African conservationists come out on top at the Whitley Awards

The Princess Royal and Makala Jasper

The Princess Royal and Makala Jasper

Theresa Thompson attended this year’s Whitley Awards, where three African conservationists were honoured with commendations for their efforts to protect endangered wildlife and habitats

Why is it called the giant squeaker frog was the silent question in everyone’s minds.  Ghanaian conservationist Gilbert Baase Adum soon cleared that up, gleefully mimicking the voice of the squeaky little frog as he spoke to an audience of environmental leaders at the 2016 Whitley Awards ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society, London.

Adum was one of three African conservationists winning Whitley Awards this year.  Presented by HRH The Princess Royal, these prestigious annual international prizes – dubbed the ‘Green Oscars’ – honour outstanding nature conservationists working in developing countries. They are “working at the coalface of conservation,” says Edward Whitley, founder of the Whitley Fund for Nature, which has been presenting the awards since 1994.

Adum gained his award for his ingenuity and hard work to protect the very rare giant squeaker frog.  Only 13 were known to exist when he rediscovered the species in 2009.  From that moment, Adum, originally from a hunting tribe (eating frogs, he told me), set about ensuring their protection. He is now one of Africa’s leading amphibian conservationists, initiating the ‘Save the frogs, Ghana!’ campaign and planting 10,000 native trees in forests destroyed by logging (over 90 per cent of West Africa’s forests have gone). He also works with villagers in localities around the Sui Forest Reserve, southern Ghana, to help them gain ownership of their forests, value them, and develop alternative livelihoods to illegal farming and logging.

Juliette Velosoa from Madagascar was awarded for saving the Critically Endangered side-necked turtle and its freshwater habitat. Working with the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Juliette has led the recovery of this unusual turtle – locally known as the ‘rere’ – since 1998.  A model of wetland conservation, Velosoa’s project focuses on two key protected areas: Lake Ambondrobe and Ankarafantsika National Park in northern Madagascar, which create habitats for these turtles alongside providing valuable freshwater resources for nearby communities.  An evolutionarily distinct species (its closest relatives are in South America), the rere was once found all over the island but has drastically declined due to exploitation for food and severe loss of wetland habitat.

Makala Jasper was recognised for his community conservation achievements in the coastal forests of Tanzania’s greater Selous ecosystem. Half of Tanzania’s forests are on the village lands of some of the country’s poorest rural communities. Kilwa district, in southeast Tanzania, is an area prioritised by WWF for its biodiversity values, but it is also an area where historically land rights were unclear and therefore people had little incentive to care for forests and their wildlife. Since 2004, Jasper has worked with 35 communities to turn this around, and significantly, the project was awarded Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) status – the first and only organisation in Africa to qualify.

This year, more than 120 conservationists applied from 53 countries to win one of seven Whitley Awards, gaining recognition for their conservation causes and project funding of £35,000.

Whitley Award winning projects have robust science and community involvement in common; winning conservationists have the commitment, passion, and tenacity to overcome challenges, both local and national.

Sir David Attenborough, Trustee of the Whitley Fund for Nature said, “Whitley Award winners are simply exceptional people – passionate individuals who are committed to achieving positive environmental impact and long-term conservation and community benefits.”

For more information about the Whitley Awards, visit