WASHINGTON (Dec. 11, 2007)—A leading Colombian environmentalist and a wildlife champion from the Democratic Republic of the Congo are this year’s winners of the prestigious National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation. Jorge Orejuela, founder and director of the Cali Botanical Garden in Colombia, receives the award for leadership in Latin American conservation; Inogwabini Bila-Isia, World Wildlife Fund leader for the Lac Tumba Landscape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, wins for leadership in African conservation.
They will receive their $25,000 prizes at a ceremony at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Dec. 13. 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.
Orejuela, who is also professor in the environmental sciences department at Colombia’s Universidad Autónoma de Occidente, is being recognized for his work over three decades in conservation education, protected area management and sustainable development in the tropics. His accomplishments include the establishment of the cloud forest nature reserve, La Planada, between Colombia and Ecuador, and the creation of the Environmental Area of the Fundación para la Educación Superior, Colombia’s leading private conservation agency. He also helped establish Utría and Gorgona Island national parks and Quindio Basin and Calima River nature reserves. As a field researcher sponsored for 10 years by the World Wildlife Fund, he paved the way for the establishment of that organization in Colombia.
Trained as an ornithologist, Orejuela has worked on species as varied as orchids, condors, spectacled bears and bats. Since 1999 he has been director of the Cali Botanical Garden, recognized as a leading research center and part of a protected high-altitude area with important ecosystem representation.
Inogwabini grew up in the equatorial forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and his early knowledge of plants and animals and love of the environment were inspired by treks through the terrain. Lac Tumba Landscape project manager since 2005, his responsibilities include managing a USAID-funded program in the landscape, coordinating research activities, implementing a program to help local NGOs strengthen their role in natural resources management and coordinating fundraising activities for a biodiversity conservation program in the area. Among his achievements are training dozens of researchers and conservation assistants across Central Africa, delineation of the new Tumba-Lediima Natural Reserve, designing and establishing a bonobo habituation program as well as elephant and buffalo monitoring programs in southern Lac Tumba.
Before joining World Wildlife Fund, Inogwabini completed an eight-month inventory across the entire 72,000- square-km (44,750 square miles) landscape, which revealed the presence of bonobos, elephants and forest buffaloes as well as the discovery of common chimpanzees between the Ngiri and Congo rivers, an area where they had never been scientifically reported before. Also, the bonobo sightings proved the range of those animals was much larger than previously thought and led to Inogwabini’s project of a permanent program in this zone to protect the species.
Inogwabini’s conservation work over the past 14 years has included tracking elephants with a WCS group to help stop illegal trade and killing, and leading a census for eastern lowland gorillas in the mountain sector of the Kahuzi-Biéga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
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.
Howard Buffett is an agriculturalist, businessman and widely published photographer. In addition, he is president of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which focuses on humanitarian and conservation issues. He is a member of the Commission on Presidential Debates, serves as a United Nations Ambassador Against Hunger for the United Nations World Food Program and is a member of the National Geographic Council of Advisors.
For awardees’ photographs, contact Adrian Coakley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 857-7760.