African grassroots leaders dominate the 2023 Whitley Awards

Posted on 29 April 2023 By Lisa Abdellah

The 30th edition of the ‘Green Oscars’ was held at the Royal Geographical Society in London to celebrate seven grassroots leaders working to protect communities, wildlife and landscapes and provide locally-led solutions to the global biodiversity and climate crisis.

The all-Kenyan team at Ewaso Lions, where they are sustaining wildlife, livestock and people by incorporating drought management into day-to-day efforts. Photograph: Anthony Ochieng/2023 Whitley Awards

Dr Shivani Bhalla, a former Whitley Award winner, received the £100 000 (around R2.3 million) Whitley Gold Award, ‘Catalysing a global movement for locally-led conservation’, donated by the Friends of Whitley Fund for Nature. She was presented the award by WFN Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, in front of nearly 500 guests, and the event was live-streamed to over 1 000 people worldwide.

The conservation biologist is the founder and executive director of Ewaso Lions, a project she now co-leads with her all-Kenyan team, whose community-led approach promotes co-existence between carnivores and people and has seen the local lion population grow to record numbers amid the worst drought in the country’s living history.

That’s vital, given lions are more endangered than elephants or rhinos in Africa.

Samburu lions. Bhalla’s award-winning project aims to inspire a global movement to empower local leaders to define community-led conservation efforts by boosting the skills needed to fight mounting threats. It will build on the success of programmes including Warrior Watch, created in 2010 by Jeneria Lekilelei, then a young warrior and now director of community conservation at Ewaso Lions Photograph: Michael Laubscher/2023 Whitley Awards

Other African winners include Dr Serge Alexis Kamgang, who will use his Whitley Award funding to protect the last remaining stronghold of 250 lions in Cameroon’s Bénoué ecosystem. Mamy Razafitsalama will use his award to accelerate his community-based fire management programme to protect the lemur habitat in Madagascar. And Kenya’s Leonard Akwany will continue to bolster grassroots fisheries management at Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest freshwater lake.

Meet the 2023 Whitley Award winners.

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