“You’ve probably heard people talk about conservation. Well, conservation isn’t just the business of a few people. It’s a matter that concerns all of us.” According to Walt Disney’s quote, you can see that conservation is core to who we are and who we have been since Disney’s earliest days.
Today, we continue this time-honored legacy through the Disney Conservation Fund and its “Conservation Heroes” program, which celebrates individuals around the world for their passion to conserve nature and create a brighter tomorrow.
Each year, the Disney Conservation Fund invites nonprofit conservation organizations to nominate people from communities around the world for the Disney Conservation Heroes award. Alongside recognizing honorees’ efforts to protect wildlife and wild places, each Hero and his or her nominating organization will share a $1,500 award from the fund.
The 2015 Disney Conservation Heroes and their dedication to make the world a better place are both impressive and inspirational—like Nurzhafarina Othman, whose passion for the Bornean elephant led her to become one of the first women to break into field of elephant research in Sabah, Malaysia. Or right here in my hometown of Los Angeles, California, where young conservationists Brian Young, Joanna Ruacho, Joyce Realegeno and Bryan Payes are working to protect endangered birds while teaching their neighbors about conservation issues related to the species.
But Nurzhafarian, Brian, Joanna, Joyce and Bryan’s work is just an introduction to some of the other inspiring stories from this year’s Conservation Heroes.
This year’s recipients are:
Revocatus Magayane nominated by the African People & Wildlife Fund
Revo works with the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW) to implement education programs for more than 6,000 youth and adults spanning 12 villages and two districts in Tanzania. He manages wildlife clubs and summer camps for youth and co-teaches adult seminar courses on natural resource management. He has also helped graduates of these courses start their own community conservation projects. Revo is known for representing the voice of conservation while always considering the needs of the community where he works.
Ignatius Davids nominated by Cheetah Conservation Fund
Ignatius works on the Cheetah Conservation Fund’s (CCF) Education team in Namibia, where he introduces students to the wonders of nature through programs at CCF’s Field Research and Education Center. Ignatius also visits Namibian schools without the resources to come to CCF, engages students and teachers in environmental education programs and supports them in initiating environmental clubs. He also leads naturalist camps to train and empower local people to become eco-guides.
Theoluc Stanislas and the Prolemur Simus Team nominated by Conservation Fusion
Theoluc and his team act as guardians for the greater bamboo lemur in the fragmented rainforests of Kianjavato, Madagascar, where they were once thought to be extinct. Led by Theoluc, the team monitors the largest known population of greater bamboo lemurs and hosts conservation camps that focus on the importance of preserving this species. The team has gone above and beyond to create programs like “Coffee for Conservation,” a business venture that raises awareness for the lemurs through a unique coffee bag design.
Valerie Akuredusenge nominated by Conservation Heritage Turambe (Houston Zoo)
Valerie has dedicated her life to creating the next generation of conservation leaders in Rwanda. During her nine years as an educator, she has inspired more than 2,800 schoolchildren to be ambassadors for their communities and their local wildlife, including the unique mountain gorillas that call Rwanda home. Valerie shares her engaging teaching methods, including the use of art in the classroom, with other educators in Rwanda and the U.S. while continuing to improve her skills and her organization to benefit Rwanda’s youth.
Jeneria Lekilelei nominated by Ewaso Lions (Wildlife Conservation Network)
As a livestock herder and Samburu warrior in Kenya, Jeneria realized at a young age that he needed the help of other warriors to protect threatened lion populations surrounding his community. Jeneria created “Warrior Watch” to train others to monitor lion populations and to advocate for peaceful coexistence between people and carnivores. In addition to supervising 17 warriors who monitor an area of more than 1,700 square kilometers, Jeneria also manages community programs to engage women and children in conservation efforts, and spends countless hours monitoring lions in the field.
Dr. Kusworo Ahmad nominated by Fauna & Flora International
Kusworo is working with Fauna & Flora International to develop a sustainable, community-based forest management program in Indonesia that will not only protect species like Sumatran tigers and elephants, but also support communities that depend on the forests. To date, Kusworo has aided more than 30 villages in securing tenure of more than 60,000 hectares of rich tropical forest in the form of village and customary forest licenses. Kusworo’s persistent engagement and capacity building efforts have allowed him to multiply his impact and add immeasurable value to grassroots community forestry work in Indonesia.
Sean Lee & Tahambay Smith nominated by Fauna & Flora International
For the past eight years, Sean and Tahambay have volunteered nearly all of their spare time to protect and conserve the critically endangered Antiguan racer snake and other rare and endemic wildlife on Antigua’s offshore islands. After their day jobs, they travel each weekend first by bus and then fishing boat, to the offshore islands to maintain trails, monitor wildlife, and educate visitors. Their passion for wildlife has led them to become highly skilled conservation biologists now called upon to help train other local conservationists and inform legislation to formally protect the Antiguan racer.
Nurzhafarina Othman nominated by Houston Zoo
Nurzhafarina’s determination to be the voice for the Bornean elephant led her to become one of the first women in the field of elephant research in Sabah, Malaysia. Nurzhafarina works with communities to help increase tolerance toward elephants during human-wildlife conflicts. Her research on elephant herd social structure, migration patterns and human-elephant conflict led to the development of an elephant conservation management plan that will help better protect elephants and local communities.
Jonah Ratsimbazafy nominated by Groupe d’Etude et de Recherche sur les Primates de Madagascar (Houston Zoo)
Jonah has dedicated his life to protecting highly endangered lemurs and wildlife in Madagascar with Groupe d’Etude et de Recherche sur les Primates de Madagascar (GERP), a primate conservation program he helped establish in 2006. Today, Jonah leads a team of 20 Malagasy staff that works with the community to preserve the last remaining rainforests that link the northern and southern regions of Madagascar. GERP’s research efforts have led to the discovery of several new species of lemur in recent years.
John Shabani nominated by the Jane Goodall Institute
John’s passion for addressing the problems facing wildlife in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was born out of a dream that was inspired in him by Dr. Jane Goodall herself when he was living in Tanzania as a refugee of the conflicts in the Congo during the late 1990s. This experience helped John become a leader in shaping and growing programs of the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) in the DRC, utilizing both professional skills in conflict resolution, environmental restoration, and community health, and using his ability to connect with and engage teachers, community leaders, and young people in conservation in their own local areas.
Greenhouse Alumni Team: Brian Young, Bryan Payes, Joyce Realegeno, and Joanna Ruacho nominated by Los Angeles Audubon Society
Once high school student participants in the L.A. Audubon Society’s Greenhouse Program, these dedicated students now work for the Greenhouse Alumni Team to assist with habitat restoration, environmental education and endangered species conservation in the urbanized Ballona Creek Watershed of the Los Angeles Basin. Their diverse skills have allowed them to effectively connect with communities and teach others about conservation issues related to species like the Western snowy plover and California least tern. Their time, talent, and motivation have been invaluable to the L.A. Audubon Society, and they serve as living examples of what the organization hopes to achieve through their environmental education programs for inner-city students in Los Angeles – young adults with a strong connection to nature, who are committed to conservation, and who serve as environmental leaders within their community.
Rosabel Miro nominated by National Audubon Society
After volunteering with the Panama Audubon Society for seven years, Rosabel is now the organization’s executive director. In this role she works tirelessly with government, the community and local organizations to advance conservation in Panama. Through her leadership and organization of a wide array of stakeholders, Rosabel was a key leader in the charge to save the Bay of Panama wetlands and encourage the government to declare the area a permanently protected wildlife refuge area.
Tinka John nominated by North Carolina Zoological Society
After 12 years as a math teacher in Bigodi, Uganda, Tinka helped establish the Kibale Association for Rural and Environmental Development (KAFRED) to conserve ecosystems while providing economic opportunities for local people. His work resulted in one of the most successful community conservation projects in East Africa, raising the Bigodi community up and over the poverty line of $1.25/day. Tinka has served as a leader for conservation in numerous positions, from improving eco-tourism initiatives to collaborating with organizations internationally to create strategic plans and improve environmental laws and conservation education programs. For the past 11 years as a member of the North Carolina Zoo’s UNITE for the Environment (UNITE) team, Tinka has strived to include the community and emphasize the importance of integrating cultural heritage and conservation education into UNITE’s work.
Gregory Gibbard (Posthumously) recognized by Painted Dog Conservation (Wildlife Conservation Network)
“Gibby” as he was affectionately known, gave up his comfortable life in Australia and dedicated years to the protection of painted dog populations in Zimbabwe. His friends share that he always gave his best and was always willing to take on and learn new things to help the team move forward. This award will be presented to Painted Dog Conservation in memory of Gibby.
Sonam Lama nominated by Red Panda Network
In his native land of Eastern Nepal, Sonam established a Youth Library and Study Center in his home village and launched 16 of Jane Goodall’s Red Panda Roots & Shoots environmental clubs for youth in Eastern Nepal. As Conservation Coordinator for the Red Panda Network, he monitors 36 community forests, manages 54 Forest Guardians, trains and mobilizes a Red Panda Conservation Committee on conservation and sustainable tourism, trains school teachers on conservation education, and leads outreach efforts to promote responsible forest management and educate local communities on conservation issues.
Tungalagtuya Khuukhenduu nominated by Snow Leopard Conservancy
While conducting research in Mongolia, Tunga recognized that local people had no access to environmental education and collaborated with conservation organizations to create “Nomadic Nature Trunks” (NNT). This program provides travelling classrooms for school students and three weeks of interactive lesson plans on environmental stewardship and conservation of Mongolia’s ecosystems. In 2010, Tunga helped expand the program to include education programming for adults and turned NNT into an organization called Nomadic Nature Conservation.
Godfrey Merlen nominated by University of Washington Foundation
Godfrey has spent 45 years dedicated to understanding and protecting the wildlife of the Galápagos Islands. He encouraged Galápagos National Park to embrace a conservation project to increase penguin populations and is now helping to create expanded protected areas for the birds. His ability to work across cultures and organizations, and generously share his diverse skills in art, science, sailing, natural history, and conservation problem solving have made him key to the Penguin Project’s success.
Thokozani Mlambo nominated by Wildlife ACT Fund Trust (Sindisa Fund)
As a Community Conservation Liaison for Wildlife ACT Fund Trust, Thokozani works to raise conservation awareness in his sprawling community of KwaJobe, which borders Mkhuze Game Reserve—a reserve suffering from some of the worst poaching problems in South Africa. Thokozani attends nearly every community meeting held in his village to ensure the community’s needs are considered in conservation strategies. He has created and maintained four Wildlife Ambassador Clubs with a total of 85 members, and helped several members earn jobs in the reserve. Last year, Thokozani also helped bring a new mobile clinic to a remote section of KwaJobe, in order to support the community that plays such a major role in conservation.
Irma Hermawati nominated by Wildlife Conservation Society
Irma is a lawyer by training and currently serves as the coordinator and legal advisor to the Indonesia Wildlife Crimes Unit, dedicated to combatting illegal wildlife trade in Indonesia. To date, she has assisted more than 150 cases of tiger, elephant, and primate trafficking, and has succeeded in increasing the rate of wildlife crime prosecution by 75 percent in Indonesia. Her work has led to a demonstrable reduction in illegal wildlife trafficking.
Musir Riswan nominated by Wildlife Conservation Society
Musir works with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Wildlife Response Unit in the only place where populations of Sumatran orangutans, tigers, rhinos and elephants still coexist. Musir helps communities manage conflicts with wildlife and pioneered the use of a ‘tiger-proof enclosure,’ designed to keep livestock safe from tigers and reduce the incidence of tigers in villages. Musir also teaches community members to safely respond to conflicts with wildlife. Musir’s efforts are helping to conserve the unique and endangered species of Sumatra while also protecting the communities which call the forests home.
Andrea Caselli nominated by Wildlife Health Center Foundation
In Argentina, Andrea spearheaded the creation of “Earth Guardians,” a citizen science program that engages students, educators, and hunters in learning about waterfowl, increases their appreciation of wetland biodiversity, and inspires environmental stewardship. Andrea’s leadership has inspired educators to use the wetlands as outdoor classrooms and has allowed 21 schools and hundreds of students to become engaged in yearly waterfowl counts which will provide invaluable data to help reduce threats from unsustainable waterfowl hunting practices. Andrea has additionally created biodiversity field guides and workshops for schools, helped initiate a “shooting clinic” to engage local hunters in considering alternatives to the toxic lead shot, and established a new protection category for wetlands in altered landscapes.
Thomas Schrei nominated by Zoo Atlanta
In less than four years as director of Project Heloderma, Thomas enhanced the project’s research and education efforts, expanded its influence with local government agencies, and doubled locally protected habitat for the Guatemalan beaded lizard. His ability to understand community needs has helped increase the effectiveness of education programs. Thomas has also helped to launch a scholarship program to keep kids in school and give them the opportunity for a brighter future.