'A rich conservationist is a rare species'

| 15th May 2018

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu aka the 'Penguin Man' receiving the Gold Prize from HRH Princess Anne.


Cash for conservationism is crucial if projects are to have a meaningful, long-lasting impact. That's why the continued funding of the Whitley Awards - the so-called "green oscars" of the conservation world - is essential, says WENDYROSIE SCOTT

They're doing crucial work at at a critical time and providing success stories in an area normally associated with despair and pessimism.

The Whitley Fund for Nature is celebrating a quarter of a century and looks set to successfully continue providing financial assistance to conservationists across the globe. To date, almost £15 million has been awarded to over 197 wildlife pioneers in 80 countries.

No mean feat in a competitive and challenging field not always financially sufficient or fortunate enough to provide long-standing support.

Seen by many as the 'Green Oscars', the awards target those working in nature conservation regarded as international advocates for bio diversity. Notable emphasis is on local projects in resource poor areas and funding  is provided for proven grass-roots conservation leaders in developing countries. Emphasis is on people and wildlife working in a mutually beneficial way.

Best in the field

The 2018 recipients of the prestigious prize consist of  six 'of the best in the field', from various backgrounds and regions.

Munir Virani's Kenyan project is saving the region's threatened vultures who due to negative cultural perceptions are often poisoned. The project aims to reverse this misguided thinking and it's hoped it will serve as a model for other African countries. 

Peru-based Kerstin Forsberg works to prevent giant manta rays being caught for both local consumption and use in Chinese medicine. Forsberg established Planeta Oceano in 2009 to conserve marine life in the waters surrounding Peru, which (along with Ecuador), is thought to host the largest population of giant manta rays in the world. These ethereal creatures also have a very low productive rate putting them at greater risk of extinction. 

Dominic Bikaba in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is ensuring the survival of the Eastern Lowland Gorillas whilst Anjali Chandraraj Watson's project focuses on the leopard in Sri Lanka-a unique species native to the island but whose habitat is threatened by the country's expanding tea plantations.

Global reach 

Watson works to ensure these carnivores co exist safely with wildlife enthusiasts as one in five species  in Sri Lanka is unique to the country. Funding received for her  'wildlife corridors', has brought greater protection for the country's rich biodiversity. 

Based in Bangladesh, the planets most populated country, Shariar Caesar Rahman is saving the giant tortoise, whilst further bringing to attention an area of forest with re-discovered wildlife such as elephants, sun bears and pangolins.

In a place where reptiles who once co-existed with the dinosaurs now face a human induced mass extinction Caesar Rahman is gaining Indigenous tribes' trust and working with them to maintain ancestral lands.

Olivier Nsengimanam, a trained vet from Rwanda is conserving the crane. In 2014, in the aftermath of genocide, he founded an NGO Wildlife Conservation Association. The crane is a symbol of wealth and longevity and is under threat from wealthy international buyers wanting them as pets. As it's only one of two species adapted to tree roosting, Olivier is restoring roost sites through community tree planting. 

Passion and devotion

What links the winners is their passion and devotion for and knowledge of their chosen animal. Through the fund they receive holistic support including training, advice on working with the media and raising the fund's profile. 

Recipients are encouraged to aim high and take calculated risks, all of which is easier when given an effective platform and the wider support of the network, including access to former winners. 

Interviewing passionate people is always uplifting and the winners are an inspiration. What also makes the organisation particularly effective is its ability to communicate its message and encourage awardees to foster good relations with the media.

They're doing crucial work at at a critical time and providing success stories in an area normally associated with despair and pessimism.

Cash for conservation

The annual £40,000 prize offers much needed finance for important projects. A rich conservationist is a rare species.

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu is known as the 'Penguin Man'. Astute and well versed in the art of public relations he has years of experience engaging audiences and gaining support for his conservation efforts. 

A Whitleys alumni, he was awarded the annual Gold Prize for establishing  the world's first coalition for the protection of penguins.

Faced with threats from sea and land, the birds are often overlooked and anthropomorphised. Borboroglu worked with the International Union for Conservation of Nature to highlight how half the world's 18 species of penguin are categorised as either vulnerable or endangered .

Learning from the best

Being a mentor to other winners is part of the remit, so it's heartening to hear tales of Borboroglu meeting his own - the late Luc Hoffman, co-founder of  WWF.

Borboroglu learned from Hoffman how to address threats via large scale action including strengthening international protection whilst encompassing local guardianship schemes. He brought together 125 organisations which ultimately benefited 1.2 million penguins in four continents..

For a seemingly traditional organisation they turn out remarkable activists. The Whitleys continue to be revered worldwide thanks to the support and involvement of such high profile patrons including Princess Anne and Sir David Attenborough.

Over the past 25 years, 50,000 species have benefited from better protection and management, and 16 sustainable development goals, and 354 policies have been developed to improve environmental protection at national, regional or international level.

Founder Edward Whitley, a successful author, financier, environmentalist and philanthropist, showed great commitment and foresight which is now paying dividends.

But demand for funding continues. Wildlife needs winners and the latest recipients show how justice can be brought for both man and beast if the will and means are there.

This Author

Wendyrosie Scott is an anthropologist and journalist focusing on fashion, festivals and creative communities - looking at lifestyle trends and the natural world, as positive partnerships.

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