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.

The Award will not only raise the professional profile of the winner but confers a substantial project grant worth £10,000 over one year to help the winner implement their compassionate conservation agenda, while the recipient of the People’s Choice award will receive £5,000 for their project.

“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.” - Virginia McKenna OBE


Born Free is delighted to announce six recipients of grants as part of our coveted McKenna-Travers Award for Compassionate Conservation 2021, including our new People’s Choice Award, voted for by you.

McKenna-Travers Award winner: Fanny Minesi

Fanny Minesi, General Director of Friends of Bonobos of the Congo, has been declared the overall winner (£10,000) for her work to protect bonobos and their rainforest home in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The award will greatly benefit this endangered great ape, supporting the Lola ya Bonobo rescue centre and 120,000-acre Ekolo ya Bonobo Community Reserve release site, and allowing the team to purchase an island to provide a natural habitat sanctuary for rescued bonobos that cannot be returned to the wild.

Led by Fanny Minesi, Friends of Bonobos are on a mission to save bonobos and their rainforest home. They do this through rescue, sanctuary, and rewilding, and working with local people to tackle root issues that threaten bonobos’ survival. Friends of Bonobos rescue individual bonobos orphaned by the illegal trade in wildlife. They give these rare apes essential care and sanctuary, releasing them back to the rainforest when possible. 

Friends of Bonobos partners with and supports Congolese communities near bonobo habitat to save rainforests. They manage the forest reserve, ensuring wildlife and their rainforest home are protected for the long term. They also raise global and local awareness of the plight of bonobos, working with local and international authorities to uphold and strengthen the laws supporting endangered wildlife.

Born Free is proud to support their mission – some of the most effective and comprehensive bonobo conservation work on the planet.

People’s Choice Award winner: Fernanda Abra

Fernanda Abra, a Brazilian ecologist and Founder of ViaFauna, was the resounding winner of the People’s Choice prize (£5,000), rewarding her work to help vulnerable arboreal species such as spider monkeys to safely crossroads in the Amazon.

Launched this year, the People’s Choice Award received a total of 17,750 votes, with almost a quarter of voters choosing Fernanda. 

Conducting research on the threats roads pose to wildlife welfare and creating innovative ways to protect canopy species, she is a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution. The mighty Amazon – its biodiversity and ecosystem services, are threatened by a rapidly expanding road network, which create barriers for many canopy species and drive habitat fragmentation, kills wildlife, and increases poaching. Fernanda is developing interventions to protect vulnerable species such as spider monkeys by helping increase canopy connectivity across roads.

Born Free’s award will help her to install artificial canopy bridges, along a key stretch of highway in Amazonas and Roraima states in Brazil, which will enable animals to cross highways safely.

Runners up

Our Awards Committee were so impressed by the quality of the entrants, they decided to award each of the four worthy runners up with an extra £1,000 grant. These were awarded to Pei Su for conservation education for children in China, to Julie Vanassche for sooty mangabey rescue and release in Liberia, Mariani Ramli for gibbon rehabilitation in Malaysia and to Peggy Motsch for rescue and post-release monitoring of rehabilitated African grey parrots in Cameroon.  

A call for the McKenna-Travers Award for Compassionate Conservation 2022 will be announced in the New Year.



Dr Olivier Nsengimana was awarded the MTA in 2020 for his work to combat the illegal trade in grey crowned cranes, which are classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List.

Dr Olivier Nsengimana is Founder & Executive Director of the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA), a 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.’

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.




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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