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.Back
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.Back