WASHINGTON (June 15, 2011)—This year’s winners of the National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation are a community leader of the Huaorani people from the Ecuadorian Amazon, who is working to preserve his cultural heritage and the forests where his people live, and a Kenyan wildlife conservationist who, through the Internet, connects conservationists around the world with people who want to support their work.
Moi Enomenga, president of Quehueri’ono Association, is the recipient of the National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in Latin American Conservation; Paula Kahumbu, executive director of both WildlifeDirect and the Kenya Land Conservation Trust — and a 2011 National Geographic Emerging Explorer — wins the National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in African Conservation.
They received their $25,000 prizes at a ceremony at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, the second day of the annual NG Explorers’ Symposium. Established through a gift from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the awards acknowledge the winners’ outstanding work and lifetime contributions that further the understanding and practice of conservation in their countries.
“It is an honor to participate with National Geographic in recognizing the achievements of these two remarkable visionaries who are making such a positive difference to conservation in their countries,” said Howard Buffett.
Local Passion, Global Awareness
Moi Enomenga has dedicated his life to defending, through ecotourism, the traditional culture of the Huaorani people and their local environment — the Amazon rain forests in northeast Ecuador.
Even as a teenager, he worried about his people’s rights and land, well aware of threats posed by developers and oil companies working in Huaorani territory, as both his father and grandfather had been killed in related conflicts. Nearly a quarter of the Huaorani communities, including Enomenga’s community, Quehueri’ono, are located along oil roads. Enomenga has actively fought to ensure road building is kept to a minimum and the environment and the integrity of his community are not violated. Enomenga’s tireless campaign to protect the land helped the Huaorani secure legal title to Yasuní National Park, the largest indigenous territory in Ecuador and a U.N. biosphere reserve.
Enomenga believes that ecotourism is a key part of the future. It is a means by which his people can receive an income while maintaining the integrity of their culture and conserving their rain forest territory. It also helps them resist the more destructive initiatives of the oil industry. Enomenga and his partners built the Huaorani Ecolodge to provide income and an incentive for the communities involved to protect the environment. Now in its third year, the lodge has won several major prizes for sustainable tourism.
Enomenga is currently working on the next phase of this project: the 55,000-hectare Yame Forest Reserve, named after his late father, who was also a defender of Huaorani culture and who dreamed of finding a way to maintain the group’s dignity and independence. The reserve will be patrolled by the communities themselves and linked to the ecolodge. Supported by the ecotourism operator Tropic Journeys in Nature and the Conservation in Action Foundation and its partners such as the U.N. Development Program, the World Tourism Organization and USAID, this project, which will further protect biodiversity, control hunting and mitigate climate change, is a concrete demonstration of Enomenga’s vision of how conservation, support of local cultures and ecotourism can go hand in hand.
As Moi said Tuesday night, he and his community simply want to be respected and to be connected to the wildlife, nature, and land of their home area.
Connecting People to Conserve Animals
As executive director of WildlifeDirect, Kenyan Paula Kahumbu, Ph.D., uses the power of the Internet to spotlight key conservation issues and raise awareness and donations for projects saving wildlife and wild places. Thanks to her efforts, about 120 conservation projects have an online platform to share challenges and victories via blogs, videos, photos and podcasts, saving species from ants to lions. By celebrating the work of conservation heroes, Kahumbu has turned WildlifeDirect into a tool to advocate for and share home-grown conservation solutions to such challenges as ivory and rhino horn poaching, roads through parks, climate change and wildlife conflict in areas that neighbor parks.
People concerned about wildlife and wild places can view problems in real time and track the impact of their own contributions. They can spend lunch breaks watching an endangered eagle whose eyesight they helped to restore, see conservationists saving orphan orangutans in Indonesia or follow Maasai warriors protecting lions in Africa.
The site can bring a unique big-picture perspective to otherwise fragmented efforts. When a disturbing trend of large predators dying from poison surfaced on blogs, WildlifeDirect connected the dots to reveal the same chemical pesticide was used to kill all of the animals. The WidlifeDirect team called a meeting with bloggers and government officials, alerted the online audience, galvanized organizations across Africa and attracted international media coverage (Read “Lions, Hyenas Killed With Poisoned Meat” from National Geographic News). Public pressure ultimately forced the U.S. manufacturer to withdraw the pesticide from Kenya. It is already banned in the United States and n the EU, and Kahumbu is now working on getting it banned in East Africa.
Paula is also fortunate to have been the general manager of Lafarge Ecosystems, the Kenyan environmental restoration firm that manages the wildlife sanctuary where in 2004 Owen, a young hippo stranded by the Indian Ocean tsunami, befriended Mzee, a 130-year-old Aldabran tortoise.
Beyond wildlife, another endangered resource is land for conservation. As executive director of the Kenya Land Conservation Trust, Kahumbu works to significantly increase the area of protected land that provides critical corridors and buffer zones for wildlife, especially migratory species. She is currently working on saving the lifeline to Nairobi National Park, home to wild rhino, lion, cheetah, leopard, hippopotamus and many other species. She is persuading fellow Kenyans that Nairobi Park is “The World’s Greatest City Park” and is involving the public in finding solutions to keeping the park’s wildlife dispersal area open for key lion and cheetah populations.
Behind the Scenes of the Buffett Award
National Geographic Society/Buffett Award recipients are chosen from nominations submitted to the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration, which screens the nominations through a peer-review process.
“This year’s awardees are recognized for their outstanding leadership and the vital role they play in managing and protecting the natural resources in their regions. They are inspirational conservation advocates who serve as role models and mentors in their communities,” said Peter Raven, chairman of the Committee for Research and Exploration.
Dedicated to inspiring people to care about the planet, the Committee for Research and Exploration, through its Conservation Trust grants, supports innovative solutions to issues of global concern and encourages model projects that engage and inform their areas’ local populations.
Discover the stories of the people and projects honored at the Buffett Awards since they were first awarded in 2002.