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National Geographic/Buffett Awardees

2017 Awardees

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Rosamira Guillen
Rosamira Guillen
 
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Rosamira Guillen is a Colombian landscape architect and environmental designer-turned-conservationist. She cofounded and is now executive director of Fundación Proyecto Tití, an organization dedicated to the protection and conservation of one of Colombia’s most endangered native primate species: the cotton-top tamarin.

After training as an architect and pursuing a master’s degree in landscape architecture at the State University of New York in Syracuse, Guillen was hired to design and implement a remodeling master plan for the Barranquilla Zoo in her hometown of Barranquilla, Colombia. In 2001, she was named director of the zoo. It was through her work there that she learned about wildlife issues and discovered cotton-top tamarins, a species native to northern Colombia that is critically endangered due to deforestation and the illegal pet trade.

“Even though I was always interested in nature and the environment, I didn’t know much about wildlife,” Guillen said. “I couldn’t believe that this primate species was only found in this region of my country and that, growing up, I had never heard about how special and important cotton-tops were for our biodiversity and for the conservation of their tropical forest home.”

As director of the zoo, Guillen prioritized awareness and education efforts to support cotton-top tamarin conservation, highlighting wildlife issues and the challenges that Colombia’s native species face due to the impact of human activities. Guillen’s team built a new exhibit for the tamarins and conducted awareness, media and education campaigns for the zoo’s visitors and local schools to draw attention to the charismatic primate.

In 2004, Guillen cofounded Fundación Proyecto Tití, a Colombian non-governmental organization created to lead conservation efforts on behalf of cotton-top tamarins and their forest home. Initially volunteering as executive director, she joined the organization full-time in 2008.

Fundación Proyecto Tití has raised the profile of cotton-tops in Colombia and abroad while increasing the reach and scope of its conservation efforts. During Guillen’s tenure, Fundación Proyecto Tití’s research led to the International Union for Conservation of Nature classifying the cotton-top tamarin as “Critically Endangered” in 2008 and as one of the “World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates” in 2009. The foundation also helped stop construction of an airport in critical cotton-top habitat; supported the designation of forest protected areas and creation of a biological reserve to protect cotton-tops in perpetuity; and established conservation agreements with 26 local landowners in 2016 alone.

Guillen also developed innovative projects to support the local communities living near cotton-top tamarin habitat. These include educational programs; teaching community members to use fuel-efficient stoves; and working with local women to create and sell tote bags made from recycled plastic bags found in the forest.

“Our intention is to protect cotton-top tamarins and guarantee a long-term future for this species,” said Guillen. “We want to make cotton-tops a symbol of Colombia’s biodiversity and thus generate pride in supporting the conservation of this amazing animal.”

Guillen’s many awards include the 2015 Whitley Award from the Whitley Fund for Nature and a Fulbright Scholarship from 1991 to 1993.

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Olivier Nsengimana
Olivier Nsengimana
 
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Dr. Olivier Nsengimana is a Rwandan veterinarian who designed and implemented a unique conservation project to save his country’s endangered grey crowned crane by working to abolish its illegal trade. Nsengimana began the project in 2014 after winning the Rolex Awards for Enterprise–Young Laureate, Environment honor for his efforts to protect this amazing species.

Nsengimana has since established the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA), a nonprofit dedicated to expanding research and conservation projects connected to endangered or threatened species in Rwanda, including the grey crowned cranes. Founded and run by Rwandans who come from and understand local communities and their challenges, RWCA provides a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to critical conservation issues in order to create sustainable solutions.

To combat the threats to grey crowned cranes, RWCA works closely with the Rwandan government and other partners to raise awareness about their conservation status and the laws protecting them. RWCA also identifies and bands captive cranes; removes them from captivity with the hope of reintroducing them to the wild; and cares for those too ill or disabled to return home. In addition, RWCA engages with local communities to enforce the laws protecting wildlife and to find alternative livelihoods to illegal trading.

Nsengimana was inspired to work toward saving cranes and other species in his country and to promoting the beauty and diversity of Rwanda’s nature after growing up in a country devastated by genocide. “Every Rwandan has had a role to play in moving forward from the genocide,” Nsengimana said. “I knew that whatever I did with my life, I had to contribute something meaningful to my country.”

Prior to founding RWCA, Nsengimana worked for Gorilla Doctors as a field veterinarian, providing life-saving veterinary care to critically endangered wild mountain gorillas. He also worked for the PREDICT program, a worldwide effort to build an early-warning system for emerging pandemic threats that move between wildlife and people. 

Nsengimana received a master’s degree in veterinary sciences, conservation medicine from the University of Edinburgh and has completed a field-based course in animal health interventions sponsored by the Zoological Society of London, Wildlife Institute of India and the University of Edinburgh. In 2016, he was a finalist for the Tusk Conservation Awards.

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2016

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Makala Jasper
Makala Jasper
 
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Makala Jasper, a skilled forester and dedicated conservationist, is chief executive officer of the Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative (MCDI), a Tanzanian nonprofit committed to improving the well-being of rural communities—as well as the forests upon which they rely.

Founded in 2004, MCDI pioneered community-based forest management in southeastern Tanzania. Today, MCDI supports more than 55,000 men, women and children in 35 communities, empowering local people to take control of and sustainably manage their forests while providing economic benefits and improving livelihoods.

Among its many accomplishments, MCDI empowered its 35 involved communities to secure user rights to 350,000 hectares (approximately 864,869 acres) of forest. On average, the communities have set aside 32 percent of their forestland for sustainable management. MCDI also led the first-ever commercial timber harvest of a community-managed natural forest in Tanzania, resulting in a more than 100-fold increase in local earnings per cubic meter. In addition, MCDI received the first—and to date only—Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for a community-managed natural forest in Africa, enabling the supported communities to earn more than $315,000 in FSC-certified timber sales.

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Victor Zambrano
Victor Zambrano
 
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Victor Zambrano has dedicated his life to the restoration of natural forests in the Madre de Dios region of Peru’s southeastern Amazon, fostering ecologically stable and socioeconomically productive landscapes.

Born in Madre de Dios, Zambrano learned the customs of the local people at an early age. After leaving for high school in Lima and a subsequent 24-year military career, Zambrano retired and returned to his birthplace, settling along the Tambopata River in a region scientists consider to be the global epicenter of biodiversity. Sadly, he found the area under significant pressure from illegal gold mining; construction of the Amazon’s first transcontinental highway; oil and gas exploration; illegal timber harvesting; and human migration.

Upon his return in 1987, Zambrano located his family’s land and began the arduous process of reforesting it, singlehandedly planting more than 19,000 trees, and over 120 species of them, in a 34-hectare (approximately 84-acre) area. In 2013, after many years of work, Zambrano legally obtained the land and gained long-term protection for it. Today, the area is known as the K'erenda Homet Private Conservation Concession, in honor of his youngest daughter.

Over the years, Zambrano established, advised and trained a number of local organizations, including the Agrarian Federation of Madre de Dios, a group of 5,000 families practicing sound agricultural processes. Zambrano is also recognized as the creator of the first agroforestry initiatives in the region as well as the Indigenous and Peasant Forestry Coordination of Peru.

In addition, Zambrano championed creation of the Alliance to Protect the Tambopata National Reserve, bringing together indigenous people, environmental organizations and agrarian associations, to protect the Madre de Dios region from the severe habitat destruction and biodiversity loss caused by gold mining. His efforts contributed to a significant reduction of gold mining, improving the overall well-being of the local communities while drawing the national government’s attention to the perils of illegal gold mining.

A frequent speaker and the subject of global media coverage, in 2014, Zambrano received the prestigious Carlos Ponce Conservation Award in Peru.

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2015

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Monica Gonzalez
Monica Gonzalez
 
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Dr. Mónica González, executive director of Fundación para la Conservación de los Andes Tropicales (FCAT), is an inspiring leader in Latin American conservation. In the 1990s, she began working with communities living near the Mache Chindul Reserve in northeast Ecuador, a biodiverse tropical rain forest region. The heavily populated area offers few financial opportunities; thus, people rely heavily on exploiting natural resources. González focused her efforts on finding financial support to develop environmental education programs in the villages around the reserve. She traveled long distances through difficult terrain to reach the most isolated communities. Several times she was injured getting to these areas: Once a mule kicked her, breaking her leg, and another time she broke her arm falling off a horse. But the enthusiasm of the people and their desire to learn kept her going back.

In 2011, she created FCAT to implement on-the-ground conservation measures. The project she is currently leading combines scientific research, environmental education, and capacity building focused on conservation efforts. The imminent construction of a highway crossing the reserve is of great concern to the communities. Although the reserve is a protected area, much of it is composed of private, fragmented patches of forest that vary from 5 to nearly 500 acres. A new highway will bring an increase in logging and settlers. Because of this, González and her team have spent the last year documenting the diversity of birds, amphibians, orchids, bees, beetles, and soil microbes in 23 forest fragments. The project is also implementing reforestation to link priority forest fragments and promoting ecotourism by fragment owners to bring financial benefits to the local communities.

After years of working in the area, González has witnessed changes in the communities’ management of water and soil, a decrease in the use of pesticides, and coordinated communal ways to manage trash that used to contaminate the rivers and watersheds. Although the challenges faced at the Mache Chindul are huge, González stays optimistic as she sees the commitment of the local residents to protect the area’s natural resources.

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Roger C. Fotso
Roger C. Fotso
 
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Roger Fotso was born and raised in rural Cameroon and became passionate about nature at an early age. He obtained a Ph.D. in zoology from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium in 1994, one of the first central African conservationists to obtain such a qualification.

His first conservation work was interning on the Kilum Ijim Montane forest project by BirdLife International in 1990/91. He worked with local communities to protect the Oku forest in western Cameroon, one of the last remaining patches of montane forest in western central Africa and home to many endemic species of plants, amphibians, rodents, and birds. He then joined the EU’s ECOFAC program, serving for two years as director of research for the Dja Wildlife Reserve in southern Cameroon. From 1995 to 1998, he led a biodiversity priority-setting exercise for Cameroon using birds as indicator species. The project identified Cameroon’s Important Bird Areas and served as a basis for the Cameroon National Biodiversity Action Plan.

Since 1998, Fotso has been the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Cameroon country program, building it into arguably the most effective conservation program in the country. Landmark results have included the creation of five protected areas—three national parks (Mbam Djerem, Takamanda, and Deng Deng) and two wildlife sanctuaries (Banyang Mbo and Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary). Under Fotso, WCS has been involved in managing and protecting these parks through support for law enforcement, research and monitoring, preparation of management plans, and engagement with surrounding communities. In contrast to many places in central Africa, these areas have benefited from effective management, and wildlife has thrived. Thanks to Fotso and his team’s efforts, the habitat critical to the world’s most endangered great ape, the Cross River gorilla, is now protected in Takamanda and Kagwene, while Deng Deng protects the most northerly lowland gorilla population in eastern Cameroon.

Under Fotso’s leadership, WCS Cameroon has also engaged effectively with companies such as Exxon Mobil, CAMRAIL, and Electricity Development Corporation Cameroon to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of infrastructure development and find win-win solutions for people and nature. Additionally, Fotso has helped a new generation of Cameroonian conservationists through graduate opportunities and scholarships.

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2014

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Enriqueta Velarde
Enriqueta Velarde
 
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Enriqueta Velarde’s work focuses on seabird ecology. She has visited Isla Rasa every spring for the past 35 years to measure, weigh, census, band, and observe the seabirds. Year after year, she has followed the survival of the banded birds, estimated their breeding effort and success, quantified their diet, and recorded behavioral patterns. As a result of her data, she extended her studies to research the interrelation of bird population size to anchovy and sardine stocks in the Gulf of California. Anchovies and sardines are the main economic bases for the large fishing community in the area.

Velarde’s ongoing conservation efforts on Isla Rasa have transformed the island from a place of destruction and exploitation to an international example of conservation and orderly ecotourism. During the time she has studied the birdlife on Isla Rasa, she and her team have totally eradicated invasive rats that had a devastating effect on the seabird population. The success of this effort triggered a broader program of invasive species management in other Gulf of California islands and has become an example for controlling invasive species in island systems in general. Velarde and her team have also been successful in convincing fishermen to stop illegally ransacking birds’ nests to sell the eggs.

In addition, Velarde has established a close collaboration with the indigenous Mexican Comcaac community and collaborated with colleagues on a project for training Comcaac “paraecologists” in the towns of Punta Chueca and El Desemboque in the state of Sonora.

Velarde’s book, Islas del Golfo de California, written in the 1980s, was used 20 years later as the base for the designation of the islands of the Gulf of California as a World Heritage site.

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Benezeth Mutayoba
Benezeth Mutayoba
 
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For more than a decade and a half, Benezeth Mutayoba, a professor at Sokoine University of Agriculture’s Department of Veterinary Physiology, Biochemistry, Pharmacology, and Toxicology, has engaged in challenging conservation research, especially on elephants and the bushmeat trade, and has mentored students to take action to protect their unique natural heritage.

Among his many conservation accomplishments was to develop, with colleagues, mitochondrial DNA testing methods to identify bushmeat sold illegally as domestic beef and pork to hotels in Tanzania and other East African countries. His technique is now used by scientists in other parts of Africa. He also served as a member of the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force aimed at identifying and supporting solutions that effectively respond to the bushmeat crisis around the world.

In addition, Mutayoba collaborated on research examining the long-term impacts of poaching of female elephants in Mikumi National Park in southern Tanzania. The research found that survivors who had lost kin displayed altered behavior, heightened stress levels, and lower fertility. These long-term impacts also prevail in elephants that survived past heavy poaching in Tarangire National Park in northern Tanzania. Mutayoba presents these finding at various venues to communicate that poaching has long-lasting effects on elephant populations.

He also has been instrumental in several genetic studies to develop DNA tools for determining the origin of seized ivory, and, as vice chairman of the Tanzania Elephant Protection Society, he has challenged the Tanzanian government’s denial of the elephant poaching crisis and has raised awareness of its scope and impact. As a result, at the end of 2013, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete launched “Operation Tokomeza” to end elephant poaching in Tanzania and ordered aerial counts of all the major elephant populations in southern Tanzanian reserves and national parks.

Additionally, Mutayoba is deeply involved in researching and documenting wildlife connectivity and the movement of large animals outside the protected areas in Tanzania.

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2013

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Charles Tumwesigye
Charles Tumwesigye
 
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Charles Tumwesigye, a Ugandan national, has worked for 18 years in wildlife conservation and management. As chief of conservation area management, he supervises all the field operations in all the national parks in Uganda and is responsible for deploying staff in the parks and spearheading the preparation of management plans for the national parks. During his career he has been instrumental in establishing health centers at the edge of two national parks to provide healthcare and education to more than 12,000 people and outreach to some 10,000 children, in an attempt to link the benefits of accessible healthcare with conservation. He is currently working on a project to establish a network of mobile clinics to serve communities that neighbor national parks.

Tumwesigye played a key role during a recent crisis on the boundaries of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo when M23 rebels engaged in fierce battles with DRC government forces. He led efforts to provide refuge to DRC rangers who were entangled in the war and unable to protect the DRC national parks that border the Ugandan protected areas. One of these parks hosts half the world’s population of endangered mountain gorillas. Tumwesigye coordinated the provision of food and logistics to ensure the rangers were safe and could return to protect these areas. He sent emissaries to negotiate with the rebels, which resulted in the wildlife remaining protected and the rangers being unharmed.

At the international level, because of his strong history of elephant conservation and expertise in this area, Tumwesigye was last year chosen to represent Uganda at the CITES Standing Committee Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. He played a major role in advocating for the African elephant, which is facing a serious threat from poaching and the international ivory trade. As a result of his strong advocacy for elephant conservation, Uganda was chosen to chair one of the influential subcommittees of the CITES Standing Committee responsible for reviewing CITES decisions about elephant conservation and ivory trade. The decisions were adopted at the recent CITES Conference of Parties in Bangkok, Thailand.

Over the years Tumwesigye has also been involved in designing and reviewing policies for community involvement in wildlife management. As a result of policies like revenue sharing and collaborative management, Uganda is looked to as a model in Africa in the area of community conservation.

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Alberto Yanosky
Alberto Yanosky
 
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Alberto Yanosky, scientific author, speaker and international consultant, heads Guyra Paraguay, that country’s leading organization for biodiversity research and conservation. He also serves on the board of directors of several international organizations, including BirdLife International, Waterbird Conservation Council for the Americas, and Western Hemisphere Migratory Species Initiative. His areas of specialization are conservation and biodiversity, population and natural ecology, wetlands ecosystems and sustainability. Yanosky, an Argentine national, began working in conservation in Argentina around 1985, when he created and managed a privately owned nature reserve, the first example of this kind in the country. In 1993 he was invited to lead conservation action in Paraguay. Since then, he has been active not only in Paraguay as executive director of Guyra Paraguay, but also across Latin America and the world, working with different partners and contributing to conservation networks around the globe. He also serves as an environmental consultant to the World Bank.

Yanosky has created a strong team of professionals and brought more than $15 million into Paraguay for conservation. Under his leadership, Guyra Paraguay has carried out over 350 biodiversity conservation and sustainable development activities in Paraguay. Among the most notable is the Paraguayan Forest Conservation project to conserve ecologically diverse forests under imminent threat of clearance. This has reduced emissions from deforestation and achieved significant co-benefits for biodiversity and local people and is on track to play a major role in saving the native forests of Paraguay.

Other notable Guyra Paraguay achievements are its being instrumental in declaring the bare-throated bellbird Paraguay’s national bird; forming and supporting more than 100 local conservation groups; training more than 500 young conservation professionals; acquiring more than 24,000 hectares in different regions, dedicated to conservation in perpetuity; studying Paraguay’s 714 bird species, identifying 80 threatened species and protecting 500 species in Guyra’s private reserves; evaluating the more than the 150 invasive species that affect Paraguay’s biodiversity and cause economic and environmental damage; and supporting the protection of 1 million hectares in the Alto Chaco, habitat for large South American vertebrates like the jaguar, tapir, giant river otter, guanaco, chacoan peccary and giant armadillo.

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2012

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Pati Ruiz Corzo
Pati Ruiz Corzo
 
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Pati Ruiz Corzo founded Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (GESG), a local grassroots organization, with her husband and local residents in 1987 to rescue the Sierra Gorda bioregion in Mexico from the destruction of unregulated development. GESG has set the standard in Mexico for a “conservation economy,” establishing a new paradigm in natural protected area management with widespread local community participation.

GESG is a living model of community-based conservation management. Thanks largely to GESG’s efforts and Ruiz Corzo’s leadership, the Sierra Gorda — comprising a third of Mexico’s Queretaro State and considered the area with the most ecosystem diversity in Mexico — is now a UNESCO and federal Biosphere Reserve and is the largest federal protected area with participatory management in the world. It spans 1 million acres, and its 35,000 residents own 97 percent of the Reserve’s territory.

Ruiz Corzo’s efforts to include local communities in the management of the Reserve make her a pioneer in the conservation field. Her leadership has created opportunities for rural, low-income communities in the areas of ecotourism, reforestation, soil restoration, ecological livestock management and other profitable microenterprises.

Over the past 25 years, GESG has organized environmental education for the community members, who regularly take part in clean-up campaigns, solid waste management, soil restoration and other conservation activities. Community volunteers operate 115 recycling centers. Thanks to the residents’ stewardship of the Reserve, more than 13,000 hectares of regenerated forest and woodland has been recovered over 15 years.

Ruiz Corzo and her team have developed online and on-site courses that allow others to replicate the GESG model, which is now being applied beyond the borders of Mexico.

Ruiz Corzo also has pioneered the concept of valuing the “natural capital” of the region — the Sierra Gorda has been validated by the Rainforest Alliance and is the first forest carbon project to achieve this milestone in Mexico.

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Zacharie Tchoundjeu
Zacharie Tchoundjeu
 
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Zacharie Tchoundjeu has made invaluable contributions toward the conservation of biodiversity in the Congo Basin, the development of sustainable agricultural techniques for small-scale farmers and the training of a new generation of African scientists and environmentalists. As the regional director of the World Agroforestry Centre, based in Yaoundé, Cameroon, he leads international teams in 21 West and Central African countries that are focused on agroforestry, forest conservation and domestication of high-value indigenous fruit trees and medicinal plants, with the aim of enhancing the livelihoods of small-scale farmers.

Throughout his life Tchoundjeu has worked with local farmers to find solutions to ending poverty and environmental degradation. He currently works with farmers and indigenous communities to select plant species from the wild and adapt them for cultivation on small farms. He has developed and adapted vegetative tree propagation methods that lead to early fruiting, replication of desired traits, easy reproduction of species whose seeds are difficult to collect and conservation of valuable species. Through these efforts, thousands of small-scale farmers have been trained in simplified but efficient techniques of domestication and have been able to generate sustainable incomes, especially in the area of fruit trees, coffee, cocoa, medicinal plants and other important crop production.

Recognizing that environmental education was largely lacking in Central Africa, Tchoundjeu created the International Bilingual Academy of Yaoundé (BAYSUP) in 2010. A joint project with the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Gent and the University of Yaoundé 1, it is dedicated to enhancing agroforestry, environmental management, sustainability and conservation of Central Africa’s tropical forests and the people whose welfare they sustain. A central goal of BAYSUP is to teach environmental sustainability and conservation to students starting at kindergarten level. A Higher Institute of Environmental Sciences will be operational in January 2013.

Tchoundjeu also has published more than 115 papers and co-authored four books. He helped launch the new Cameroon chapter of COACh International, a grassroots organization aimed at building scientific leadership capacity that develops and provides training workshops to women faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.

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2011

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Moi Vicente Enomenga Mantohue
Moi Vicente Enomenga Mantohue
 
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Moi Vicente Enomenga Mantohue was born near Coca in the Ecuadorian Amazon just as his family and the Huaorani were first contacted by American missionaries. Some of the clans cultivated this contact, but Enomenga’s father decided to find a place that was isolated, where he could continue to hunt, fish, work on his land, and see his children learn about traditional life in the forest.

By the time Enomenga was 18 he had already begun to worry about his people’s rights and land, well aware that the threats that industrial groups brought with them impacted all clans. At this young age he became a leader among the Huaorani, working to unite warring clans into one federation. Enomenga’s campaign helped the Huaorani secure legal title to Yasuní National Park, the largest indigenous territory in Ecuador and a UN biosphere reserve.

Over time Enomenga has also come to believe that ecotourism is a key part of the Huaorani future. It is a means by which his people can receive an income while maintaining the integrity of their culture and conserving their rainforest. He sees this as enhancing the sustainability of their lifestyle and culture while encouraging their efforts to resist the more destructive initiatives of the oil industry. Starting with the first Huaorani Association, his vision evolved from an adventurous expedition to an award-winning ecolodge known as the Huaorani Ecolodge—a unique and powerful cultural tool for the Amazon region.

Today, Enomenga is working on another phase of this project: the Yame Reserve, named after his late father. It will be 136,000 acres and linked to the ecolodge. Supported by the United Nations Development Program, the World Tourism Organization, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, this project is a concrete demonstration of Enomenga’s vision of how conservation, support of local cultures, and ecotourism can go hand in hand.

As tirelessly as he works to preserve his cultural heritage, Enomenga is happiest when he is home with his wife and their young daughter in the Huaorani community of Quehueri’ono.

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Paula Kahumbu
Paula Kahumbu
 
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Paula Kahumbu received her Ph.D. in Ecology at Princeton University where she studied elephants in coastal Kenya. She is one of Africa’s best known wildlife conservationists. She is the CEO of WildlifeDirect and brainchild of the HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS campaign with Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta the First Lady of the Republic of Kenya. The campaign is widely recognized for its singular successes in advocacy and the engagement of the people of Kenya to support the protection of elephants. At a popular level this never has been experienced before in Kenya or any other elephant range state.

Paula is the winner of the Whitley Award 2014, National Geographic Buffett Awardee for conservation leadership in Africa in 2010 and is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. She received a special commendation at the United Nations Person of the Year celebrations for her critical role in creating awareness and mobilizing action around the crisis facing elephants in Kenya. She is recognized as a Kenyan conservation ambassador by Brand Kenya and in 2015 received the presidential award and title of Order of the Grand Warrior (OGW).

 

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2010

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Vitor Becker and Clemira Souza
Vitor Becker and Clemira Souza
 
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Vitor O. Becker was born to a family of small farmers in the town of Brusque in southern Brazil. He had an early love of nature and insects, and studied agronomy and forestry, receiving his Ph.D. in entomology. Becker focused on the study of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), becoming an expert on the subject. He spent his career in this field, authoring more than a hundred publications and amassing one of the largest collections of neotropical moths in the world. Clemira Souza, a schoolteacher, met Becker in 1968, when he was working at the Instituto Biológico in São Paulo. They married the following year.

While carrying out extensive field work throughout Latin America, Becker witnessed firsthand the rapid and drastic destruction of natural habitats. He concluded that there was no point in preserving pinned specimens in museum collections if nothing was being done to preserve the species in nature. For Becker—and Souza—this meant preserving habitats for conservation, biological research, and environmental education. Since Becker’s retirement as a research scientist from the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture in 1997, he and Souza have dedicated their lives to conservation.

The Atlantic Forest of Brazil is one of the most diverse biomes in the world and the most destroyed in Brazil—only 8 percent of its original forests remain. Becker and Souza decided to establish a reserve in this region and settled on the Serra Bonita Mountain. Serra Bonita not only had very high diversity, but also had species not previously known to the Atlantic Forest. Additionally, most of the mountain was still covered with forest (nearly 50 percent pristine), and there was no sample of cloud forest preserved in the region. Using their retirement benefits and their savings, Becker and Souza started to purchase land in 1998, one piece at a time. By mid-2001, nearly 50 properties had been purchased, amounting to over 2,500 acres. As the project expanded, they created the Uiraçu Institute, an NGO, and eventually established the larger Serra Bonita Reserve Complex. Today this protected area covers nearly 5,000 acres.

At the end of 2002, Becker and Souza began building infrastructure on the Serra Bonita Reserve. Today there is a research center composed of six laboratories, two collection rooms, an auditorium, a library and a preparation room. Also on the reserve is a lodge to accommodate scientists, students and ecotourists, and over 10 kilometers of trails. Currently 15 research projects are underway, most of them carried out by graduate students.

Becker and Souza continue to work to realize their conservation dream and they hope to expand the protected area across the entire Serra Bonita Mountain.

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John Makombo
John Makombo
 
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John Makombo was born and raised in western Uganda. At an early age he developed a passion for conservation. He studied environmental science at university before joining the Ugandan Wildlife Authority. Starting as park warden, Makombo has steadily climbed the ranks and is now Chief Conservation Area Manager for all of the protected areas and wildlife reserves in Uganda.

Early in his career Makombo spearheaded the protection and restoration of the mountain ecosystem and biodiversity of the Rwenzori Mountains National Park. He focused on community involvement, anti-poaching operations, and promoting sustainable resource harvest and watershed management—thus ensuring the local population was in support of conservation. Building on these experiences, Makombo implemented a landscape concept for Semliki Wildlife Reserve and the nearby Semliki National Park such that both sites were managed together. This concept is now being used throughout Uganda in seven conservation areas comprising 10 national parks and 12 wildlife reserves.

In Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, home to half the world’s endangered mountain gorillas, Makombo worked to change the perception of the local communities toward the conservation of mountain gorillas and their habitat. He led conservation education crusades to educate the community about the importance of gorilla protection, designed and implemented community conservation projects, and developed tourism activities. He also worked at Murchison Falls National Park to discourage elephants from entering community lands and to promote a change in the community’s attitude toward the conservation of elephants.

Within the Uganda Wildlife Authority Makombo has also proposed and designed projects on climate change and to monitor the environmental impacts of oil exploration. He has continued to achieve these goals in the face of danger and adversity. Makombo has also looked beyond the borders of Uganda, serving as president of a cross-border coordination committee, working to improve forest conservation and gorilla protection in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His efforts led to a comprehensive tripartite government agreement to protect this critically important landscape.

Today Makombo continues his untiring efforts to ensure that conservation goals are met and that the animals, landscapes, and communities he works with are protected—and prosper.

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2008

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Fatima Jama Jibrell
Fatima Jama Jibrell
 
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Fatima Jibrell, one of Somalia’s preeminent environmental activists, is the founder of Horn Relief, an African-led nonprofit organization established in 1991 in response to Somalia’s devastating humanitarian crisis and civil war. The organization mobilizes local and international resources to protect the fragile pastoral environment in Somalia. Through her work with Horn Relief, Jibrell introduced the “rock dam” approach to environmental issues. A rock dam is composed of rocks piled together to stop soil erosion and formation of gullies. By slowing down the flow of water during the brief rainy season, the rock dams gather soil and create conditions that allow plants and even small trees to germinate. Jibrell has encouraged community groups throughout Somalia to build rock dams to carefully nurture the country’s harsh, arid environment in order to bring forth shrubs and other plants. She has concentrated much of her efforts on the Sool and Sanaag regions of Somalia, which suffer severe droughts due to climate change and desertification.

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Denise Marçal Rambaldi
Denise Marçal Rambaldi
 
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Brazilian conservationist Denise Rambaldi is executive director of the Golden Lion Tamarin Association. She has achieved remarkable success in pulling back from the brink of extinction this highly endangered primate species that lives in the Atlantic Forest, one of the world’s most critically endangered biodiversity hotspots. Through a combination of political savvy and a passion for nature preservation, Rambaldi has united a spectrum of interest groups at all socio-economic levels to preserve and restore the region’s fragmented habitat while promoting sustainable development. This integrated “landscape” ecology approach has become a model throughout Brazil.

Under Rambaldi’s guidance, the golden tamarin population now numbers 1,500. There are tamarins in more than 31 private ranches and two federal reserves totaling 26,200 protected acres. The species has been removed from the IUCN’s Red List category of “Critically Endangered” (downgraded to “Endangered”). She has made effective use of the charismatic primate’s public appeal to gain the support of landowners and local governments in habitat preservation and improvement.

Rambaldi has also been a powerful force in creating a local consortium to protect the 370,000-acre São João watershed in Rio de Janeiro state. Today, the entire watershed is zoned as an Environmental Protection Area. Additionally, under her leadership, many private landowners are now conserving remaining forest areas and dedicating their forest fragments as private reserves in what amounts to the largest private conservation effort in a single Brazilian state.

She has worked tirelessly to help local people in the Atlantic Forest. Her association has achieved success in combating poverty while reducing the human footprint in the forest. Activities have included helping the residents establish and manage nursery production of tree seedlings for use in forest restoration and corridor creation. Rambaldi also initiated a program to train dozens of teachers in local municipalities and involve them in hundreds of projects that promote environmental consciousness.

Rambaldi’s enthusiasm, expertise, energy, and environmental policy skills are increasingly in demand within Brazil and overseas. She is helping national, regional, and local governments develop environmental policies for preservation and management of endangered species and protected areas, for combating invasive species, and for preparing for the effects of climate change.

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2007

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Jorge Orejuela
Jorge Orejuela
 
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Over the past 30 years, Dr. Jorge Orejuela has been an educator and conservationist in Colombia. He is currently the director of the Cali Botanical Garden and a professor
in the environmental sciences department at the Universidad Autónoma de Occidente, but his work extends throughout the neotropics.

Trained as an ornithologist, his research includes species as varied as orchids, spectacled bears, and bats. Orejuela’s early work led him to the cloud forests between Colombia and Ecuador.
This area is home to one of the most important endemic bird areas of northern South America. Recognizing the need for its conservation, he undertook the establishment of the La Planada Nature Reserve. Now in its 18th year of operation, La Planada continues to be a research site with an established community development program in place.

While remaining involved with the education community and working to teach the next generation of environmentalists, Orejuela has been a driving force in the conservation movement for his country and region. His accomplishments include the creation of the Environmental Area of the Fundación para la Educación Superior and numerous protected places. Two national parks that Orejuela’s research helped establish are Utría in the Chocó region and Gorgona Island in the Pacific Ocean. Besides La Planada, two more nature reserves have resulted from his work: Acaime in the Central Andes and the Calima River basin. In 2000 Orejuela realized a dream and established the Cali Botanical Garden, which is recognized as a leading research center.

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Inogwabini Bila-Isia
Inogwabini Bila-Isia
 
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Inogwabini Bila-Isia is based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he works for World Wildlife Fund as the Lac Tumba project manager. He conducts field research, helps local groups with natural resource management, and is working on a long-term biodiversity conservation program. He designed and started a bonobo habituation program and elephant and buffalo monitoring programs in Lac Tumba. He has aided in the delineation of the Tumba-Lediima Natural Reserve that will protect these animals and other large mammals. He is also using his expertise at the national level as a political liaison to advocate for conservation activities.

Born and raised in the equatorial forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bila-Isia’s early knowledge of plants and animals and love of the environment were inspired by treks through the terrain. While he studied physics in high school and at university, he jumped at an opportunity to accompany a friend into conservation work in 1993. Bila-Isia became a part of the eastern Zaire forest inventories to census the mountain gorillas there. From Zaire he went to the Salonga National Park, where he served as field conservation project director for the Zoological Society of Milwaukee and researched bonobos. He then moved into the central Africa region and became active with a Wildlife Conservation Society group tracking elephants to stop illegal trade and killing. Bila-Isia coordinated inventories, organized training sessions, and taught ecological survey methods for teams in six countries. Over the past decade he has trained dozens of researchers and research assistants across central Africa.

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2006

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Jaime Incer Barquero
Jaime Incer Barquero
 
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Dr. Jaime Incer is regarded by many as the founder and leading figure of conservation efforts in Nicaragua. Over a distinguished career in academia and government and nongovernmental organizations, Incer has developed curricula and schools in the natural sciences, established national parks and other protected areas, and inspired a new generation of conservationists and life scientists in Nicaragua and throughout Central America.

When Incer completed his education in 1963, there were few scientists and little scientific infrastructure in Nicaragua. As a new member of the faculty at Universidad Nacional Autónoma, he responded to this paucity of scientists by developing a curriculum in ecology and natural history and teaching the first courses to university students. In the 1970s, he founded his country’s first School of Natural Resources at Universidad Centroamericana, where he was dean of the faculty. Incer helped establish Nicaragua’s first national park, Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya, in 1975. Opened to the public in 1979, the park measures 21 square miles and includes the best-preserved dry forest in the country, as well as other habitats on lava flows of different ages. As minister of the environment and natural resources under President Violeta Chamorro from 1990 to 1994, Incer established two biosphere reserves, helped conceptualize and implement the Mesoamerican biological corridor, and worked to set up a network of preserves that now protects about 18 percent of Nicaragua’s territory.

In recent years Dr. Incer has helped found nongovernmental organizations to manage two of Nicaragua’s important protected areas. The Fundación Nicaragüense para la Conservación de la Naturaleza is dedicated to the management and protection of Volcán Mombacho, and the Fundación Nicaragüense para el Desarrollo Sostenible is responsible for Cerro Musún. The management strategies for both reserves have been innovative and remarkably successful and are considered models of sustainable conservation.

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Zephaniah Phiri Maseko
Zephaniah Phiri Maseko
 
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For over 40 years Zephaniah Phiri Maseko has lived, farmed, and raised a family in one of the most arid and resource-poor lands in southern Africa, Zimbabwe’s Zvishavane District. Through his own ingenuity and despite political challenges, he has devised and propagated irrigation practices that have enabled subsistence farmers on marginal lands to prosper as they conserve scarce resources and practice sustainable farming.

Phiri was born in 1927. As a young adult, he was jailed by the Rhodesian government for political activity, then released and blacklisted. Unable to obtain a paid job, he was ultimately forced to support his six children through full-time subsistence farming. Beginning in 1966 on a rocky and barren plot of land, he studied rainfall patterns and experimented with terraces and reservoirs, catchments and canals, infiltration pits and fish ponds. His methods retained the scarce rainfall and raised the local water table. He won governmental praise in 1973 in the midst of a severe drought and taught his methods to local farmers. The praise was short-lived, for in 1976 he was detained again for supporting the opposition, tortured and kept in leg irons, and held under house arrest for four years, unable to farm.

When Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, Phiri returned to farming, irrigating, and teaching his neighbors, with a spirit and dedication unharmed by political imprisonment. He founded the Vulindhlebe Soil and Water Conservation Project in 1984 and the Zvishavane Water Project in 1986. The projects’ goals include educating others about water harvesting and conservation, promoting sustainable farming, and increasing farm income. Phiri now spreads his knowledge and skills through on-site visits and exchanges with arid-land farming communities throughout southern and eastern Africa.

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2005

Nyawira Muthiga East African Wild Life Society, Bamburi, Kenyatta Beach, Kenya

Marcedonio Cortave Associación de Comunidades Forestales de Petén, San Benito, Petén, Guatemala

 

2004

Ali Kaka East African Wild Life Society, Nairobi, Kenya

Michel Masozera Wildlife Conservation Society, Kigali, Rwanda

 

2003

Aida Safira & Augusto Assane Omar WWF Mozambique, Maputo, Mozambique

 

2002

Lorivi Moses Ole Moirana African Wildlife Foundation, Arusha, Tanzania

Annette Elisabeth Lanjouw African Wildlife Foundation, Nairobi, Kenya