The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) announced the recipients of the “Disney Conservation Heroes” award for 2010 today during the annual meeting of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The award recognizes citizens around the world for their tireless efforts at the local level to save wildlife, protect habitats and educate the communities around them.
“Conservation efforts around the globe and in our own backyard rely on the local community and direct involvement of dedicated people like our Disney Conservation Heroes,” said Dr. Jackie Ogden, Vice President, Animal Programs and Environmental Initiatives, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “These are extraordinary individuals who are passionate about protecting animals and habitats in areas of critical concern.”
This year’s honorees represent conservation programs in six countries and three continents that concentrate on a wide array of animal species from sea turtles to chimpanzees. They were nominated by nonprofit environmental organizations and AZA zoos and aquariums committed to field conservation programs.
Each award recipient and their nominating organization will share a $1,000 award from the DWCF. This year’s recipients include:
Kenda Diallo, Pan African Sanctuaries Alliance: Diallo joined the staff of a small primate rescue center in Africa with little formal education, but progressed from general laborer to head keeper of the facility. He plays a critical role in the success of the Centre de Conservation pour Chimpanzees (CCC) sanctuary in Guinea where there is no electricity and often no running water. Diallo leaves his family for three-week intervals to work and live at the CCC. This past year dry conditions sparked a brush fire at the sanctuary invading chimpanzee enclosures, night houses and handling facilities. Diallo organized a team to beat back the fire with branches and douse the cages with water, protecting both the animals and staff. Diallo also played a major role when the CCC returned chimpanzees back to the forests, making it the first successful reintroduction in more than a decade. He has helped chart the chimpanzees’ progress ever since. He also oversees the daily care of the 40-plus chimpanzees still living at the center and conducts regular patrols through the communities and towns nearby in search of illegally held infant apes.
Lily–Arison Rene de Roland, The Peregrine Fund: Rene de Roland is National Director of The Peregrine Fund’s Madagascar Project, overseeing two project sites and supervising a staff of 25. In 2006, while conducting country-wide surveys for the threatened Madagascar Harrier hawk, he re-discovered the Madagascar Pochard, a diving duck thought to be extinct. He has established a captive breeding program to help increase the duck population and is responsible for the creation of three permanent protected areas covering more than 150,000 acres. He has traveled back and forth routinely from these remote sites, some of which take three days by vehicle to reach, and has been a catalyst with the Madagascar project in helping these locations attain official protected status. He has worked diligently with government personnel at the local, regional and national levels to help them understand the project initiatives and has been extremely considerate of the local community’s needs and demands by helping people understand their role and involvement in managing their natural resources wisely.
Kathleen Foley, American Bird Conservancy: A valued partner of the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), Foley has directed her passion, dedication and knowledge to ABC’s “Bringing Back the Western Bluebird project,” making it truly a community program. Engaging communities in these efforts is critical to the success of reintroducing the birds to the wild, and Foley dedicates her time as the education and outreach coordinator for the San Juan Preservation Trust. In this role she has talked to hundreds of people, educating them about conservation and the Western Bluebird, while also encouraging their participation in habitat restoration efforts. Foley often devotes much of her own time to the project, preparing and distributing outreach materials to the community and private landowners, constructing nest boxes and increasing conservation awareness among local elementary school students. Thanks to Foley’s passion, the project has documented annual increases in returning bluebirds, nesting population and number of birds fledged in the past three years.
Gilbert Salazar, Zootropic/Zoo Atlanta: Salazar has transitioned from a poacher to an active conservationist, working for Zootropic and playing a critical role in all aspects of the lizard conservation program in Guatemala. In 2002, Zootropic launched “Project Heloderma”, a long-term, integrated conservation program dedicated to saving the rare beaded lizard. Researchers traveled to villages and interviewed locals about the beaded lizard and its existence in the area. They came across a newspaper photo of Salazar which described him as a poacher who hunted and sold the lizards to traders. Zootropic located Salazar who agreed to show researchers the lizard habitats. A valuable asset to the program, Salazarhas has promoted lizard conservation in 35 schools reaching more than 35,000 villagers. He works long hours in hot temperatures to restore lizard habitat and conducts research that is critical to purchase and protect land.
Javier Vallejos Guerrero, Duke University Center for Tropical Conservation: Guerrero studies the spectacled bear in the dry forest mountains of Northern Peru. One of 14 children, Guerrero grew up in a one bedroom house and walked six hours to attend school each day. He did not finish his early education because his father needed help with the cattle but learned to read and write on his own accord, taking classes in his late twenties. Today, he is the head park guard at The Ecological Reserve of Chaparri and offers expertise to researchers so they can locate, photograph and directly observe spectacled bears. Guerro’s work is leading to the expansion of a protected area, and has led to new discoveries about bear populations. He has played a key role in bear conservation through his position as an expert field assistant, implementer of logistics and local coordinator of research permits and community outreach.
Betuel Samber, Save Our Leatherbacks Operation: Samber leads the Papuan leatherback sea turtle beach research initiatives and devotes his time to making a difference for conservation. He is self-educated and works tirelessly to teach other locals about protecting their natural resources and in turn, betters his community by creating ongoing educational lessons and employment through training and monitoring opportunities. He coordinates leatherback research and monitoring among his local village and educates his community about the importance of protecting this critically endangered species. The Pacific population of leatherback sea turtles has suffered most over the last 20 years and as few as 2,300 adult females now remain, making the Pacific leatherback the world’s most endangered marine turtle population. Samber’s efforts to protect the leatherbacks often result in lengthy absences from his family, as some of the beaches he monitors are in very remote locations. The Save Our Leatherbacks Operation staff depends on his research, allowing them to collect a full season of data, at times of the year when they are not able to be on site.
Since 2004, Disney has honored 48 people for their extraordinary conservation efforts around the world. To learn more visit www.disney.com/conservation.