Conduct community interviews and workshops across 25% of the Ewaso landscape, identifying key transferable components of community-led conservation
- Empower and train 150 community members to drive forward community-led conservation efforts in northern Kenya
- Develop a global community-led conservation framework by exchanging capacity with 25 conservation leaders across the world, including WFN alumni, and engage them as advocates
Find out more about Shivani’s past projects, supported by her 2014 Whitley Award and subsequent rounds of Continuation Funding, here.