Rwandan, Kenyan Named Winners of 2004 Conservation Award

Caroline Braun
for the National Geographic Society
December 9, 2004
Two wildlife champions, Michel Masozera, Rwanda country director for the
Wildlife Conservation Society, and Ali Kaka, executive director of
Kenya's East African Wild Life Society, are this year's winners of the
National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in African

Established through a gift from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the award recognizes outstanding work and lifetime contributions that further the understanding and practice of conservation in Africa.

Presenting the award and checks for U.S. $25,000 at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C., yesterday, Howard Buffett, agriculturalist, businessman, and son of investor Warren Buffett, praised the recipients as "dedicated heroes, who give selflessly, face tough challenges and make many personal sacrifices. They fight the battle of conservation on the ground and in the field, and they do it without expecting any special recognition," he said.

Threatened Forests in Rwanda

Masozera, Rwanda country director for Wildlife Conservation Society since 2002, has worked tirelessly to document and preserve Rwanda's rich biodiversity in the face of daunting socioeconomic challenges. Since 1997 he has led WCS's Nyungwe Forest Conservation Project.

Nyungwe Forest, home to 13 primate species, faces intense pressure because it is surrounded by some of the highest human population densities in Africa. To protect the forest from agricultural encroachment, hunting, logging, and gold mining, Masozera has implemented a multi-disciplined conservation program that has become a national model for protecting other threatened forests in Rwanda.

Masozera led the first comprehensive biological survey of Nyungwe Forest, which resulted in its being zoned into areas of highest conservation importance and multi-use areas where limited resource use by local people is allowed. He is establishing a low-impact ecotourism program at the reserve, involving habituated chimpanzees and local guides. As the region recovers from civil war, this will generate much-needed revenue and demonstrate the value of conservation to local communities.

Working with the Rwandan military, he also has trained and equipped guards to reduce poaching in the reserve. Thanks to Masozera's efforts, the Rwandan government this year accorded Nyungwe national park status.

Masozera said he was accepting the National Geographic Society/Buffett Award on behalf of his entire conservation team. "I want to make special mention of my field staff who worked hard during the war. They didn't even expect to receive salaries, but were still determined to achieve their goals. Conservation is challenging work, especially in the context of my country, and our achievements are due to strong teamwork and partnerships at all levels," he said.

Conservation in Kenya

Based in Nairobi, Ali Kaka has been executive director of East African Wild Life Society (EAWLS) since 2001. EAWLS protects endangered and threatened species and habitats in East Africa and is at the forefront of community-based conservation initiatives.

In the late 1990s, EAWLS, impeded by management problems, was in danger of collapse. Under Kaka's leadership, the Society has reestablished its credibility and is a lead player in advocating for crucial policy change to enhance conservation practice in the region.

Previously, Kaka was services head of tourism, marketing and facilities development of the Kenya Wildlife Service. Kenya's wildlife tourist industry contributes more than U.S. $500 million to the Kenyan economy.

Earlier in his career he established Kenya's Marine Park Unit and tackled issues such as community consultation, illegal harvesting, and enforcement. The unit now manages seven marine parks and reserves. He also worked in the field as a warden and tested the first Conflict Resolution System to avert acute human-wildlife conflict from livestock and crop losses caused by wildlife.

Other achievements include helping found the first Rhino Capture and Translocation Unit in Kenya in 1987, which led to the establishment of Kenya's Rhino Sanctuary Programme, and helping create a comprehensive database on wildlife research in Kenya.

"Twenty-seven years in the field, dealing with many problems and challenges, has taken its toll, and I have sometimes felt there is no point in carrying on," Kaka said at the award ceremony. "This award is much appreciated, and I intend to use a substantial part of the money to address some of Kenya's conservation needs."

Recipients of the National Geographic Society/Buffett Award are chosen from nominations submitted to the National Geographic's Conservation Trust. After the nominations are screened by a peer-review process, a selection of names is forwarded to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which recommends the final winner.

In addition to serving as president of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Buffett is chairman of Lindsay Manufacturing and president of Buffett Farms. His foundation has established a reserve in South Africa, where he has set up facilities for cheetah research. He is a widely published agricultural, humanitarian and wildlife photographer, who has traveled extensively throughout the Third World.

Buffett announced at yesterday's ceremony that next year a similar award would be introduced for conservationists in South America.

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