Wildlife Conservation Award


The Best contribution to wildlife conservation category is awarded to a tourism business or initiative that had measurable success in preserving and managing habitat and wildlife species.

Award explained: The focus of Best contribution to wildlife conservation initiatives might include wildlife watching experiences, nature trails, places to stay or other holidays which otherwise benefit wildlife and habitats.

What the Judges want: Integration of great holiday experiences with progressive and sustainable programmes in wildlife and habitat conservation, measures of success and ideas which can be adapted and developed by tourism providers around the world.

2016 winners

Gold winner: Sam Veasna Centre

Gold award: Sam Veasna Centre (SVC), Cambodia
One of the most highly respected wildlife watching tour operators in Cambodia, bird lovers flock to SVC to be taken on ornithological odysseys of a lifetime. Many of these are birders who may be au fait with every exquisite detail of an endemic and yet not know anything about the colourful and extraordinary journey of this company. Because so often, wildlife conservation coups are the work of one individual and Sam Veasna was certainly one of those.

A local naturalist, Sam was much celebrated for discovering and mapping the country's most important sites in terms of conservation and particularly bird protection. He was, like the creatures he sought out, fairly unique and yet tragically he died of malaria aged just 33 during an expedition to the Northern Plains to seek out the wild ox, known as a kouvray, now thought to be extinct. Sam's legacy lives on, however, through this centre, a non profit organisation founded in Siem Riep in his memory, which not only takes visitors into the wilds, but also trains local people as expert naturalist guides. Founded in 2006, it has spent over 10 years bringing guests into remote rural communities which have slowly but now ever so surely come on board to a sustainable wildlife watching approach to tourism.

Starting off with one village at Tmatboey, the model has now been replicated at seven other sites. In these communities, wildlife sightings are consistently high and critically endangered bird populations are seeing higher numbers again. This is thanks to the fact that participating communities are asked to sign a 'no hunting and land use agreement', monitored by Ministries of Environment and Forestry patrol teams. In return, village development funds receive money tied to the number of sightings. Ergo more bird watchers. Creating what could be described as a perfect circle of conservation really. And of course these holidays also provide vital income stream to local communities as well as an ever flowing stream of inspiring wildlife guides and naturalists, all following in Mr Veasna's footsteps.
Silver award: Misool Eco Resort, Indonesia
In just over 10 years, two people made a marine miracle happen. After scuba diving around southern Raja Ampat, Indonesia in 2005 and being stunned by its reef rich beauty, Marit and Andrew Miners were also devastated by the evidence of the shark finning industry on a nearby beach. And so, unlike others who might just swim away and shrug it off as someone else's problem, they decided to stay and turn the tide. This resulted in a world renowned ecotourism and diving resort on this same beach on Batbitim Island, overlooking 91,000 hectares of protected No-Take Zone (NTZ), where fishing and collection of marine organisms is not permitted and which they helped create. These guys certainly don't let the sea grass grow under their feet.

Indeed, this is grassroots conservation tourism at its finest - a diving resort run by conservationists, supporting and supported by the local community. Not just a win win, but a win win win. Because Marit and Andrew have always recognised that it is only by giving local people a feeling of genuine empowerment through better lifestyles and income levels, as well as seeing how much visitors endorse a pride of place, that one can turn around the impacts of human intervention in nature.

Most of the staff comes from Yellu, the village from which they have leased the island, and many have worked with the resort since its nascence. They have all worked together, watching Misool take its first environmental steps, not only through the growth of the NTZ, but also seeing the reduction of illegal fishing by over 80 percent, increase of fish biomass by over 250 percent, the creation of a full time ranger patrol fleet to monitor the reef, and the formation of Indonesian Charitable Foundation, Misool Baseftin to raise more and more money for conservation.

As Misool heads towards its teenage years, there are no signs of wayward behaviour either. The complete opposite in fact, as Misool has created manta and shark sanctuaries across Indonesia including a hugely successful project in Lamakera to stop over exploitation of the marine environment. This baby certainly continues to thrive, inspire and protect.

Silver award: East African Safari and Touring Company (EASTCO), Tanzania
At first glance it seems as if every private safari company in Africa is wholly committed to wildlife conservation. Some are, but of course many aren't. However, with the simple fact that the East African Safari and Touring Company, located on lands that buffer Tanzania's Tarangire National Park, has the fastest growing population of elephants in Africa, you have to take your hat off to them. And the Tanzanian government has done just that, formally designating their land as the Randilen Wildlife Management Area. Read more.

The development of the Randilen Wildlife Management Area has been a 20-year-long learning and co-working process between this private company and seven Maasai communities living in the region to put a stop to poaching, farming and hunting in important wildlife habitats, particularly for elephants.

EASTCO has always recognised that you can't just protect wildlife living inside the national parks. It is the lands all around that proffer some of the most important wildlife habitats, but these are also homes to indigenous Maasai people who have been stewards of these lands for generations. So, working together is the only way, something many safari companies turn a blind eye to. And this hasn't just involved zoning of land, but bringing the communities in as share holders in the business and making sure that they gain a decent income from wildlife tourism. In particular, elephant tourism, in a country where poaching these great mammals is still a significant issue.

So, the fact that this new Radilen Wildlife Management Area consists of 571 km2 of land now off limits to hunting, grazing and permanent human settlement, in agreement with everyone living here, is a great result. The wildlife statistics are the proof. But the ambience and ambition of all parties that is tangible at EASTCO is also what sets them apart, all emanating from a shared direction, shared management decisions and a shared commitment to wildlife survival.

Silver award: Burj Al Arab Aquarium, United Arab Emirates
Possibly the world's most photographed and iconic hotel, the famously luxurious Burj Al Arab Jumeirah in Dubai has hidden depths in terms of responsible tourism. Indeed, large, multinational hotel chains aren't usually top of the wildlife loving list these days, with a few rare exceptions. Jumeirah's funding of the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project (DTRP) as part of its aquarium is an exquisite exception too, having rescued, nurtured and released over a thousand sea turtles since it was founded in 2004.

Although the stunning aquarium at Burj Al Arab looks like it is all for show, flanking glamorous restaurants and hotel environs, it was set up in conjunction with the UK's National Marine Aquarium and has a strong conservation ethos. The Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation project (DTRP) is part of that ethos and is based at both Burj Al Arab and Madinat Jumeirah, a sister property. It is also run in conjunction with Dubai's Wildlife Protection Office. Although the luxury hotel chain doesn't shout about it to its guests, and most of its conservation goes on quietly behind the scenes, they are busy rescuing sea turtles that have been injured or harmed in some way. Most importantly, DTRP provides space that acts as a natural foraging area as well as an artificial reef where they can be nourished and start to thrive again, before being released back into the wild, with an impressive record of 1,000 turtles being sent back into the ocean to date. If you are lucky enough to be there for a release day, then you will have timed your visit well.

Another vital part of the conservation work fully supported by Jumeirah is the electronic tagging of sea turtles, which has enabled scientists to monitor their progress and famously long journeys across our oceans. This is invaluable data monitoring particularly for the critically endangered hawksbill turtles, many of which end up being helped by the project. So, although Burj Al Arab Jumeirah may be the tallest hotel ever built on an island, hopefully it won't remain alone in its decision to commit to wildlife conservation. Instead, we hope it will create a ripple effect throughout other hotel chains poised not to profit from precious habitats but to protect them.

2015 winners

GOLD AWARD: Honko Mangrove Conservation & Education

Gold award: Honko Mangrove Conservation & Education
The Ambondrolava mangrove complex in SW Madagascar is not only one of the country's most stunning habitats, home to many endemic bird species, but also home to five mangrove communities. Communities that have depended on the mangroves for wood, fish and other animals for centuries. But as populations rise, the mangroves start to disappear, and so this charity works closely with these communities to help sustain an eco-equilibrium for everyone.

A Belgian registered charity, founded in 2007, works with the communities and also with visitors to inform and educate about the importance of the mangroves, from its Mangrove Information Centre. The Centre not only plays a vital role in interpreting the ecological importance of Madagascar's Ambondrolava mangrove complex for visitors, but also in educating the surrounding mangrove dependent communities. Training in community-based mangrove management aims to secure a more sustainable future for this region, as the swamps are vital fishing grounds for local people to earn a livelihood. For example, the creation of a local community association, VOI Mamelo Honko, has led to the restoration of 18ha of deforested mangrove. Lands that are also habitat for 39 wetland bird species, including some endangered endemics. In addition, Honko runs training in sustainable fishing practices as well as educating about ways in which communities can diversify their much needed income sources. Such as through ecotourism, beekeeping, tilapia farming, and artisanal handicraft weaving. Consequently, the success of the Centre as an ecotourism and training organisation is now being used as a model in other mangrove wetland regions.
Silver award: Coral Cay Conservation
You don't just go on a diving holiday with Coral Cay Conservation, you go on a marine expedition, taking part in vital research and marine exploration which contributes to the conservation of some of the most beautiful reefs in the world. Working mainly in the Philippines, Cambodia and, more recently in Montserrat, Coral Cay has been diving to make a difference since 1986.

With years of experience under their diving belts, Coral Cay knows that conservation isn't just about reefs and regulations. It's about people. And livelihoods, many of which depend on fishing. Protecting reefs through zoning is always an area of conflict when it comes to fishing communities, and understandably so. However, through education and patience, Coral cay has succeeded in establishing the first large scale Marine Fisheries Management Area in the beautiful Kompong Som Region of Cambodia and a Marine Protected Area in Sogod Bay in the Philippines. These have allowed fish populations to thrive again, meaning that when fishing is managed sustainably, the fishing communities also benefit. Coral Cay also identified a potential area for Marine Protected Area in Montserrat, having been the first people to dive here since the island was destroyed by volcanic eruptions, since when the reef has remained relatively untouched.

Community conservation awareness doesn't happen overnight however, and Coral Cay is expert in educating all ages, from school children to college age, the latter benefiting from CCC scholarships to study marine conservation and diving. Meaning that, one day, the communities will be able to take over their own conservation and diving programmes. And all will, in theory, go swimmingly.

Silver award: North Island Seychelles
Abandoned in the 1970's invasive species took over North Island in the Seychelles. Now a private island, the current resort restored it to luxurious standards, creating not only five star places to stay for their guests, but also five star habitats for the endemic residents, which they reintroduced to the island slowly but surely. Because creating a stunning resort is one thing, but rehabilitating an ecosystem is another grand design. But one which they have achieved on North Island.

North Island Seychelles resort could have made their island all pristine and perfect, following the route of neighbouring golf or spa islands, but they went down a responsible rewilding route instead. A route that didn't just take on precious pockets on the island, but the whole place. And because of that, it works. The restoration of this paradise has been undertaken in phases, named aptly Noah's Ark projects. After ridding the island of feral rats and cats, wildlife came back in various different ways. There are now 80-100 giant tortoises, many donated by other islands. Others have come back of their own accord, finding fresh new flora to thrive on, such as the Seychelles blue pigeons, wedge-tailed shearwaters and white-tailed tropics. Hawksbill and green turtles have returned to nest on the beaches in ever increasing numbers. And the extremely rare Seychelles White-Eyes was reintroduced to North Island in 2007, with an introductory population of 25, although this has quadrupled since then. Because, let's face it, when you land on North Island the way it is now, with stunningly maintained, beautifully biodiverse habitats, as well as a team of scientists, researchers and conservationists to look after you, you'd be mad to want to leave.

Silver award: Tiger Trails Jungle Lodge
Tigers don't always shine brightly, sadly. In fact, there are only 3000 tigers left in the wild. Worldwide. Their demise is often related to the destruction of habitat, but Tiger Trails Jungle Lodge located in the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, at the entry point of the Tadoba National Park, in the Maharashtra state of central India, is extremely proactive in changing this.

When you look at the luscious lands surrounding Tiger Trails Jungle Lodge, it is hard to imagine that they were once barren and boring. In just 20 years, since the founders of this beautiful bush camp, Amrut and Aditya Dhanwatay, set foot here, this landscape has been restored. Resurrected. Rewilded. It is now surrounded by dry deciduous forest and grasslands with perennial waterholes replacing dried out streams. Consequently, they have created a gleaming new green corridor between two sections of the national park, which enables free movement of many species. Working closely with 100 tribal families, the Lodge has succeeded in communicating the advantages of conservation of the landscapes and wildlife. The Lodge also employs directly from these communities, and their ongoing relationship has undoubtedly instilled a pride of place. A place that is, in fact, sacred. Because Tadoba is named after the god "Tadoba" or "Taru", worshipped by local tribal people.

2014 winners

Gold award: Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours

Gold award: Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours
Echidna Walkabout puts wildlife conservation at the heart of all their wildlife tours. Which sounds like the norm but when income raised from tours is ploughed back into serious conservation research, this takes tourism onto another level. Such is the work of Echidna, which was founded by Janine Duffy and Roger Smith in 1993 in Melbourne, Australia.

Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours is a social enterprise and for-profit company which offers tours around the wildlife-rich regions of south-eastern Australia and also in the Northern Territory. As well as offering tours, their area of research expertise is wild koalas, one of the animals they introduce to their guests on tours into the Australian bush. Educating guests about the koala's history and lifestyle is almost as vital to their conservation efforts as their eminent research has been, because they guide a lot of people who aren't wildlife experts at all, and whose attitudes they can change about saving wildlife generally.

The research began in 1998 when Janine discovered that koalas have distinctive nose markings, meaning that research could be done using photography only. This is in contrast to traditional research methods which capture, tag and radio-collar koalas - a procedure that is expensive, dangerous and highly stressful to both animal and researcher. Echidna Walkabout now has 19,000 photographs to contribute to their research, and a scientific paper outlining their method is being prepared for publication. Echidna invests a huge amount of time and profit in koala research annually, as well as to other conservation efforts such as improving and preserving habitats.
Silver award: Chambal Safari Hotels Pvt Ltd
Chambal Safari Hotels in Uttar Pradesh, is located on 36 acres of woodland and heritage farmland that has been owned by the same family since 1472. Now in the hands of birding enthusiast and conservationist Ram Pratap Singh, it has been transformed from its previous life as hosts of a bi-annual cattle fair and festival, to an eco lodge. Now part of the National Chambal Sanctuary, the lodge has not only put this wildlife retreat on the tourism map, but also been instrumental in saving and protecting their important habitats over the last fifteen years ago. At that time, the Sanctuary was under tremendous pressure to be exploited for sand mining purposes. Chambal Safari Hotels led a sustained campaign to stop this, educating villagers about not only the risks to wildlife and habitats, but also to local water levels if mining was to take place. The focus of Chambal has always, therefore, been to reassure the community that their inextricable link to their landscapes and resident wildlife is fundamental to their wellbeing and livelihoods.

Like all progressive wildlife organisations, Chambal has helped local people realize that they can also make a living from nature, from inviting and hosting tourists to enjoy the precious natural resources they have on their doorstep. And not take what must have felt like the easy way out, taking money from mining, or indeed poaching. Instead they now host visitors to celebrate the amazing abundance of wildlife here including gharials, marsh crocodiles, Gangetic River Dolphins, turtles, smooth-coated otters and over 300 species of birds. The ravines on either side of the river are home to striped hyenas, jungle cats and jackals. However, because this isn't a tiger sanctuary, the animal that all tourists want to get their eye on, it is under constant threat of being thrown back into the hands of industrialists. Something Chambal works tirelessly to lobby against while all the time protecting and conserving the wildlife that they treasure so dearly.

Silver award: On Track Safaris
On Track Safaris lead small safaris to South Africa, Zambia and Uganda, although the work that really stands out for us is on leopards. This company has always had a mission to put conservation at the core of all its safaris. As well as offering all the usual elements of a safari, they invite and attract guests who want to play a role in the conservation of wildlife, not just capture them on camera for posterity. Consequently, they support non-profit conservation organisations, such as the INGWE Leopard Research program, which they created themselves to gather data on leopard behaviour and numbers. This was in response to the fact that although leopards are in significant decline, there was little data available to monitor this. In addition, leopards are still being trophy hunted, or shot because of conflict with livestock owners. On Track works on intense education programs with all of these parties, a task that requires much patience and understanding of the varying social and economic issues, in order to highlight the importance - ecological, ethical and economic - of keeping their leopard populations healthy.

And in terms of the safari themselves, they definitely are on track when it comes to offering a top experience for visitors too. As well as seeing a wide array of wildlife, guests are given the opportunity to be involved with their team of conservationists, helping to set trail cameras to monitor nightly happenings, or just simply take time to sit viewing an elephant, or a herd, in order to understand its behaviour. Taking notes, photographs as well as having that all important once in a lifetime experience. Except, guests love it so much, they keep coming back for more.

2012 winner

WINNER: Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve, Chile

A group or initiative working for the conservation of wildlife and/or their local habitat, such as a national park or wildlife sanctuary.

Winner: Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve, Chile
Since 2000 the Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve has conserved over 100,000 hectares of Patagonian temperate rainforest. The owners have changed the way in which they, and the local community, secure a living form this large piece of Patagonian forest, moving from logging to conservation and sustainable tourism. The judges were impressed by the scale of the transformation at Huilo Huilo.

Previous winners


2011 Winner: Lilongwe Wildlife Centre, Malawi
"Lilongwe Wildlife Centre is a wildlife rescue, conservation and education centre in the heart of Malawi's capital city. Fending off developers, the centre has reclaimed and revived 90 hectares of urban wilderness to provide sanctuary for rescued, orphaned and injured wild animals, and promotes conservation to locals and tourists alike. It now takes over 20,000 visitors per year, showing its value as a centre for both the people and wildlife of Malawi."

Highly commended:
  • Africat Okonjima, Namibia
  • Great Ocean Ecolodge, Australia
2010 Winner: ZEALANDIA: The Karori Sanctuary Experience, New Zealand
With a 500 year vision, Zealandia immediately stood out as an ambitious conservation initiative which engages with tourism to secure local support. But when you're trying to return an area to a time before humans - over 80 million years ago - it is this vision that is required! This unique conservation project is already a safe haven for some of New Zealand's most endangered native species. The ecological restoration of this urban wildlife sanctuary is well underway and through the removal of invasive species has enabled the successful reintroduction of species.

Highly commended:
  • Steppes Discovery, UK
2009 Winner: Great Plains Conservation, South Africa
For incorporating a range of innovative projects across five African countries. Their work in the Maasai Mara is particularly impressive, facilitating the creation of an 80,000 acre conservancy, and guaranteeing regular payment to the local communities for the use of their land for tourism purposes regardless of the number of guests. On an unequivocal basis, they provide protected revenue for the indigenous peoples of the Mara, reducing the negative social and economic impacts of tourism.

Highly commended:
  • Chimpanzee Sanctuary & Wildlife Conservation Trust (CSWCT), Uganda
  • Way Out Experiences, Malaysia, Indonesia & Borneo
2008 Winner: Gamewatchers Safaris & Porini Camps, Kenya
For demonstrating that a high revenue, low impact tourism development approach can benefit the local Maasai, enabling them through developing conservancies and tourism in partnership with safari companies to create employment and community income and to conserve their land for wildlife.

Highly commended:
  • Turtle Conservation Project, Sri Lanka
  • Peak District Environmental Quality Mark, UK
  • Caiman Ecological Refuge, Brazil
Written by Justin Francis