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Meet the 2017 ‘Green Oscars’ winners

  • The winners include Purnima Barman from India, Sanjay Gubbi from India, Alexander Blanco from Venezuela, Indira Lacerna-Widmann from Philippines, Ian Little from South Africa and Ximena Velez-Liendo from Bolivia.
  • At an awards ceremony held last evening at the Royal Geographic Society in London, each of the six winners received £35,000 (~$46,000) in project funding to help scale up their work.
  • Zafer Kizilkaya, a 2013 Whitley Award winner from Turkey, received this year’s Gold Award (£50,000) for his conservation project “Guardians of the sea: securing and expanding marine reserves along the Turkish coastline”.

The “Green Oscars” are back.

Every year since 1994, the Whitley Fund for Nature, a UK-based charity, has been presenting the Whitley Award — popularly called the Green Oscars — to individuals in recognition of “their achievements in nature conservation.”

This year, the award recipients include six conservationists chosen from a pool of over 166 applicants from all over the world. Each of these conservationists have spent years trying to devise innovative ways of protecting species at risk of extinction and securing critical habitats.

At an awards ceremony held last evening at the Royal Geographic Society in London, each of the six winners received £35,000 (~$46,000) in project funding to help scale up their work.

“I never imagined I would receive such an honour,” award finalist Ximena Velez-Liendo, Chester Zoo Conservation Fellow and Research Associate of WildCRU, said in a statement. “The Whitley Awards are very prestigious and only the best of the best of conservation scientists receive them. It’s a dream come true! Thanks to the Whitley Award, the funding will help us to get the research equipment we need to improve our understanding of the bears’ distribution and we will be able to work with more communities and expand our project.”

Zafer Kizilkaya, a 2013 Whitley Award winner from Turkey, received this year’s Whitley Gold Award for his conservation project “Guardians of the sea: securing and expanding marine reserves along the Turkish coastline”. The Whitley Gold Award is given to an “exceptional Whitley Award alumnus for outstanding contribution”. The Gold Award includes £50,000 (~$65,000) in project funding, donated by the Friends and Scottish Friends of the Whitley Fund for Nature.

The Princess Royal and 2017 Whitley Gold Award recipient Zafer Kizilkaya, Turkey, at The Royal Geographical Society, London, 18th May 2017. Photo courtesy of Whitley Fund for Nature.
Kizilkaya works with local fishing communities, coastguards and government to protect oceans and conserve marine biodiversity. Photo courtesy of Whitley Fund for Nature.

Meet the 2017 Whitley Award winners:

Purnima Barman – India

Purnima Barman of NGO Aaranyak based in Assam, India, has launched a one-woman campaign to protect the Greater Adjutant stork (Leptoptilos dubius) — a giant bird that feeds on carrion, is frequently spotted on garbage dumps in Assam, and is often considered “ugly”. She works with local communities in Assam to inject a sense of pride and “ownership” in the once-common, but now endangered storks.

Read Mongabay’s coverage of Barman’s work here.

The Princess Royal and 2017 Whitley Awards recipient Purnima Barman, India, at The Royal Geographical Society, London, 18th May 2017. Photo courtesy of Whitley Fund for Nature.
Greater Adjutant stork is endangered due to habitat loss. Photo courtesy of Whitley Fund for Nature.

Sanjay Gubbi – India

Sanjay Gubbi, a scientist with the Nature Conservation Foundation in India, has helped expand the protected area network in Karnataka, India, a state that is home to the highest number of Royal Bengal Tigers in India. He has also worked with the Forest Department to reduce habitat fragmentation and increase connectivity between forests, and has helped institute social security and welfare measures for forest watchers and guards.

The Princess Royal and 2017 Whitley Awards recipient Sanjay Gubbi, India, at The Royal Geographical Society, London, 18th May 2017. Photo courtesy of Whitley Fund for Nature.
Sanjay Gubbi has worked to expand protected areas in Karnataka, India. Photo courtesy of Whitley Fund for Nature.

Alexander Blanco – Venezuela

Blanco is a wildlife scientist and veterinarian who has been working to protect one of the world’s largest and fiercest eagles — the Harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) — in Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela since 1996. Harpy eagle were once widespread, but are now declining, primarily due to habitat loss from logging, agriculture and livestock grazing.

Read Mongabay’s interview with Blanco here.

The Princess Royal and 2017 Whitley Awards recipient Alexander Blanco, Venezuela, at The Royal Geographical Society, London, 18th May 2017. Photo courtesy of Whitley Fund for Nature.
Harpy eagle is one of the largest and most powerful eagles in the world. Photo courtesy of Whitley Fund for Nature.

Indira Lacerna-Widmann – Philippines

Indira Lacerna-Widmann, the Chief Operating Officer of the Katala Foundation, a Philippines-based organisation, works to protect the Critically Endangered Philippine cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia). The bird nests within the grounds of Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm in Puerto Princesa City, and Lacerna-Widmann has successfully implemented the Philippine Cockatoo Conservation Programme (PCCP) that involves educating and training prisoners to act as wildlife wardens for the birds.

The Princess Royal and 2017 Whitley Awards recipient Indira Lacerna-Widmann, Philippines, at The Royal Geographical Society, London, 18th May 2017. Photo courtesy of Whitley Fund for Nature.
The Philippine cockatoo is critically endangered. Photo courtesy of Whitley Fund for Nature.

Ian Little – South Africa

Ian Little of the Endangered Wildlife Trust works with farmers and tribal leaders in South Africa to protect grasslands, one of the most threatened habitats in the country. He has been involved in introducing simple changes in management practices, such as altering burning and livestock grazing regimes to decrease pressure on grasslands.

The Princess Royal and 2017 Whitley Awards recipient Ian Little, South Africa, at The Royal Geographical Society, London, 18th May 2017. Photo courtesy of Whitley Fund for Nature.
Grasslands are one of the most threatened habitats in South Africa. Photo courtesy of Whitley Fund for Nature.

Ximena Velez-Liendo – Bolivia

Ximena Velez-Liendo, a Chester Zoo Conservation Fellow and Research Associate of WildCRU, works to help Bolivia’s communities co-exist with the Andean or Spectacles bear (Tremarctos ornatus), the only bear native to South America. Velez-Liendo’s project is introducing interventions to reduce conflict, developing alternate livelihoods to local communities, and monitoring the Andean bear populations in the region.

Read Mongabay’s coverage of Velez-Liendo’s work here.

The Princess Royal and 2017 Whitley Awards recipient Ximena Velez-Liendo, Bolivia, at The Royal Geographical Society, London, 18th May 2017. Photo courtesy of Whitley Fund for Nature.
The Andean bear is the only native bear in South America. Photo courtesy of Whitley Fund for Nature.
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