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 Conservation.

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.

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