WASHINGTON (Oct. 18, 2005)–Two outstanding wildlife champions have won the prestigious 2005 National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation. Kenyan Nyawira Muthiga, coordinator of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Western Indian Ocean Marine Program, won the award for leadership in African conservation, and Marcedonio Cortave, executive director of the Asociación de Comunidades Forestales de Petén (ACOFOP) in Guatemala, is the winner of the award for leadership in Latin American conservation. This is the first time the Latin American award has been presented.
Cortave and Muthiga will receive their $25,000 prizes from agriculturalist, businessman and widely published agricultural, humanitarian and wildlife photographer Howard Buffett at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Oct. 19. Established through a gift from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the awards acknowledge the winners’ outstanding work and lifetime contributions that further the understanding and practice of conservation in their countries.
Cortave is a farmer, community leader and conservation advocate who has been instrumental in improving the livelihoods of the forest communities of Petén through sustainable management of natural forest resources. In 1995 he was a founding member of ACOFOP, the largest community forestry certified organization in the world. Under his leadership, the 22 community organizations that comprise ACOFOP have achieved major conservation goals in the 1.23 million acres under community management in the Mayan Biosphere Reserve in Petén. Through community-led natural and cultural resource conservation efforts under Cortave’s direction, they have decreased the number and extent of forest fires, decreased archaeological looting and increased the protection of Maya archaeological sites on community forest lands.
In the past 10 years, ACOFOP has brought direct environmental, social, economic and political benefits to almost 14,000 people in 30 communities in northern Petén, showing it is possible to simultaneously achieve economic and conservation goals.
Muthiga is a marine scientist whose visionary leadership has helped make her country a model for marine conservation in East Africa. As coordinator of the WCS’s Western Indian Ocean Marine Program, Muthiga oversees marine and coastal research and biodiversity conservation programs in Kenya, Tanzania, Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar, with a focus on reconciling the needs of local communities with the region’s conservation priorities for marine wildlife. Projects include research on coral reefs and mangrove and coastal forests, and studies on marine species of special concern, such as dugongs and sea turtles. Her impact on marine conservation in Kenya includes the development of effective marine-protected-area management plans, community ecotourism initiatives and an extensive training program for marine-protected-area staff and community representatives. Muthiga, who has a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Nairobi, is president of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association.
National Geographic Society/Buffett Award recipients are chosen from nominations submitted to the National Geographic Society’s Conservation Trust, which screens the nominations through a peer-review process.
“This year’s awardees are being recognized for their outstanding leadership and the vital role they play in managing and protecting the natural resources in their regions. They are inspirational conservation advocates, who serve as role models and mentors in their communities,” said Thomas Lovejoy, chairman of the Conservation Trust.
Dedicated to the conservation of the world’s biological and cultural heritage, the Conservation Trust supports innovative solutions to issues of global concern, and encourages model projects that engage and inform their areas’ local populations.
In addition to serving as president of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which focuses on humanitarian, conservation and education issues, Buffett is president of BuffettImages and chairman of the Nature Conservation Trust. Son of investor Warren Buffett, he operates an 840-acre farm in central Illinois and manages a family-owned farm in eastern Nebraska. He is a member of the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Buffett has authored and published more than a half dozen books on conservation, wildlife and the human condition. He serves or has served on the boards of the National Geographic Council of Advisors, the Cougar Fund, World Wildlife Fund National Council, Platte River Whooping Crane Trust Advisory Committee, the Illinois and Nebraska chapters of the Nature Conservancy, Ecotrust and Africa Foundation. He has received the Aztec Eagle Award, the highest honor bestowed on a foreign citizen by the Mexican government.