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.
Paula Kahumbu, CEO of Kenya-based NGO Wildlife Direct, passionately believes that Africans themselves should take the lead in securing the future of the continent’s wildlife. In Kenya, wildlife faces multiple pressures. Elephants, rhinos, pangolins and many other species are targeted by poachers to supply the global illegal wildlife trade, which generates millions for kingpin criminals, exploits local communities and takes advantage of lax laws.
An even greater threat is posed by the destruction and degradation of natural habitat that wild species need to survive. Unchecked development including large- scale agriculture, mining and infrastructure is transforming wildlife corridors and buffer zones adjacent to iconic protected areas. Backed by powerful interest groups that override environmental concerns with impunity, their opponents can feel isolated, powerless, and fearful of taking a stand. The loss of the nation’s wildlife is an environmental and humanitarian injustice.
Paula is pioneering a new approach, that protects the country’s wildlife while recognising Kenyans’ legitimate aspirations for economic development. winning a 2014 Whitley Award and 2016 Continuation Funding, Paula and her team have:
- Launched the “Hands Off Our Elephants” campaign, with the support of the First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta, which contributed to a national consensus on taking decisive action against ivory poaching.
- Initiated the “Eyes in the Courtroom” project, which monitors wildlife crime cases in court to inform and support improvements to environmental law and prosecution, deterring poaching cartels.
- Worked with government and NGOs to reduce elephant poaching by 80% over 5 years, culminating in the burning of Kenya’s entire ivory stock in 2016 – sending an unmissable smoke signal to ivory traders.
- Produced “Wildlife Warriors” – a ground-breaking TV series presented by Paula, watched by millions of Kenyans, that shines a light on the work of African conservation heroes.
Together, these efforts are powering a paradigm shift in a continent where conservation was formerly seen as a pursuit of the western elite.
With her Whitley Gold Award Paula will increase accountability, transparency and local participation in decision making, while strengthening environmental law and its application to secure justice for people and wildlife. She will:
- Set up an Environmental Justice Desk that will empower citizens and organisations to respond to threats to wildlife at a local and national level and broker win-win solutions to human-wildlife conflict.
- Defend critical wildlife areas under threat from the privatisation of community-owned grazing lands, infrastructure development, large-scale farming and mining.
- Foster a culture of public participation in environmental decisions and promote African leadership of wildlife conservation efforts across Africa.
- Engage fellow WFN alumni to help raise awareness and boost pride in African conservation heroes and their work via her TV show, “Wildlife Warriors”.
- Act as an ambassador for “Justice for People and Wildlife” as an approach to conservation that could be replicated elsewhere in Africa and around the world.
- In terms of profits, wildlife crime ranks among trafficking in drugs, arms, and human beings.
- The African savanna elephant was classified as Endangered by the IUCN in 2021 with 15,000 lost to poaching annually.
- Wildlife Warriors is the first TV series about wildlife in Africa made by Africans, for an African audience.
“I want to see a global shift in the narrative where Africans are the storytellers about African wildlife and assume the lead in efforts to protect it.” Paula Kahumbu
Image credits: Johann Vorster (cheetah, Wildlife Warriors team, Paula Kahumbu), Kathy Karn Photography (African savannah elephants). Film credits: Save The Elephants, Dereck Joubert.