Ekwoge Enang Abwe, a conservationist working in Cameroon and the manager of San Diego Zoo Global's Central Africa program, has just been awarded the prestigious Whitley award. The Whitley award is an international competition that is often called "The Green Oscars" because it celebrates the extraordinary achievements of some of the world's leading conservationists working in developing countries. Abwe was selected for the award due to his efforts to learn about and preserve Cameroon's Ebo Forest and its wildlife inhabitants.
HRH The Princess Royal, the charity's patron, says: "The secret of the Whitley Fund for Nature is that they find exceptional grassroots conservation leaders. Whitley Award winners hail from all over the world and come from a range of backgrounds, but they all have in common a fierce commitment and determination to make a real difference to local people and wildlife in their home countries. Every winner has a close connection with their community, as well as experience and an understanding of the issues, which often relate to human-wildlife conflict, but they also know how to make an impact through practical solutions, engaging people and initiating change at government level. That's a rare skill. Let's face it, there are 'experts' out there who don't always have that skill, but the Whitley Award winners do."
Receiving the Whitley award can be a life-changing experience and not simply because the funding can transform what can be practically achieved on the ground. Finding themselves and their work recognized on an international stage can be a game changer; the award opens doors, gives a voice that is listened to and brings both status and influence to the recipient in public and political arenas.
"I am delighted and humbled to have received the 2013 Whitley award donated by Fondation Segré, which comes at a very exciting point of broad stakeholder involvement in our project in Cameroon," said Abwe. "This award will help in consolidating our 'Club des Amis des Gorilles' ('Gorilla Guardian Clubs') initiative and engaging with the traditional chiefs and other conservation stakeholders in and around the proposed Ebo National Park."
Ekwoge Abwe has been managing the Ebo Forest Research Project since 2010, encouraging local communities to take pride in the forest's unique biodiversity. Since 2005, the Ebo Forest Research Project has been carrying out biological research from permanently manned research stations across the forest. The project is also engaged in regular contact with communities through formal and informal environmental and conservation education and more recently a community-led gorilla conservation initiative ("Club des Amis des Gorilles"), with the goal of securing a safe future for chimpanzees, gorillas and other endangered species of the Ebo Forest.
"We are delighted that Ekwoge's passion and dedication to the conservation of Cameroon's wildlife has been recognized by the Whitley Fund for Nature," said Bethan Morgan, Head of the Central Africa Program for San Diego Zoo Global's Institute for Conservation Research. "The accompanying grant will boost our work to enable local community protection of the endangered great apes within the Ebo Forest."
The Ebo Forest is one of the largest remaining tracts in the Gulf of Guinea biodiversity hotspot. Covering almost 2,000 square kilometres, it is home to a unique mix of 11 diurnal primate species including a small population of gorillas and a significant population of the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, the most endangered of the chimpanzee subspecies. These amazing chimps have a unique repertoire of tool use. In addition, the forest harbours the charismatic drill, Critically Endangered Preuss's red colobus as well as many species of guenons. Forest elephants and several species of duikers still abound in the forest, which is also home to many other species including the spectacular Goliath frog, the largest frog in the world.
As part of his work with San Diego Zoo Global, Ekwoge Abwe has been in the forefront of protecting these species from poaching.
The San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy is dedicated to bringing endangered species back from the brink of extinction. The work of the Conservancy includes onsite wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, and international field programs in more than 35 countries. In addition, San Diego Zoo Global manages the Anne and Kenneth Griffin Reptile Conservation Center, the Frozen ZooTM, Native Seed Gene Bank, the Keauhou and Maui Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Centers, the San Clemente Loggerhead Shrike Breeding Facility, the Cocha Cashu Biological Research Station, the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center, and a 800-acre biodiversity reserve adjacent to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The important conservation and science work of these entities is supported in part by The Foundation of the Zoological Society of San Diego.
Over the past two decades, 160 conservation leaders working in more than 70 countries have received a total of over 47 million from the UK based charity, the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN). The Whitley Awards provide financial support, practical advice and training, as well as the oxygen of publicity to promote award winners' efforts to protect the fragility of the natural world and build a better future both for wildlife and for people.
Academic research, painstaking fieldwork, political advocacy, community engagement and education are just some of the tools used to engineer change by these outstanding individuals, who have often spent years in relative obscurity as they strive tirelessly to achieve environmental change at a grass-roots level.