Could you be the winner of the next Virginia McKenna Award for Compassion Conservation?

We are delighted to announce that applications for the Virginia McKenna Award for Compassionate Conservation (VMA) 2019 are now being accepted.

Compassionate Conservation puts the welfare of individual animals at the heart of effective conservation actions.

The VMA is named in honour of Virginia McKenna OBE, the actress and campaigner who co-founded Born Free in 1984, along with her late husband Bill Travers and her eldest son Will Travers.

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 will not only raise the professional profile of the winner but confers a substantial project grant worth up to £15,000 to be provided over one year to help the winner implement their Compassionate Conservation agenda.

Candidates should submit a short application providing their background and demonstrating the relevance of their work to both animal welfare and conservation. 

The second element of the application consists of a concise proposal of the work the Virginia McKenna Award grant will enable them to implement.

The deadline for applications is 26th July 2019.

If you have any questions, please email


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 VMA 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 VMA is for individuals. Why not for organisations?

Outstanding conservation and animal welfare achievements are always linked to the leadership qualities of individuals, and the VMA 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 VMA 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 VMA 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 VMA?

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 VMA.

If my application is not successful, can I appeal?


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





Shivani Bhalla of the Ewaso Lions Project was awarded the first VMA 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 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 VMA 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 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 3rd VMA 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 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 VMA. 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 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 Virginia McKenna Award for Compassionate Conservation. 

Virginia 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."


The deadline for applications is 26th July 2019. If you have any questions, please email


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