2013 Disney Conservation Heroes Honored for Efforts to Protect Wildlife and Habitats

Dedicated people around the world make strides every day to protect our planet. They commit their lives to conservation and share their passion with their communities.

Today, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund is recognizing 14 of these inspiring individuals with this year’s Disney Conservation Hero award. Each recipient was nominated by a nonprofit and will share a $1,500 award with their nominating organization. Since 2004, Disney has honored 85 leaders. Meet this year’s heroes!

The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) is proud to recognize 14 recipients of this year’s “Disney Conservation Hero” award.

The award recognizes local citizens for their tireless efforts to save wildlife, protect habitats and educate communities. Individuals were nominated by non-profit environmental organizations. Each award recipient and their nominating organization will share a $1,500 award from DWCF.

Since 2004, Disney has honored 85 leaders around the world for their extraordinary conservation efforts.

This year’s recipients are:

Nomusa Zikhali, Africa Foundation: Principal Zikhali started Nkomo Primary School in 1997, teaching children under a tree. A partnership with the African Foundation has allowed the school to grow into 17 classrooms, including facilities for disabled children. Zikhali has maintained a focus on conservation, connecting students with nature at a nearby reserve and integrating conservation concepts into the curriculum.


Roma, Alliance for Tompotika Conservation: Roma is a community conservation leader in Indonesia. He works with the Alliance for Tompotika Conservation (AITo) to protect species including sea turtles, bats and the endangered maleo bird. Roma organized, trained and supervised villagers to serve as guards at the maleos birds’ communal nesting ground, helping to reverse the decline of this species. He also works with law officers to enforce turtle protection laws and helped prevent 25 sea turtles from illegal capture and sale in the food market.


Elvis Kisimir, African People & Wildlife Fund: Kisimir is the program manager of the African People & Wildlife Fund’s “Living Walls” initiative in Tanzania, and leads a team of community members who serve as first responders to reports of big cat-livestock conflicts. He has aided in planning, installing and collecting data on 220 “Living Walls,” which consist of chain-linked fencing combined with live trees as a sustainable and effective predator control option. His work helps to protect livestock, nearby wild lions and a community of 30,000 people.


Sboniso Mazolo, The Barry and Patricia Wakeman Education Foundation Inc.: Mazolo is a community conservation liaison for the Wildlife ACT Fund Trust and co-founded an organization in KwaZulu-Natal Province to create community-based conservation jobs. Through “Wildlife Ambassador Clubs” in local villages, Mazolo teaches young adults about conservation, and efforts to reduce poaching in their neighborhoods. Mazolo attends community and tribal council meetings as a liaison between community residents and the Mkhuze Game Reserve, listening to concerns and advising on conservation matters. Mazolo’s passion inspired him to develop sustainability programs in his KwaNgwenya Community.


Gebhardt Nikanor, Cheetah Conservation Fund: Nikanor is an educator, volunteer, mentor and national conservation hero in Namibia. He has touched the lives of more than 100,000 students, farmers and future conservationists through his community outreach and Cheetah Conservation Fund Center’s educational programs. Nikanor is also the Livestock Guarding Dog Program research assistant. The program places Anatolian shepherd and Kangal puppies with farmers to protect livestock from cheetahs and other predators. Nikanor teaches the farmers how to train and care for their dogs, and continues to oversee the dogs’ health.


Mosquito Lagoon Oyster Restoration Team, East Coast Zoological Society: This team works with community volunteers to restore oyster reefs in Florida’s Mosquito Lagoon to improve water quality and help protect wildlife and shorelines. They have deployed 31,856 “oyster mats,” helping to restore 58 reefs by providing a site for future oyster larvae to grow. Dr. Linda Walters (UCF), Dr. Paul Sacks (UCF) and Jody Palmer (Brevard Zoo), have led over 35,000 volunteers to assist with this project, from elementary school to PhD students, and community groups to Brevard Zoo guests.


Jim Moir, Marine Resources Council of East Florida: Moir is a volunteer with the Marine Resources Council of East Florida (MRC) who has dedicated his time, effort, resources, creativity and financial support for 12 years as an active member of MRC’s North Atlantic Right Whale Conservation Program. He contributes right whale sighting data to the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium Database and helped develop a model to train volunteers on how to estimate the distance of a whale offshore. Moir helped form a multi-agency partnership resulting in large-scale shoreline restoration projects for critical bird and fish habitat in the Indian River Lagoon. Moir has also been a Lagoonwatch volunteer since 2001.


Silver James Birungi, Pan African Sanctuary Alliance: Birungi is a wildlife conservation educator for Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust (CSWCT) in Uganda. He educates young conservationists in an area where it has been culturally accepted to keep, sell and kill chimpanzees. He is the driving force behind CSWCT’s conservation education program, “Change My Community.” Birungi has traversed Uganda to raise conservation awareness and create partnerships with institutions that will help change minds, attitudes, behaviors and actions in Uganda’s children, reaching more than 11,673 students in nearly 200 schools as well as 8,000 community members.


Ayubu Msago, Americans for Oxford, Inc.: Msago joined Tanzania’s Ruaha Carnivore Project (RCP) in 2009 working his way up to community liaison officer. He helped gain the trust of a local tribe that retaliated against lions when livestock was lost and aided in constructing 50 predator-proof corrals; not a single head of livestock has been lost since. Msago has engaged more than 10,000 people through local village wildlife DVD nights. He has worked with the government to equip a health clinic, established school scholarships for pastoralist children, linked village schools with schools in the U.S. and UK and worked with colleagues in Kenya to expand programs to include lion conservation.


Damber Bista, Red Panda Network: Bista is committed to conserving wild red pandas and their habitat through the education and empowerment of local communities in Nepal. During his two years with the Red Panda Network (RPN), Bista drafted a strategy to promote red panda based eco-tourism in Taplejung District, helped to nearly double the area where RPN is working to protect red pandas and designed an investigation on the causes of red panda mortality in Taplejung District. He also trained more than 30 community members as forest guardians to collect monthly data about red pandas, vegetation and threats. Bista helped establish a network of community members for the conservation of the red panda and has reached hundreds of villages through awareness workshops in collaboration with local partners.


Peter Lalampaa, Saint Louis Zoo Association: Lalampaa played a critical role in the early development of the Grevy’s Zebra Trust (GZT) and has been a key member of the leadership team. Now the senior manager for GZT in Nairobi, Lalampaa has grown GZT’s zebra scout, ambassador and warrior programs. This has enabled Grevy’s zebras to be monitored and protected over a great range in Kenya, including remote areas where no wildlife conservation programs previously existed. Lalampaa is a respected ambassador for engaging communities in activities that will make a difference for their land and for their families’ future.


Felix Medina, Wildlife Conservation Network: A farmer and hunter, Medina’s passion for wildlife led him to become involved in primate research and conservation. For 25 years, Medina has worked with Proyecto Tití to conserve the critically endangered cotton-top tamarin in Colombia. He was instrumental in conducting a census of the total population of cotton-tops resulting in the species being declared Critically Endangered and one of the world’s 25 most endangered primates. Medina helps to track animals using radio telemetry, fecal samples, vocalizations and behaviors.


Jairo Mora-Sandoval, Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (posthumously): Sandoval worked with WIDECAST as a nesting beach monitor at Moin Beach, Costa Rica, where he was responsible for protecting leatherback sea turtle nests and thousands of baby sea turtles. This 26-year-old conservationist had a strong passion for the wild creatures of his country and his dedication to their survival was unshakable. On May 30, while patrolling Moin Beach near Limon, Costa Rica, with a group of international volunteers, Mora-Sandoval lost his life while protecting sea turtle nests. This award will be presented to his family.


Monica Torres, Zoo Atlanta: Torres rediscovered the Abronia campbelli lizard as an undergraduate student at the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala. The species was thought to be extinct and is feared by local people. She created – and now leads – Project Abronia, a conservation effort that combines habitat conservation, and landowner and community education to protect this lizard. Torres persuaded a local landowner to head-start oak trees for planting and turn his farm into a eco-tourist destination known as the Center for Abronia Conservation, Education and Reproduction. She is also assembling a team of nurses and collaborating with local schools and towns to conduct health education presentations for at-risk children ages 9-15.


To learn more about the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund visit disney.com/conservation.