Meet some incredible conservation heroes!

Whitley Awards 2016

These six amazing animal activists are working to protect special species around the world. Here, we catch up with them to learn about the incredible animals they're working to save, and just how they're doing it...

Each of these inspirational projects won a 2016 Whitley Award from the Whitley Fund for Nature, a charity that funds vital conservation projects around the world. Good work, guys! Check them out, below.


Karau Kuna is protecting Matschie's tree kangaroos

Whitley Awards 2016

These mega-cute marsupials are only found in a remote area of Papua New Guinea called the Huon Peninsula, and there are fewer than 2,500 left! Luckily, Karau Kuna is working with local communities to help save the tree kangaroos and their habitat.


How Karau is helping


Over 90% of Papua New Guinea is owned by indigenous people, and there’s a lot of pressure on them from logging and mining companies to sell their natural resources. This could have devastating consequences on the wildlife, so Karau is working with 50 villages to help them sustainably manage their land.


"Matschie’s tree kangaroos live nowhere else in the world – that’s why I’m so passionate about them," says Karau. "Some say they look like red pandas, but I think they’re a cross between kangaroos and brown bears! Recently, I met an old lady who told me that she spotted a tree kangaroo at her doorstep – and she’d never seen one before. Stories like this make me realise that their numbers are growing and that the work we’re doing is having an impact."


Karau’s work is also helping birds-of-paradise!


Alexander Rukhaia is protecting birds of prey

Whitley Awards 2016

Every year, over a million birds of prey fly through a region called Batumi in Georgia, eastern Europe. Sadly, their migration is also a traditional hunting event for local people. When Alex saw the killing first-hand, he knew he had to do something…


"A few years ago, I met some young bird experts," explains Alexander. "They asked me what I knew about birds. ‘Not much,’ I said, ‘but I love roast chicken!’ So I joined them at Batumi to see exactly what they were so passionate about. The bird migration was amazing, with thousands of spectacular birds of prey passing over my head. But it had a dark side as well – thousands were being shot and killed on a daily basis.   


"That day was a turning point for me. I don’t have a background in biology, but I felt I had to take action. I love being a guardian for nature and helping birds on their way home."


How Alexander is helping


Alexander is working with former hunters and local communities to set up wildlife tourism, so they can make money from keeping the birds safe instead of hunting them. Since 2010, he’s reduced hunting in two villages by 80% and plans to extend the project to six more villages. 


Gilbert Baase Adum is helping giant squeaker frogs

Whitley Awards 2016

Seven years ago, the giant squeaker frog from Ghana, West Africa, was feared extinct, its habitat destroyed by illegal logging and farming. So when Gilbert and his team rediscovered a tiny population in 2009, they set about safeguarding its future. 


How Gilbert is helping


One of Africa’s leading amphibian experts, Gilbert co-founded Save The Frogs Ghana! To date, he’s planted 10,000 native trees to restore habitat, launched Save the Giant Squeaker Frogs Day! to encourage conservation, and persuaded illegal loggers and farmers to find different ways to make a living.


Gilbert said: "I was born into a hunting community in northern Ghana. When I was younger, frog meat was always the special dinner! But now Ghana’s frogs are going extinct, and I must do all I can to save them. I’ve yet to meet anyone who does not love the squeaky sound that giant squeaker frogs make!


"Frogs are so important. They eat the mosquitoes that spread malaria, and recently a substance from the skin of a frog has been found to help prevent HIV infection. Thus when we save the frog, we save the world!"


Hotlin Ompusunggu is saving orangutans

Whitley Awards 2016

Shockingly, 98% of Indonesia’s rainforest could disappear in the next decade. And orangutans may be lost from the wild within 20 years. But dentist Hotlin came up with an ingenious idea to stop people chopping down trees in the Gunung Palung National Park on the island of Borneo, Southeast Asia.


How Hotlin is helping


In Borneo, healthcare can cost more money than a family earns in a whole year. So poor people often have to make money for treatment by illegally cutting down trees. To change this, Hotlin’s project offers healthcare discounts to villages that agree to stop logging. And those that can’t afford treatment can plant trees in exchange for healthcare! 


Since winning her first Whitley Award in 2011, over 100,000 trees have been planted, illegal logging has been reduced, infant deaths have been cut by two thirds and forest guardians now operate in all villages bordering the park. Orangutans have returned to the national park, too. Go, Hotlin! 


"I believe that all individuals should take responsibility for addressing global problems. For example, last year there were devastating forest fires in Indonesia. And we all played a personal role in causing the fires. Whether you bought palm oil products in the UK, or tossed away the cigarette that ignited the fire, you had a role. 


Months of smoky haze followed the fires. So much so, the gibbons in the forest stopped singing. We live in one world and we all are connected. It will take all of us to build a future where orangutans will be happily frolicking between the giant trees, where gibbons will once again sing their beautiful songs – and where human communities will live in good health beside the forest."


Muhammad Ali Nawaz is protecting snow leopards

Whitley Awards 2016

Although it’s home to the world’s third largest population of snow leopards, Pakistan’s big cats are critically endangered. One of the biggest problems is conflict with farmers, who want to stop snow leopards from attacking their animals.


"I’ll tell you a story that helped me understand the depth of the problem," says Muhammad. "In 2010, I met a herder who had lost 50 sheep and goats in a single snow-leopard attack. That was 80% of his animals. Can you imagine how it would feel if your family lost 80% of their assets and income and there was no safety net available to help? It took him several years to recover. That’s when we realised research is not the only solution. We need to start helping affected communities."


How Muhammad is helping


Field biologist Muhammad has set up education projects to teach people how to live with snow leopards, as well as insurance and vaccination programmes. One of the villages has lost no livestock to snow leopards or diseases in the last two years. Yay! He now hopes to continue this success across the region. 


Juliette Velosoa is conserving side-necked turtles

Whitley Awards 2016

Also known as the rere, this critically-endangered reptile is the only freshwater turtle in Madagascar. So Juliette is working with communities to save their declining wetland habitat. 


"In Madagascar, many of the lakes where turtles live are sacred to local people and their ancestors. But the side-necked turtle is in rapid decline. The challenge is that our people are very poor. They rely on natural resources for their livelihood – so we must involve them in conservation. Side-necked turtles are my life!"


How Juliette is helping…


Juliette is working to help local people to restore Madagascar’s wetlands, improve fish stocks and protect turtle nests. Since her project began, she has head-started* over 6,000 young turtles, and populations are starting to show signs of recovery. Hooray!


* Head-starting is when baby turtles are reared in captivity for their first few years so they’re less likely to get gobbled by predators. 


Whitley Fund for Nature is a charity that funds vital projects around the world. The prize money will allow the winners to do even more wonderful work! Check out for more info. 


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