Catching up with our 2021 McKenna-Travers Award winners


Born Free is pleased to report on the fantastic conservation work that has been carried out by our 2021 Mckenna-Travers Award for Compassionate Conservation winners.

Compassionate conservation puts the welfare of individual animals at the heart of conservation actions. All our previous winners capture this ethos, and our 2021 winners were no different. Since receiving this prestigious award, they have all continued to pioneer compassionate conservation, making a real difference to the lives of animals around the world.

2021 McKenna-Travers Award winner, Fanny Minesi

McKenna-Travers Award Winner

In 2021, the main prize of £10,000 was awarded to Fanny Minesi, General Director of Friends of Bonobos. The aim of her work is to protect bonobos, a close relative of chimpanzees, in the rainforest of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Civil unrest and political instability has contributed greatly to bonobo poaching, and the threat of deforestation is always looming.

This award contributed to funding the establishment of a new island along the Lopori river, as part of the ‘Ekolo ya Bonobo Community Reserve’, primarily to enable monitoring of the bonobos inhabiting the island.

Whilst the initial island selected had to be ruled out for being too small (especially when the rainy season causes the river to rise and cover large portions of the island) we are pleased to report that a new, much more suitable island has now been selected.

This island is much larger, and the team are currently monitoring the river level during the rainy season to assess the effects of flooding on the island. The island pertains to the Ilonga-Poo community, with whom Friends of Bonobos have a good relationship.

Once the suitability of the island has been confirmed, community meetings with the Ilonga-Poo community will commence, to seek permission to conduct biological survey and participatory mapping of the island. We are excited to see how this project develops, and what we learn about the bonobo population on the island.

2021 People’s Choice Award winner, Fernanda Abra

People’s Choice Award Winner

The People’s Choice Award winner for 2021 was ViaFauna Director, Fernanda Abra, for her work to help vulnerable arboreal (tree-living) species such as spider monkeys when crossing roads in the Amazon rainforest.

The £5,000 funding from Born Free contributed to the installation of artificial canopy bridges along a length of highway in Amazonas and Roraima states in Brazil, enabling animals to cross the roads safely above the threat of vehicles.

With the help of the Waimiri Atroari indigenous community, the installation of 30 canopy bridges was completed ahead of schedule in 2022. This is fantastic news as it will provide a safe crossing point for spider monkeys, arboreal porcupines, opossums and numerous other species, protecting them against road mortalities and allowing for natural population dispersal.

Fernanda Abra and her team have now installed camera traps to monitor usage of the canopy bridges, and document which species are benefitting from their construction. It will be exciting to see which species the camera traps photograph.


During the 2021 round of funding, four runners-up were also awarded £1,000 each to contribute to a diverse range of compassionate conservation projects.

Mariani Ramli, Director of the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, Malaysia, was one of these recipients. The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project rescues and rehabilitates gibbons who were victims of the illegal pet trade, and wherever possible, releases them back into the ecosystem.

This award contributed to the costs of food, equipment and enrichment, enclosure maintenance, and medication for gibbons in the rehabilitation centre, ensuring that these individuals can live naturally, without the pain and distress caused by the pet trade.

The illegal pet trade doesn’t just impact gibbons, but a whole host of animals that should be in the wild. Peggy Motsch was awarded a runners-up prize for the rescue and post-release monitoring of rehabilitated African grey parrots in Cameroon. Motsch was Project Manager at the Limbe Wildlife Centre, and recently became Executive Director at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage

During the last year, the Limbe Wildlife Centre received a total of 27 parrots confiscated from poachers, where they will now receive the proper care that they deserve as they start the rehabilitation process. We are pleased to report that in February 2022, they released 18 African grey parrots back into the wild, and in December 2022 released another flock of 20 animals.

They adopt a ‘soft-release’ approach, where the parrots are allowed to come and go from the aviary as they please. It is great to see so many animals being returned to the wild where they belong.

Continuing with the theme of rescue and release, Julie Vanassche was awarded a runner’s-up prize for her project aiming to rescue and release sooty mangabeys in Liberia.

The award went to the purchasing of essential equipment to help with the post-release monitoring of a group of mangabeys, currently being looked after by the Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary.

This equipment included phones to allow the project team to stay in contact whilst monitoring the mangabeys in the forest, a camera to photograph and monitor the animals, and binoculars to help the project team identify the monkeys.

We are pleased to hear that the release is planned for the first few months of 2023, after which the team will monitor the group for a 12-month period.

The final runner-up prize went to Pei Su for ACTAsia’s Caring for Life (CFL) education programme in China. The programme aims to develop children’s empathy and compassion to the environment and conservation.

The funding from Born Free contributed to CFL reaching an additional 13,253 children, including students from the remotest parts of China. Education is a significant aspect of compassionate conservation, so we are thrilled at the level of outreach being achieved in China.

Congratulations to all our 2021 award winners for all their hard work and achievements over the last year.

“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.” – Dame Virginia McKenna DBE

Mckenna-travers award for compassionate conservation