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Two Kenyan Conservationists Feted with Prestigious Whitley Award for Outstanding Efforts in Wildlife Conservation

Two Kenyan conservationists, Dr. Paula Kahumbu and Sammy Safari have won the prestigious Whitley awards in the UK for their efforts in conservation. The Whitley Fund for Nature has given more than £18 million over the years to support more than 200 grassroots conservationists.

Dr. Paula Kahumbu and Sammy Safari have received the award for their outstanding commitment to the preservation of endangered species and habitats in Kenya

The British High Commissioner Jane Marriott said. “As the UK prepares to host the UN climate talks in November, working with Kenya to tackle climate change and protect biodiversity remains a top priority. The will and determination of Whitley Award winners like Paula Kahumbu and Sammy Safari drive Kenya’s conservation efforts for a brighter, greener future for all of us.”

Endangered Wildlife Species and Poaching in Kenya

Kenya is home to the big five and is one of the most popular destinations for wildlife tourism. According to Kenya Wildlife Services, in 2013, about 280 elephants and almost 60 rhinos were killed by poachers. A shocking CITES report analyzing data between 2003-2014, with the exception of 2005, found that elephants in the region were dying faster than they were able to reproduce.

But there’s a glimmer of hope thanks to the efforts of the government, conservationists like Dr. Paula Kahumbu and Sammy Safari, NGOs, and concerned individuals.

According to recent statistics, the poaching of endangered species in Kenya has dropped by 90%.

Sammy’s Watamu Sea Turtle Conservation Initiative

Sammy Safari was feted with the 2021 Whitley award for his dedication to the conservation of endangered turtles in Watamu. Sammy Safari leads the anti-poaching team for Local Ocean Conservation a not-for-profit organization caring for Kenya’s marine environment.

“My goals in this project are to make sure I reduce and eventually stop turtle poaching in my area.” He said.

Watamu, which lies north of Mombasa, is home to more than 600 species of fish. The Malindi Watamu Marine National Park and Reserves, one of the oldest reserves in East Africa, is also an essential habitat for turtles. Five of the seven species of turtles can be found here.

Sammy has a difficult task since the turtles in Malindi are under threat from bycatch and poachers who illegally sell them for meat and oil. Watamu has a population of 50,000 people. 60% of the residents live below the poverty line, with 17% relying on fishing and tourism. The global pandemic threatens to unravel the progress Sammy and his teammates have made.

“For those who were laid off, have now become fishermen, we have now raised the number of poaching incidences.” He revealed.

A community of protectors

Sammy has dedicated his efforts to working with the community to stop poaching. With his anti-poaching team and extensive network of informers, he plans on ramping up the efforts to reduce bycatch and illegal poaching.

With the help of the award, he plans to develop alternative livelihoods for the local communities to lessen the resilience of extractive practices. This will ultimately improve their income and boost food security.

He is also looking to focus on local stewardship and female engagement when it comes to resource management. They will start by replanting at least 5,000 Mangrove seedlings to help restore the local fish and wildlife nursery habitat.

Paula Kahumbu’s Environmental Justice for People and Wildlife

Dr. Paula Kahumbu was also feted with a Whitley Gold Award. And it’s a big deal since each year, a past Whitley Award Winner is selected for their outstanding efforts in conservation and receives the Whitley Gold Award that’s worth £100,000 in project funding.

“The Whitley Gold Award is the highest accolade that I have ever received. It is such a great endorsement of what we are doing.” She confessed.

A Legacy of Environmental Justice

Paula Kahumbu has an amazing record. She’s won a 2014 Whitley award and a 2016 Continuing funding for what can only be described as wildlife heroism. She is an environmental superhero of sorts, with a long legacy fighting for the rights of people and wildlife. Her unswerving commitment to wildlife conservation has made her the most recognized woman for conservation in Africa.

“When I was growing up, there was so much wildlife, it was everywhere, and I took it for granted,” Paula confessed, reminiscing her childhood memories. “We think that animals will always be there, but, in fact, many of the species that I grew up with are now on the endangered species list.” She added.

Paula, the CEO of Kenya-based NGO Wildlife Direct, is currently working on a new approach that will protect Kenya’s wildlife while at the same time recognizing Kenyans’ legitimate aspirations for economic development.

So far, Paula and her team, through Wildlife Direct and the 2014 Whitley Award, have galvanized a national; response to the elephant poaching crisis through her Hands Off Our Elephants Campaign. Undeterred, this campaign took the fight to the heart of government, garnering necessary public support from the First Lady of Kenya, Margaret Kenyatta, who also doubles up as the campaign’s patron.

Paula didn’t stop there. In 2016, she masterminded the Eyes in the Courtroom, an innovative program to monitor and analyze wildlife trials in Kenya. The program was a success and raised wildlife crime convictions to over 90%.

She also produced a ground-breaking TV series Wildlife Warriors, which continues to push her conservation message. It is the first television series about wildlife in Africa made by Africans for the African audience.

With the Gold Award, Paula has an even bigger task that is set to go beyond wildlife. She is looking to create the first-ever environmental justice desk in Africa. With the help of lawyers, this desk will deal with a growing number of requests from concerned citizens about threats to wildlife and habitats.

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