Compassionate Conservation Puts the Welfare of Individual Animals at the Heart of Effective Conservation Actions.

The McKenna-Travers Award for Compassionate Conservation (MTA) is named in honour of Virginia McKenna OBE, her late husband Bill Travers MBE, and their eldest son, Will Travers OBE, who co-founded the charity that became Born Free in 1984.

Virginia McKenna said: “I hope this award will recognise, inspire and support outstanding individual conservationists, researchers and practitioners who place a very high priority on animal welfare while undertaking field conservation of species under threat, conservation policy or environmental education.”

The award not only raises the professional profile of the winner but confers a substantial project grant worth up to £10,000 to help the winner implement their Compassionate Conservation agenda.


Dr Olivier Nsengimana, Founder & Executive Director of the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA), is Winner of McKenna-Travers Award for Compassionate Conservation 2020

RWCA is a Rwandan non-profit organisation dedicated to providing sustainable solutions to critical wildlife conservation issues in Rwanda and the East African region using a holistic and multi-disciplinary ‘One Health Approach’. Its key area of work is to combat the illegal trade in grey crowned cranes. Grey crowned cranes are listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, with their numbers and habitat declining through most of their range.

Just five years ago, Dr Nsengimana – a passionate, dedicated, young veterinarian, and Rwandan national – identified that grey crowned cranes were suffering in captivity throughout Rwanda, from hotels to private houses. These birds were often stressed, malnourished, had their wings broken to prevent them from flying, and died prematurely. Meanwhile, estimates suggested just 300 cranes were left in the wild in Rwanda, threatened by habitat loss and poaching for the illegal trade.

Led by his determination to make a difference for his country, having witnessed the horrors of the 1994 genocide as a nine-year-old boy, Nsengimana set out to stop individual animal suffering and save and protect his country’s grey crowned cranes.

Since then, RWCA has ended the captive exploitation of crowned cranes, registered 381 individuals and reintroduced 167 to the wild. It has established a permanent facility for disabled or injured cranes, meaning that, except for the RWCA, there are no captive cranes left in Rwanda. Some 31 rangers and 30 ‘Conservation Champions’ have also been trained, engaging over 840 local leaders and security personnel. In addition, more than 20,866 school children have been reached through workshops, a comic book, environmental clubs and a tree-planting scheme. As a result, grey crowned cranes in Rwanda have increased from 487 in 2017 to 748 in 2019. A recently concluded 2020 crane census sighted 881 cranes.

Olivier will use the grant to scale up RWCA’s cross-boundary collaboration between Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania. This will include recruiting and training Community Conservation Champions to protect the cranes, introducing the use of a CyberTracker app to record sightings, and developing conservation agreements with farmers to promote co-existence between wildlife and people. 

On winning the £10,000 award, Dr Nsengimana said: “I am so honoured to receive this recognition and it comes at an important time when the world is struggling with the current pandemic and conservationists are going through a test. The threats to wildlife are increasing and the resources put towards saving them are decreasing as all systems are struggling, so this award is a huge boost to our moral. It’s like fuel to give us strength and empowers us to continue. It’s good to know people are still out there watching and are ready to continue their support to protect species throughout the world.”


Dr Jenny Desmond, Founder and Director of the Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection, along with her husband Jimmy, have been awarded the second prize (£5,000) recognising and rewarding their work, rescuing, and rehabilitating orphan chimpanzees.  



Who is eligible to apply?

Any individual working to protect wildlife in the wild and improving the welfare of individual wild animals or helping in other ways to deliver a better world for wildlife can apply. This is regardless of their formal position or affiliation to an organisation. The MTA rewards the Compassionate Conservation achievements of individual candidates, not necessarily the achievements of the organisation they work for, although the two may be inextricably linked.

The MTA is for individuals. Why not for organisations?

Outstanding conservation and animal welfare achievements are always linked to the leadership qualities of individuals, and the MTA seeks to reward those people and help them make a lasting difference. The winner will invest the prize in a project of her/his own choice, and this project may operate under the auspices of the organisation the candidate works for.

What projects will the MTA fund? 

We will support conservation work that fully takes into account the welfare and needs of the individual animals affected. This may be hands-on field conservation, conservation education, research for conservation that addresses the welfare of wild animals or, lobbying for relevant legislation and law enforcement. We will not fund consumptive utilisation of wildlife, ex-situ captive breeding, university fees or attendance to academic conferences.

Do 'end of career' candidates qualify?

The MTA aims to provide both a reward for achievements and an incentive for winners to continue their Compassionate Conservation work. While 'end of career' candidates will not be excluded, their chances of becoming an award winner are less.

Do I have to be working in a ‘developing’ country to qualify for the MTA?

No. Candidates from all over the world can qualify.

You ask for contacts for two referees. What are the qualifications for referees?

The referees must be knowledgeable about animal conservation and welfare. But more importantly, they should know you personally and be familiar with your professional ethos and work. A minimum of two referee statements will be critical for a successful application. However, you will only be requested to ask your nominated referees to provide a statement once you have been selected as one of the nominees for the MTA.

How will the application be judged?

The panel will be paying particular attention to the personal statement for providing a clear description of an applicant’s achievements that warrant him/her deserving of this award. Project proposals will also be assessed according to a number of factors including their alignment to compassionate conservation principles, their methodological rigour, and their likelihood of success.

If my application is not successful, can I appeal?


If my application is not successful can I re-apply at a later date?




Dr Jamartin Sihite was awarded the MTA in 2019 for his tireless work to protect the Bornean orangutan and its habitat. As CEO of the Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation in Indonesia, Dr Sihite manages three orangutan reintroduction forests in Borneo, a 309,000-hectare peat swamp forest in Central Kalimantan which provides habitat to over 2,500 wild orangutans, a network of orangutan pre-release islands, a long-term orangutan sanctuary at Salat Island and two rescue and rehabilitation centres.

Virginia McKenna said: “For more than 12 years Dr Jamartin Sihite has worked tirelessly for protection of the orangutans in Borneo and their fragile forest homes. Over 800 animals have been rescued and cared for, and now half of these have been introduced back to the wild.”




Shivani Bhalla of the Ewaso Lions Project was awarded the first MTA in 2012. Shivani was selected to receive the award for her work with local communities to conserve lions and other large carnivores in northern Kenya by reducing conflict and helping them understand the importance of lions and other wildlife.

Virginia McKenna said: “I could not be happier that Shivani and the Ewaso Lions Project are the first recipients of this award. She and her team face many challenges, but they are true champions of lions and their survival in Kenya. I send my warmest congratulations and feel sure they will be an inspiration to many.”




Professor Anna Nekaris of Oxford Brookes University and the Little Fireface Project was awarded the MTA in 2013. Professor Nekaris was selected to receive the award for her work in exposing the cruel and destructive trade in slow lorises as pets in South East Asia, and for raising awareness of their plight through academia, media and field work.

Virginia McKenna said: “I am so delighted that Anna has won this award. I think her work has brought international attention to this little-understood species and her commitment to the individuals she encounters is exactly what Compassionate Conservation is all about.”




The third MTA was awarded to the Mad Dog Initiative, a project aiming to protect Madagascar’s rare and endemic wildlife through a targeted, compassionate programme to control domestic and feral dogs in and around Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar.

Virginia McKenna said: “I am so pleased that the Mad Dog Initiative has won this award. It embodies so much of what we regard as central to Compassionate Conservation. What I particularly admire about this project is that it is inclusive. It benefits wild animals, domestic dogs and people, and I hope will be an inspiration for others to follow.”




Neotropical Primate Conservation (NPC) was the 2016 winner of the MTA. Since it was set up in 2007, NPC has targeted Peru's illegal trade in wildlife by partnering with wildlife authorities, police, public prosecutors and grassroots organisations. 

Virginia McKenna said: “The environment, its vulnerable wild inhabitants and the world’s burgeoning human population, are all part of life on Earth, and NPC treats them with understanding and sensitivity. I hope that NPC and Born Free will spread our joint philosophy of Compassionate Conservation around the world – a world which needs it as never before."




Jackson Mbeke, Director of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE), won the sixth MTA for Compassionate Conservation. 

Virginia McKenna said: "Jackson's unswerving dedication should be an inspiration to all. Together with everyone at Born Free, I am determined that by supporting outstanding individuals such as Jackson and his team – with both recognition and resources – we can help make the natural world a more compassionate and safer place."



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