Tomas Diagne, co-founder of the African Aquatic Conservation Fund, an organization dedicated to the preservation of African turtles, manatees, cetaceans and other aquatic wildlife throughout Africa, is the 2019 winner of the National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation in Africa. Patrícia Medici, founding member of Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas and chair of the IUCN Tapir Specialist Group, is this year’s recipient of the National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation in Latin America.
Diagne and Medici received their $25,000 awards at the 2019 National Geographic Awards at The George Washington University Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, June 12. The awards ceremony was part of the week-long National Geographic Explorers Festival, a celebration of exploration bringing together the most fascinating and innovative scientists, conservationists, explorers and storytellers to share — with one another and with the world — how their discoveries and ideas are creating solutions for a healthier and more sustainable future, all in support of the Society’s vision of achieving a planet in balance.
Established through a gift from The Howard G. Buffett Foundation in 2002 to celebrate and recognize unsung conservation heroes working in the field, the National Geographic Society/Buffett Awards for Leadership in Conservation are given each year to two outstanding conservationists, one in Latin America and one in Africa. The awards acknowledge the winners’ remarkable work and lifetime contributions that further the understanding and practice of conservation in their countries.
Tomas Diagne is an African freshwater turtle and tortoise expert who has been working to save threatened and endangered turtle species in Senegal and other African countries for the past two decades. In his career, he has established two centers, the Village des Tortues and the African Chelonian Institute, in Senegal that aim to protect local turtle species and their habitats. In addition, Diagne helped establish the Tocc Tocc Community Natural Reserve, which trains local community members to monitor and protect local wildlife, specifically the Adanson’s mud turtle, which now exists only in this region.
“Effective conservation cannot be achieved in Africa without the support of the local communities,” said Diagne when asked what motivates him to work in the field of conservation. “To get the communities’ support, we must help them understand more.”
Patrícia Medici has dedicated the past 23 years to working on the conservation of the Brazilian tapir and its remaining habitat. Medici is the founding member of the Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas, which develops and implements strategies and actions to conserve this species. Her conservation work has taken place through long-term monitoring programs in the Atlantic Forest and Pantanal and Cerrado ecosystems. Currently, Medici and her team are expanding their efforts to conserve tapirs in the Amazon.
“This award is undoubtedly one of the most important acknowledgments I have ever received,” said Medici when asked how it feels to receive this award. “It indicates how long-term scientific research generates relevant results and also helps ensure that our work can be a model for conservation projects worldwide … We are thrilled!”