Jackson Mbeke, Director of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE), has been awarded the sixth Virginia McKenna Award for Compassionate Conservation.
The £15,000 award provides support and recognition for outstanding individual conservationists and carers who place a high priority on animal welfare, while undertaking environmental education around the world, conservation policy, or the protection of species under threat.
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 am delighted that Jackson Mbeke, and his life-saving work on behalf of the endangered Grauer's gorilla, has won this award. His unswerving dedication to the conservation of these highly threatened animals, the forests they inhabit, and the communities who share those same forests, 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."
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."