Sustainable Wildlife Management Programme partner wins prestigious Whitley Award

Leroy Ignacio, Whitley Award, Red Siskin Songbirds

©Chung Liu


Rome - Guyanese conservationist and co-founder of the South Rupununi Conservation Society (SRCS) Leroy Ignacio has won a prestigious Whitley Award for his outstanding grassroots conservation work in Guyana’s Rupununi region.

The Whitley Fund for Nature awarded Ignacio, who is Indigenous Makushi, with a “Green Oscar” for his significant contribution to protecting the endangered red siskin songbird. His NGO’s work received financial support by the Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) Programme, which is led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and implemented in Guyana by the Centre for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF)

“Congratulations to Leroy Ignacio for his well-deserved acknowledgement by the Whitley Fund for Nature,” said Hubert Boulet, Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) Programme Coordinator. “Leroy and his team are an excellent example of how to effectively partner with grassroots communities and inspire passion about conservation and sustainable use of wildlife in forests, savannah and wetland ecosystems.”

Community action

The Rupununi region is a vast and complex area of dry woodland landscapes, rainforests, savannah and wetlands. Like many regions which are home to unique habitats with fragile ecosystems, the Rupununi faces an increased threat from modernisation, climate change and habitat loss.

When in 2000, scientists confirmed local indigenous communities’ observations that the brightly coloured red siskin, which is prized by illegal wildlife trappers, was present in the Rupununi, Leroy Ignacio set about protecting the bird and its habitat.

Together with five local communities, Guyana’s first indigenous-led conservation NGO was formed.

SRCS shares knowledge, including around sustainable community resource use, between elders and youth, which has resulted in an increased feeling of pride and ownership of the land, its wildlife and the need to maintain biodiversity.

SRCS and SWM Programme partnership

When Leroy Ignacio founded the SRCS 24 years ago, its work focused on the red siskin and it had few voluntary staff as funds were scarce.

In 2018 it partnered with the SWM Programme which aims to improve wildlife conservation and food security whilst improving the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and rural communities.

"We partnered with SRCS to start programmes on environmental education, turtle monitoring and anteater conservation, as well as traditional knowledge classes” explains Nathalie Van Vliet, SWM Programme Site Coordinator in Guyana. “SRCS has been so successful that they are able to sustain many of these programmes now and start new ones, for example an armadillo research project."   "

The SWM Programme continues to fund turtle conservation and environmental education models.

Today, SRCS creates various opportunities for paid employment for local people as rangers and ecotourism operators, allowing indigenous communities to be financially compensated for preserving their biodiversity. They have three full time staff, two part time staff, 48 rangers and 42 environmental education teachers. The SRCS’s efforts have stabilised the red siskin population, giving hope to the survival of the species, and incidences of illegal trapping have been almost eliminated.

The SWM Programme

The SWM Programme is a partnership between FAO, the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development, CIFOR-ICRAF and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Projects are being piloted and tested with governments and 81 communities in 16 participating countries.

Working to improve wildlife conservation and food security, the programme is funded by the European Union with co-funding from the French Facility for Global Environment and the French Development Agency.