Catching up with our McKenna-Travers Award winners

We take a look at the fantastic achievements of some previous winners of Born Free’s important conservation award, which recognises outstanding work to protect rare wildlife.

Photo of a Jaguar in a Tree

(c) Gary Hodges

The McKenna-Travers Award (MTA) is named in honour of Dame Virginia McKenna, her late husband Bill Travers MBE, and their eldest son and Born Free’s Executive President, Will Travers OBE who, in 1984, co-founded the charity that evolved into Born Free. The prestigious Award provides support and recognition for outstanding individual conservationists, who place a high priority on individual animal welfare while carrying out their vital conservation work.

Letícia Benavalli installing a camera trap

Letícia Benavalli installing a camera trap © Pró-Onça Institute, Brasília é o bicho

In 2022, Born Free’s main prize of £10,000 was awarded to Letícia Benavalli, for her project to conserve and connect small, isolated populations of jaguars in the southern Cerrado region of Brazil. Facing a range of threats, including habitat loss and fragmentation, retaliatory killings and depleted prey populations, jaguars are classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN*, with populations globally in decline.

They are estimated to only occupy half their previous range, with the largest remaining jaguar populations found in Brazil. To conserve these critical populations in Brazil, Letícia promotes habitat restoration and expansion, lobbies for better protection of water sources, encourages ecotourism on private lands, and mitigates conflicts between people and jaguars.

During the funding period, Letícia carried out a ‘camera trap survey’ in the southern Cerrado, where recent evidence suggests jaguars have been reclaiming their former range. Automatically triggered by motion, these images led to the incredible recording of eight jaguars, shedding light on the presence and distribution of jaguars in this region. The camera trap images also documented a range of jaguar prey species, including giant anteater, giant armadillo, pampas deer, and marsh deer.


Jaguar photographed from a camera trap

Jaguar photographed from a camera trap © Pró-Onça Institute/Brasília é o bicho

To enable the jaguars to expand their range, the project engaged with volunteers, park officials and private landowners to restore jaguar habitat. This included invasive plant species removal and the replanting of native tree seedlings, enhancing the region’s native flora diversity.

Like lions in Kenya, ‘conflict’ between jaguars and people can occur when the big cats predate on livestock. Human-jaguar conflict is a significant barrier to their conservation in Brazil. In response, the project educated local ranchers about the available government compensation schemes, as well as the practical, cost-effective methods that can be used to humanely reduce conflict with jaguars. Funding from the MTA contributed to 20 local ranchers receiving ‘conflict mitigation measures’, such as fencing and night enclosures, protecting approximately 1,500 heads of livestock from predation.

The project also empowered local women in conservation, through voluntary participation in research activities, as well as the employment of three local women in ecotourism ventures operating in the region. This provided these women with sustainable livelihood opportunities whilst benefitting the local ecosystem.

“I believe that conservation of wildlife and natural resources is the easiest way to improve the welfare of both animals and people in a changing world. This award inspires me even more and reassures me that it is possible to make others support and truly believe in this lifetime commitment.” – Letícia Benavalli, 2022 McKenna-Travers Award winner

We all wish your important project much luck and success in the future!


In 2002, our award committee was so impressed by the quality of projects, they decided to award additional prizes to highly commended winners.

Wood River Wolf

Wood River Wolf © Wood River Wolf Project, International Wildlife Coexistence Network

Suzanne Asha Stone, Director of the International Wildlife Coexistence Network, received an award for her efforts to promote the coexistence of livestock and wolves in Blaine County, Idaho, USA. The Wood River Wolf Project aims to protect wolves by proactively using nonlethal measures to prevent livestock losses due to wolf predation.

In November 2023, the Network successfully lobbied against contracts to lethally control (shoot) wolves across the state from helicopters, highlighting the tangible impact of the project to humanely protect wolves throughout Idaho.

Herring Gull Chicks

Herring Gull Chicks © Scottish Gull Project, Humane Wildlife Solutions

Kevin Newell, from the Scottish Gull Project, was our second highly commended winner. Through the support of the MTA, 20 herring gulls were rescued across Scotland, where they were then taken to wildlife rescue centres for their rehabilitation and eventual release.

Congratulations to all our 2022 award winners for all their hard work and achievements over the last year.

*International Union for the Conservation of Nature

“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

McKenna-Travers Award