The Future For Nature Foundation (FFN), located at Burgers' Zoo, underscores the significance of wildlife conservation and actively supports young conservationists dedicated to this cause worldwide. Each year, FFN bestows the Future For Nature Awards at the Safari Meeting Centre, a special event where three winners each receive €50,000 to further advance their wildlife conservation projects. Future For Nature and the Award Event offer a platform for the winners to share their unique stories about wildlife conservation.
On Friday, 21 April, the impressive achievements and inspiring objectives of the 2023 FFN Award winners were celebrated. Tomás Rivas Fuenzalida from Chile, Alona Prylutska from Ukraine, and Pieter van Wyk from South Africa took the well-deserved spotlight this year.
Traditionally, the award ceremony was hosted by Saba Douglas-Hamilton, chairperson of FFN's international selection committee. Saba guided us on a journey around the world during the ceremony. We paid visits to former FFN Award winners, shedding light on their recent achievements and work. We encountered wild whales off the coast of Chile and listened to enchanting forest sounds in the Leuser ecosystem. We even crawled through caves in search of new bat roosts!
During our world tour, we also made stops in the countries where this year's FFN Award winners work. Tomás symbolically described the birds of prey as the spirit of Chilean forests and highlighted how wildlife conservation is genuinely a calling. Alona showed us optimism and perseverance, and there was a noticeable shock in the audience when she showed a video of the release of bats in a war-torn city in Ukraine. Pieter gave us food for thought on plant conservation in South Africa and provided compelling evidence of the vulnerability of our natural world. These touching moments were illuminated by the sheer dedication and passion of the three winners. There is hope as long as we persist!
Guest of honour Pavan Sukhdev, Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations' environmental programme, reaffirmed the message that we must never give up on wildlife conservation but must persevere with determination. Pavan urged the winners to "keep fighting and let the love burn within you." He spoke about how nature provides so much value to our lives every day. "Everything these three young people have done helps create a movement that will ultimately change people's mindset," said Pavan.
Birds of prey are the largest predators in our skies and play a crucial role in their ecosystems. As people increasingly encroach on natural habitats for habitation and agriculture, more and more birds of prey have incorporated farm animals into their diets. Farmers naturally dislike this and retaliate by shooting the birds. Tomás discovered that habitat loss and human persecution are the biggest threats to the existence of the rare Patagonian buzzard in Chile, and he is committed to finding a solution.
Tomás has made it his life mission to protect the Patagonian buzzard and other endangered birds of prey like the Andean condor, helping them coexist peacefully with humans in South America. Understanding birds of prey and their needs is critical to their protection. Therefore, Tomás has been studying rare South American birds of prey for many years and has made important discoveries about their populations. Tomás developed a special technique for locating Patagonian buzzard nests, paving the way for gathering knowledge about their population, ecology and habitat requirements. He was the first to find Patagonian buzzard nests in Chile in sixty years, and he has since found more. Thanks to Tomás's discoveries, this species is now officially classified as endangered by the IUCN.
Tomás believes that people and birds of prey can live together with the right tools. With his organisation, Fundación Ñankulafkén, Tomás works on pioneering agro-ecological techniques to deter bird of prey attacks on poultry. He has designed safer poultry coops with vegetated roofs. Tomás educates farmers about birds of prey and also collaborates with them to minimise raptor attacks on poultry.
Winning the FFN Award allows Tomás to continue reducing the conflict between humans and birds of prey in Chile and other South American countries. He will do this by offering solutions that enable local communities to protect their poultry and minimise attacks by birds of prey. Additionally, Tomás plans to develop a programme to reintroduce the red-tailed buzzard in central Chile, building on his initial successes in breeding the birds.
Urbanisation and climate change have caused some bat species to use buildings as their homes. Alona Prylutska is a Ukrainian conservationist dedicated to protecting bats in an urban environment. She rescues bats trapped in buildings, dispels superstitions about bats and works to create safe spaces for bats in cities.
Alona has been fascinated by bats since her first year at university. During her studies, she discovered that many bats live in Ukrainian cities. In buildings, bats are at risk of getting trapped or even killed during renovation or insulation work. Alona began rescuing bats found in the city or stuck in buildings, rehabilitating them in her own home. During the winter, she stored the bats in her fridge because bats need cold temperatures to hibernate. Alona founded the Ukrainian Bat Rehabilitation Centre, the only one of its kind in the country. This centre also serves as the largest facility for bat research in Eastern Europe. Along with her team, Alona now rescues bats from all over Ukraine and has saved over 21,000 bats from 13 different species.
People have a deep-rooted fear of bats in Ukraine, which does not help their conservation. Alona believes that changing attitudes towards bats is key to their long-term survival. Along with her team, Alona organised a campaign to educate people about how remarkable these animals are. They host the now-famous Bat Release Festival each year, allowing the public to help release hundreds of rescued bats back into the wild. Seeing bats up close and even holding them can ignite people's enthusiasm for these animals.
Despite challenging conditions in Ukraine, Alona and her team persevered and continued their vital work for bat conservation. They have rescued many migrating bats from abandoned buildings and conduct outreach activities. With the prize money from the FFN Award, Alona plans to establish new branches of the Bat Rehabilitation Centre in the five largest Ukrainian cities. Additionally, she intends to initiate a "shared house" project in collaboration with construction companies to prevent bats from dying or being disturbed during building renovations.
The Richtersveld region in northern South Africa harbours the most diverse collection of succulent plant species in the world. However, over 400 of these species are now threatened with extinction due to mining, poaching, overgrazing and climate change. Pieter van Wyk is a South African botanist dedicated to conserving the unique flora of the Richtersveld. He doesn't shy away from tackling environmental crimes, and armed with knowledge and passion, he strives to protect these extraordinary succulent plants.
Pieter has been dedicated to studying and protecting South Africa's unique flora since he was a young boy. Over the years, he has collected data on endemic succulent plants and even discovered new species! Pieter now uses his knowledge to protect the endangered habitats of succulent plants at the provincial and national levels. Alongside his team, he fights against diamond mining in the Richtersveld and the poaching of flora, which is a growing problem in the region. Everyone wants a beautiful succulent plant at home, after all. Pieter rescues confiscated succulent plants and has saved over 100,000 poached plants in total.
Pieter established the Richtersveld Desert Botanical Garden and Nursery. Here, seeds and plants from the Richtersveld region and the Gariep and Namib deserts are stored, and confiscated plants find a home. Pieter attempts to cultivate succulent plants, but this is surprisingly challenging because these plants often have slow life cycles. The nursery serves as a backup in case species go extinct in the wild. Simultaneously, it supports the conservation of existing but vulnerable populations. The botanical garden also serves as an educational centre and provides employment opportunities for the local community.
To protect future generations of South African endemic succulent plants, Pieter's work takes place both in the field and indoors. With the FFN Award, Pieter will build a new greenhouse where he can conserve more than 400 plant species, preventing their extinction. Additionally, he plans to involve local people in his projects. Pieter intends to develop a "green" economy where people can financially benefit from growing succulent plants in their gardens. This provides an additional income and ensures that succulent plants are not taken from the wild.
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