HRH the Princess Royal recently presented the Whitley award, a prestigious international conservation prize, to a variety of people from around the world who are being recognised for their stellar work in conserving some of the world’s most vulnerable creatures. The award is accompanied by £35,000 worth of funding to enable their projects to continue.

Alexander Rukhaia was honoured for his work to reduce the number of raptors killed on their migration path through the Ajara region of Georgia. 18,000 raptors killed annually for food or sport. Alexander, as Founder and Director of the Society for Nature Conservation (SABUKO), decided that he had to do something to protect these magnificent birds and started to work with local villagers to change attitudes towards hunting.

Whitley Award Recognises Inspiring People Conserving World’s Most Vulnerable Creatures

Alexander Rukhaia with HRH Princess Royal

Alexander is raising awareness of hunting regulations, conducting educational activities and building local capacity to develop birdwatching tourism – turning this spectacular natural phenomenon into an opportunity to boost local income. His efforts have been highly successful, leading to an 80% reduction in the number of birds killed in two villages since 2010. With his Whitley Award, Alexander will expand the project to six new villages and draw attention to the situation at the national and international level.

Gilbert Baase Adum received his prize for his work to champion the unusual and very rare giant squeaker frog in Ghana.

After rediscovering the species in 2009 when only 13 individuals were known to exist, Gilbert set about ensuring their protection. Worldwide, frogs are declining catastrophically, but Gilbert aims to buck this trend and ensure that Ghanaians, from school children to policy makers, are aware of their amphibian heritage.  Gilbert and his NGO, ‘SAVE THE FROGS-GHANA!’ have organised a national ‘Giant Squeaker Frogs Day’, mobilizing Ghanaians countrywide to help protect giant squeaker frogs and restore their lost habitat.

Originally from a hunting tribe, Gilbert is now one of Africa’s leading amphibian conservationists.  Working in West Africa where over 90% of forests have been destroyed, with his Whitley Award Gilbert will help villagers in the environs of the Sui Forest Reserve to develop beekeeping as an alternative livelihood to illegal farming and logging to access wild honey. This will help to secure key habitat not only for giant squeaker frogs but also for western chimpanzees. The project will also build vital capacity to conserve this species by training the next generation of amphibian conservationists in Ghana.

Juliette Velosoa received her award in honour of her commitment to conserve the Critically Endangered side-necked turtle in Madagascar.

Madagascar’s biodiversity is truly unique; around 90% of its reptiles, plants and mammals occur nowhere else on earth and the side-necked turtle or ‘rere’ is no different. These ancient turtles are threatened by overexploitation and severe loss of wetland habitats in a country where 75% of the population live below the international poverty line. Once found throughout western Madagascar, only 8 stable populations of the rere remain.

Whitley Award Recognises Inspiring People Conserving World’s Most Vulnerable Creatures

Side-necked turtle, or rere, hatchlings from the head-staring programme, ready for release by Juliette Velosoa

Juliette, working with the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, has led the recovery for the rere since 1998. She is encouraging community-led resource management and restoration of wetlands using techniques that favour conservation and improve fish stocks for local people. Thanks to techniques such as nest protection and head-starting (where turtles are raised until big enough for release) rere populations are starting to show signs of recovery. Her Whitley Award will fund the development of locally-led management plans to enable sustainable use of wetlands in two key sites. The project is also helping to deliver vital ecosystem services for local people and developing guidance for further replication at a time when Madagascar has declared 83 new protected areas.

Makala Jasper was had his prize conferred  in honour of his work in Tanzania to empower communities to conserve coastal forests and their wildlife through the sustainable management and sale of the high value timber, African Blackwood (also known as mpingo).

Whitley Award Recognises Inspiring People Conserving World’s Most Vulnerable Creatures

Project leader, Makla Jasper measuring a tree for the Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative, Tanzania

As Director of the Mpingo Conservation Development Initiative, Makala has assisted 35 communities to protect over 3,000km2 of forest. The project is Africa’s only Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified programme for community-managed natural forests. Since the programme was established in 2006, prices per log have increased 100-fold providing vital income to people earning less than US$1 per day.

The project is situated between two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Selous Game Reserve, one of the largest protected areas in Africa, and Kilwa Kisiwani. By linking forest fragments, the project is enabling seasonal movements of large mammals such as elephants and lions. Through this initiative, Makala is giving communities an incentive to conserve this important habitat and the biodiversity within it. Makala’s Whitley Award will allow him to bring over 5,000km2 of coastal forest under community protection, benefitting 2,500 Tanzanians.

Farwiza Farhan, had her prize presented to her in honour of her work tackling corporations and government agencies head on in order to ensure the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra is preserved for future generations.

Farwiza, Founder of Yayasan HAkA, has mobilised the local community in Aceh province to become environmental activists and with her Whitley Award will pursue a citizen lawsuit. The aim is to overturn the local government’s proposed Aceh Spatial Plan that threatens to effectively legalise oil palm plantations, logging, mining and road development inside the protected Leuser Ecosystem.

This development would destroy the last place on earth where the Critically Endangered Sumatran orangutan, tiger, elephant and rhino coexist in the wild and jeopardise the ecosystem services that support four million Acehnese. Already, illegal activities are destroying forests and triggering a surge in poaching. Evidence of tiger presence has plummeted by almost 75% in the last five years and oil plantations are disrupting elephant migration paths. Farwiza’s project seeks to empower the local communities to have a greater say in directing their own futures and protecting wildlife.

Karau Kuna was given his prize in honour of his work that is bringing together local landowners to ensure protection of the YUS Conservation Area in Papua New Guinea, which is home to a plethora of endangered species including tree kangaroos and birds-of-paradise.

Situated on the Huon Peninsula and named after the three main rivers in the area, the Yopno, Uruwa and Som, the 1,500km2 YUS conservation area harbours more endemic birds and mammals than any other like-sized area in mainland New Guinea.  It is one of only three major Tropical Wilderness areas worldwide.  It is so remote that it can only be reached by foot or boat and extends from spectacular mountain ridges to dazzling coral reefs.

For over a decade Karau and the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Programme have been working with villagers who own this land. Together they have developed resource use plans that are now recognised in national policy. With his Whitley Award Karau will create community plans to manage and carry out conservation actions in the YUS landscape to 2020. Pressure from logging and mining companies is threatening the traditional culture of indigenous people and the project is working to help them to conserve their rich natural heritage for future generations and act as a beacon for other communities to emulate.

Muhammad Ali Nawaz (Ali) at a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society, London, received his prize in honour of his work securing important landscape for the protection of snow leopards in Pakistan.

Snow leopards are considered critically endangered in Pakistan where Ali is working in the Pamir-Karakoram mountain complex to conserve the species. Threatened by poaching, habitat degradation and subsequent decline of natural prey, snow leopards are sometimes killed by herders in retaliation to livestock predation. This loss to herders’ livelihoods can be the equivalent of a month’s salary, but through the introduction of livestock insurance and vaccination programmes that buffer against livestock losses and increase tolerance, Ali is reducing human-wildlife conflict.

Ali is Director of the Snow Leopard Foundation. With his Whitley Award Ali will bring together people, NGOs and government in a unified effort to develop a multi-stakeholder strategy for 25,000km2 of this mountainous habitat. This will be Pakistan’s first landscape-level strategy for snow leopard conservation and will be used as a model to guide future conservation planning in the country. The project will train 50 wildlife managers, whilst engaging with 6,000 herders to enable the co-existence of communities and carnivores. Ali’s work represents one of the first steps towards the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Programme’s (GSLEP) goal to secure 23 important snow leopard habitats by 2020, nationally and internationally; and explore expansion of this model to potential new sites across the country including Sumatra, Sulawesi and Papua.

Hotlin Ompusunggu, a 2011 Whitley Award winner, dentist and conservationist from Indonesian Borneo, received the highest honour – The Gold Award. The Gold Award is donated by The Friends and Scottish Friends of the Whitley Fund for Nature, and given in recognition of Hotlin’s outstanding project ‘Dentistry and reforestation: scaling up models to protect orangutans and improve health, Borneo’.

Whitley Award Recognises Inspiring People Conserving World’s Most Vulnerable Creatures

Hotlin developing outreach to schools to raise awareness amongst the next generation of their unique natural heritage in the Gunung Palung National park

Unusually for a conservationist, Hotlin is a dental surgeon. In 2007 she co-founded the NGO Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI) with a mission to protect Gunung Palung National Park in southwestern Borneo whilst improving the health of communities around it. Gunung Palung’s rainforest represents some of the most intact lowland forests left in Indonesia. It is home to endangered species including hornbills, gibbons, clouded leopards and 10% of the global population of orangutans – an ape gravely threatened by habitat loss.

Poverty and poor health are important drivers of deforestation here, with communities often turning to illegal logging to pay for basic yet vital necessities such as healthcare. Hotlin is working to break this cycle. Through innovative healthcare incentives, ASRI is reducing the need for people to exploit the forest whilst improving access to healthcare for villagers. Families who stop logging receive extra discounts of up to 70% on medical care. No-one is turned away; those who cannot afford treatment can pay using non-cash means by participating in reforestation activities, or alternative livelihoods programmes, including organic farming.

Since Hotlin won a Whitley Award in 2011, the project has significantly decreased illegal logging in 18 villages around Gunung Palung National Park; treated over 24,000 people; cut infant deaths by two thirds; set up teams of local Forest Guardians in all villages bordering the park; planted 100,000 native trees; and seen the return of orangutans to reforestation sites.

The Whitley Gold Award will help bring together stakeholders to strengthen protection of the park against illegal logging and forest fires which swept through Indonesia in 2015; establish Indonesia’s first ‘conservation hospital’ as a medical and education center; raise ASRI’s profile nationally and internationally; and explore expansion of this model to potential new sites across the country including Sumatra, Sulawesi and Papua.

Congratulations is in order to all of the very worthy winners.

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Andrea is a single parent of 3 fine upstanding citizens. A 20-something son and twin late teen daughters. She spends a large part of her day exercising like a mad person in an attempt to lose the last part of a vast amount of blubber that after 7 years of steady inch loss appears to be claiming squatters rights.

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