The Future For Nature (FFN) foundation is committed to nature conservation by supporting young conservationists worldwide. Every year, FFN organises a special event where three winners receive €50,000 each to carry out their nature project. Burgers' Zoo is FFN's main sponsor, and the foundation is headquartered at the zoo. On Friday, 21 May 2021, the Future For Nature Awards were presented for the fourteenth time.
This year's winners, Mónica Torres from Guatemala, Mohsen, Rezaie-Atagholipour from Iran and Karolina Araya Sandoval from Chile, were presented with cheques. Normally, the event takes place at the Safari Meeting Centre, but this year, the ceremony was held digitally because of the pandemic. It did not spoil the fun, as the online events were still a prestigious affair. In addition to Saba Douglas-Hamilton as the annual host, renowned nature photographer Frans Lanting was the guest of honour this year. He gave an inspiring speech about his life and career in conservation.
This year's three winners will be inducted into the FFN Family. It consists of all former winners since the creation of FFN in 2008. The counter now stands at 42 winners from 29 different countries. This means that FFN has already contributed a total of €2,100,000 to realise the ambitious projects of young conservationists. The FFN Family is the network where the FFN Award Laureates can meet and continue to learn from and with each other to continue the fight for conservation as efficiently and effectively as possible.
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Donate at www.futurefornature.org/donate or find more information about this year's event at www.futurefornature.org/virtual-award-event-2021
The Abronia campbelli, a lizard from the Abronia genus, was long thought to be extinct until 2021 FFN Award-winner, Mónica Torres, rediscovered the tiny animal in 2009. This lizard is found only in Guatemala and is threatened with extinction. Many local people believed that the lizard is very dangerous and can kill people, so they killed every Abronia campbelli lizard they encountered.
Mónica Torres wants to use her prize to ensure that the small reptiles are no longer threatened with extinction. Firstly, she convinces the local population that the Abronia campbelli is not dangerous and is important for the ecosystem. Secondly, she tries to stop poachers who want to catch the lizards. She does this in a wonderful way by involving them in her projects and teaching them the importance of nature conservation. Many poachers in Guatemala are not aware that what they are doing is wrong. By getting the poachers on her side, her team grows, and the threat diminishes. However, this is not without risk to her own life because, in some cases, the poachers are armed, and their patience is very thin.
Another major threat to the Abronia campbelli is the loss of habitat. Much of the area where the lizard lives is disappearing due to logging and agriculture. To counteract this, Mónica tries to work together with the local population. Compromises are made that benefit both humanity and nature. The reforestation project and habitat restoration initiatives initiated by Mónica are extremely successful. Already one million square meters of habitat has been restored. By setting up a breeding and reintroduction program, she has also released nearly three hundred young Abronia campbelli lizards into the wild to strengthen the remaining population of lizards.
Working with both poachers and the local population has inspired Mónica to establish Conservation Abronia. This project was created to restore harmony between humans and animals. Mónica has already achieved enormous success, but with her FFN Award, she can reach, educate, and inspire even more people.
Mohsen Rezaie-Atagholipour was fascinated by marine life from an early age. He moved to the south coast of Iran to study marine biology. After many years of doing research, Mohsen found himself wanting more. He wanted to be able to protect the animals he had learned so much about.
When Mohsen learned that many sharks and rays in the Persian Gulf were being caught as bycatch, he immediately wanted to do something about it. It shocked him that fishing boats in the Persian Gulf catch some ten million sharks and rays as bycatch in just two months. To combat this, Mohsen founded the non-profit organisation QECI. It is the first non-profit organisation in Iran that focuses on protecting sharks and rays.
Nature conservation in Iran is made very difficult by the many political and economic sanctions in the country. The country's leaders do little about nature conservation, and Mohsen cannot count on any financial support. Winning the FFN Award will allow him to implement a more sustainable way of fishing in the Persian Gulf in the long run. In addition, he can educate local fishermen on how to fish with less bycatch by using specially designed nets. And if other marine life is still being caught and needs to be returned to the sea, Mohsen teaches the fishermen the best and fastest way to release the animals back into the sea.
The best thing about winning the FFN Award is that Mohsen can now reach more people and tell them about the problems in the Persian Gulf. He wants to inspire people to think about how we can all make our footprint on the earth smaller. Connecting people to nature opens their eyes, and we can live together in harmony.
This year's third FFN Award winner, Karolina Araya Sandoval, is also committed to preserving nature in the country where she grew up, in this case, Chile. She fights against human intrusion in the last remaining habitat of the Chilean woodstar.
The Chilean woodstar is a hummingbird species and the smallest bird in Chile. It weighs only about 2.5 grams and is 7.5 cm long from beak to tail. The animal is seriously threatened with extinction because the local population has already destroyed much of its habitat for agriculture. When Karolina saw the little hummingbird for the first time, it was love at first sight. She was horrified to see these beautiful birds driven away and decided to take action.
With her organisation, called 'Picaflor de Arica' after the Spanish name for this hummingbird species, she hopes to create harmony in the forest again by involving and inspiring the local population. She recently organised a writing contest in which 2,500 children participated. This generated more awareness for the hummingbird, and all profits from the booklets sold went to schools in the area. Karolina and her team are studying the birds and everything they need to create a more suitable habitat.
By partnering with a local university, Karolina can learn even more about her favourite bird. By studying plant species, they can find out which ones are most suitable for the hummingbirds and replant them in the area. In addition, Karolina recently found a new area with relatively many nests. By properly monitoring and protecting this area, many young hummingbirds can grow up in safety.
By winning the FFN Award and the accompanying €50,000, Karolina can now buy the area where she found the relatively large number of nests. This will protect the area from encroaching agriculture. She also wants to establish a permanent nursery to cultivate and plant indigenous plants in the last three valleys where the Chilean woodstar still lives.
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