Each year, the Disney Conservation Fund (DCF) supports organizations working around the world to save wildlife, inspire action and protect the planet. The DCF is also proud to recognize the dedication of individuals or teams who have devoted their lives to furthering conservation efforts in their communities. To date, the Fund has recognized more than 180 Heroes across nearly 50 countries.
Below are the Disney Conservation Fund Heroes for 2019.
Nominated by Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy
Johanna Turner has been tracking mountain lions in the Verdugo, San Gabriel and Santa Monica mountains of California for 10 years. What started as a hobby became a passion for remote wildlife photography, and Turner began setting up camera traps to learn more about the wildlife Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy strives to protect. She has dedicated more than 1,000 volunteer hours in camera trapping, data analysis and community education and outreach. The photos she has captured have become irreplaceable storytelling tools, showing others just how much ongoing conservation efforts benefit these incredible species, and thereby garnering support for this work.
Nominated by Big Life Foundation
Mutinda Ndivo is known as one of the most trustworthy and reliable rangers around Big Life Foundation’s 1.6 million acres of protected wilderness, with an unmatched knack for tracking poachers and wildlife criminals right to their doorsteps. The secret to his success: He was once a poacher himself. With limited career and educational opportunities, poaching was the only way Ndivo knew to support himself and his family. Big Life Foundation offered Ndivo a job as a ranger to redirect his skills and benefit both his family and wildlife. He rose quickly through the ranks and now works tirelessly as Sergeant and leader of Big Life’s tracker dog team. Thanks to their dedication, the team is often called into the country’s national parks and private conservancies, as well as across the border in Tanzania, to support wildlife conservation and training efforts.
Nominated by Fauna & Flora International USA, Inc.
On a tiny islet in the Caribbean, the last 400 Little Scrub Island ground lizards remain, struggling for survival and food sources on an island that has frequently been battered by hurricanes and relentless waves. Since discovering these lizards and developing a fondness for them, a local fisherman, Stanley Rogers, has visited Little Scrub Island six days of the week for more than 20 years, carrying a blue bucket filled with fish scraps to feed the lizards. Employed by no conservation organization and driven only by his love for the Little Scrub Island ground lizards, this ordinary citizen has single-handedly kept the species alive. Both the Anguilla National Trust and Fauna & Flora International are now consulting Rogers on a strategic plan to protect the remaining lizards, including exploring options to relocate some of them to a safer habitat.
María Luján Villabriga
Nominated by Global Penguin Society (Care of Wildlife Conservation Network)
María Luján Villabriga began work as the Global Penguin Society’s Director of Educational Programming in 2012 and has since fostered a growing conservation culture for more than 6,000 Argentinean children and their families through the penguins she helps protect. She is a beacon for conservation in the classroom, developing education courses and activities for students and teachers alike. Villabriga has helped author content across multiple platforms, enabling Spanish-speaking audiences in five countries to learn more about penguins and their habitats. And to help communities take action, Villabriga has coordinated annual beach cleanups since 2015, bringing awareness to the dangers single-use plastics create for penguins and other seabirds, alike.
K’ayra Center Team of the Alcide d’Orbigny Natural History Museum
Nominated by Global Wildlife Conservation
Bolivia boasts among the most amphibian diversity in the world, which makes the process of locating a single, rare frog an incredible feat. In 2009, Teresa Camacho Badani, the head of the department of herpetology at the K’ayra Center of the Alcide d’Orbigny Natural History Museum, found what was believed to be one of the only remaining Sehuencas water frogs left on Earth. For 10 years, despite all efforts, others could not be found. Fearing the species might go extinct, the K’ayra Center Team launched an innovative online fundraising campaign centered on finding a mate for the lonely frog, named ‘Romeo,’ and financed expeditions to locate another Sehuencas water frog—a ‘Juliet’ for ‘Romeo.’ The K’ayra Center Team continues to lead conservation efforts for the species while inspiring passion for Bolivia’s biodiversity.
Nominated by Global Wildlife Conservation
Beginning with her work as a student, studying migratory birds and Olive Ridley sea turtles and learning how to protect them, to her current role as creator and director of Nature and Culture International’s Mexico program, Lydia Lozano is a trailblazer for conservation in Mexico. She has helped to conserve more than 118,000 acres of threatened forest, facilitated partnerships and developed relationships with local communities and leaders that have led to the discovery of new species and benefitted local marine and terrestrial wildlife. Through the launch of community special events such as “Day of the Jaguar,” artisan business initiatives and environmental education programs, Lozano empowers women and girls with self-confidence, knowledge and a connection to the natural world, and she inspires communities to be champions for nature and wildlife.
Nominated by Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program, Inc.
Taught at a young age by her mother how to weave traditional mats from Pandanus leaves, Saparida values the cultural importance of this handicraft skill, protecting forest resources and creating sustainable incomes for local people in Indonesia. After joining a Sustainable Livelihoods workshop hosted by Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program, Saparida quickly grew her skills as an artisan and businesswoman. She became an advocate for local artisan groups and a leader in her community, volunteering to teach traditional weaving techniques at local schools, mobilizing hundreds of people across communities to use wild plants for economic stability, and spearheading agroforestry efforts. Saparida has built partnerships with Gunung Palung National Park staff, communities and government; and her passion and dedication has helped save Indonesian forests through traditional mat-making.
Marie Claire Dusabe
Nominated by Houston Zoo Inc.
From a young age, Marie Claire Dusabe has been interested in conservation and biology. Driven by her passion, Dusabe put herself through school to learn and grow in that field, no small feat in Rwanda. In 2018, Dusabe began working with the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association to launch and manage a new project focused on the conservation of bats. Her passion and enthusiasm has been critical in educating communities and introducing conservation actions to protect these important pollinators, changing the negative view many Rwandans have toward them. Dusabe has inspired her team and has become a role model for women in science, promoting the right for women to achieve their great ambitions and share their skills of leadership where they have passion to do so.
Nominated by International Reptile Conservation Foundation, Inc.
Working in regions of high poverty in Guatemala, where dependence on natural resources is often the only means of survival, Hugo Mendez prioritizes human dignity while working with the International Reptile Foundation to protect Heloderma alvarezi lizards. Mendez has been critical in building relationships with local leaders and communities, and learned four new languages to better communicate with local people. He created and directs “A House for Every Home” program, which builds homes for those in need to help break the cycle of poverty and integrate conservation strategies into the Guatemalan communities for whom he is a champion. Mendez has constructed seven houses since the program began in 2013 and coordinates all aspects of the program, including identifying each family that will receive a home; hiring, scheduling and overseeing the local construction crews; and purchasing all building materials from local businesses, as well as hosting a dedication party for each family and community.
Nominated by Painted Dog Conservation (Care of Wildlife Conservation Network)
Every year, Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) hosts 1,000 grade-six youth for their annual Bush Camp. Here, these young Zimbabweans discover the importance of wildlife and conservation and see these endangered species in person, often for the first time in their lives. Such was the case for Belinda Ncube, who, at the age of 11, and after attending Bush Camp, saved a kudu and encouraged her family to track down the poacher. As an adult, her dedication to wildlife has not wavered. She was given a job on PDC’s anti-poaching unit in 2017 and since then she has helped remove more than 4,000 snares and participated in midnight raids on poachers to protect African wildlife. Ncube inspires youth, stands up in the face of many dangers on the job and has challenged local gender norms as one of the first women on the team.
Mauro Zavala Varela
Nominated by Panthera
Mauro Zavala Varela believes that, “Not being able to do it all is not an excuse to do nothing.” This Conservation Hero is the last ranger within Jeannette Kawas National Park, a critical conservation site for jaguars, sea turtles, parrots, dolphins and manatees in Honduras. Mauro has patrolled 7,000 kilometers while protecting the park against deforestation, poaching and illegal fishing, not an easy task given the extremely hot weather, legions of mosquitoes, scarce drinking water and strong hurricane seasons. Mauro passionately and determinedly undertakes his work, keeping the park thriving through law enforcement efforts and by serving as a hero to local villagers who depend on the park’s sustainable use. His work provides a better future for people and wildlife in Honduras.
Saiga Conservation Alliance Ranger Team
Nominated by Saiga Conservation Alliance (Care of Wildlife Conservation Network)
Members of the Saiga Conservation Alliance Ranger Teams hold themselves to a high standard when it comes to their duties as rangers protecting the endangered saiga antelope. Rangers identify and stop violations of environmental policies, support and educate local communities and hunters, train younger rangers and risk their own safety daily to advance conservation. This year, the rangers in Kazakhstan lost two incredible members of their team, Kanysh Nurtazinov and Yerlan Nurgaliev, while two other rangers, Samat Ospanov and Petr Nitsik, were seriously wounded in conflicts with poachers. These four men together contributed to thousands of raids to protect saiga antelope resulting in hundreds of captured poachers.
Grevy’s Zebra Warrior Team
Nominated by the Grevy’s Zebra Trust (Care of Saint Louis Zoo Association)
In northern Kenya, endangered Grevy’s zebra face threats of limited access to water, loss of grazing habitats, lethal mud flats and poaching. Grevy’s Zebra Trust established the Grevy’s Zebra Warrior Program to recognize individuals with an aptitude for leadership and passion for conservation, and employ them in leading community conservation efforts. The graduating cohort of 10 warriors have spent the last seven years studying Grevy’s zebra, protecting their habitats, educating communities and documenting the first species inventory for the Laisamis region. During the 2017 drought, the dedicated team traveled by camel, carrying all of their supplies to remote lava plateaus, where they spent 121 days monitoring the health of the zebra. They even chased away a pack of hyenas on foot to rescue a zebra foal, and spent a day working to successfully reunite the lost foal with her mother.
AMLD’s Forest Protection Team
Nominated by Save the Golden Lion Tamarin
Born and raised in Silva Jardim, Brazil, where the majority of the remaining golden lion tamarin monkeys live, Nandia Menezes and Nelson Barbosa have dedicated their careers to teaching and empowering local people to value their communities’ natural resources and practice conservation where they live and work. Menezes coordinates AMLD’s Rediscovering the Atlantic Forest program and has reached more than 5,000 students from 50 schools through this service-learning course that empowers local teachers and decision-makers to become conservation ambassadors in their communities. Barbosa supported the reintroduction of nearly 150 golden lion tamarins to Brazilian forests and today he teaches sustainable farming methods to local land-owners. Each family in the AMLD network is now producing and selling 20,000–40,000 native tree seedlings a year, which are helping to reforest habitats for golden lion tamarins and other wildlife. Together, this team has positively impacted the lives of thousands and improved the future of forests for people and animals.
Luz Corina Montalvan Lamadrid
Nominated by Spectacled Bear Conservation Society—Peru (Care of Wildlife Conservation Network)
Like most young women in rural northwestern Peru, Luz Corina Montalvan Lamadrid faced limited opportunities for education and employment. However, with a growing interest in Spectacled Bear Conservation Society’s (SBC) work to protect forests and bears, Lamadrid joined an SBC workshop and learned the craft of needle-felting. Her remarkable dedication and skill allowed her to rapidly progress from student to teacher to coordinator and quality control leader for the entire program. Lamadrid’s dedication and talent not only has empowered other women in the community, but also led to improved felti products and a 100-percent increase in the program’s sales over two years. Her commitment has directly improved quality of life for local communities and helped SBC to protect 32,000 hectares of critically endangered forest for bears.
Sea Turtle Conservation Coordinators
Nominated by TREE Foundation (Care of Widecast)
The eight members of the TREE Foundation’s Sea Turtle Conservation Coordinator team annually patrol India’s beaches, protect nesting sea turtles, rescue entangled turtles from fishing nets and rehabilitate injured turtles. They have been directly responsible for releasing more than 200,000 Olive Ridley sea turtle hatchlings successfully to the sea; training and developing a community Sea Turtle Protection Force of more than 363 members from 211 fishing villages; and providing sea turtle conservation training to more than 4,500 artisanal fishermen. These fishermen are viewed as leaders and role models in their communities, encouraging others to participate in marine wildlife conservation, listening to local concerns and ensuring local voices are heard by Government Departments to effect policy change where necessary to help villages and wildlife.
Fabricio Díaz Santos
Wildlife Conservation Society
Fabricio Díaz Santos has been interested in wildlife and dedicated to conserving it since he was young. Through education, fieldwork and a tireless pursuit of knowledge, he developed a deep understanding of Nicaragua’s natural history and the conservation challenges the country faces. His charisma, professionalism, unconditional dedication to conservation and generosity of spirit have also earned him the trust of diverse indigenous communities in remote territories important to wildlife and to local cultural heritage. Over the last decade, Santos has led jaguar surveys and research, established the largest network of protected forest plots in Nicaragua, empowered local communities to participate in and take ownership of conservation projects, and inspired local governments to become allies in conservation. His incomparable work ethic and diplomacy have been recognized at local, national and international levels and directly impacted conservation of Nicaragua’s biodiversity.
Nominated by Ya’axchéConservation Trust
As the Community Liaison Officer of Ya’axchéConservation Trust, Chub empowers the eight communities of Belize’s Maya Golden Landscape to protect their natural resources and cultural heritage. An innovator and problem solver, Chub has united community members to transition to sustainable farming practices, was instrumental in organizing Belize’s first agroforestry concession in a protected area, has visited hundreds of schools and facilitated immersive nature field trips for more than 600 students to instill pride in and understanding of local ecosystems. He also empowered two indigenous Maya womens groups to manage their own cultural ecotourism program and sell traditional Maya crafts. Chub’s humble commitment to the preservation of culture and nature, and his ability to connect with people of all ages to affect notable change within the Maya Golden Landscape have made him a role model for his community and inspired thousands to help protect the communities and forests of the landscape.