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Honouring the heroes who protect continent's wildlife

Africa's conservation warriors have been given a boost by Prince William with the Tusk Awards. Sarah Marshall reveals this year's nominees

Royal patron: Prince William at the Tusk Awards last year
Royal patron: Prince William at the Tusk Awards last year
Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, Uganda
Jeneria Lekilelei, Kenya
Tomas Diagne, Senegal

By Sarah Marshall

Seeing animals in the wild is a thrilling experience, yet climate change, illegal poaching and a loss of habitat mean many species are under threat.

Their survival is largely dependent on the work of passionate individuals committed to conserving the environment for generations to come and nowhere is this more evident than in Africa.

Recognising the efforts of grass-roots conservationists, the Tusk Conservation Awards in partnership with Investec Asset Management celebrates individuals who have dedicated their lives to protecting Africa's wildlife.

"As so much of the natural world continues to face the alarming and real threat of extinction, it is vital we recognise how much we owe to conservation's unsung heroes whom the Tusk Awards shine a spotlight on," says Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, Tusk's royal patron.

"Living alongside Africa's precious wildlife means they each face huge challenges, but their bravery and determination to preserve all life on the planet gives me hope for the future. I'm proud to have the opportunity to thank them for their incredible achievements."

The shortlisted finalists for the 2019 Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa, sponsored by Land Rover, have just been announced. Meet the nominees...

The primate protector: Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, Uganda

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Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, Uganda
 

When a troop of Bwindi's mountain gorillas suffered an outbreak of scabies in the mid-Nineties, vet Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka discovered human contact was to blame. Attempting to prevent crop raids, farmers had erected scarecrows, not knowing infested clothing could spread the parasite to primates.

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"I realised we cannot protect gorillas without improving the health of people who share their fragile habitat," says Kalema-Zikusoka, who founded NGO Conservation Through Public Health in 2003.

Now she focuses on educating people about hygiene, family planning and the environment, and her latest project, Gorilla Conservation Coffee, guarantees a fair price for farmers working on the fringes of Bwindi Inpenetrable Forest.

The lion guardian: Jeneria Lekilelei, Kenya

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Jeneria Lekilelei, Kenya
 

In the past, Samburu warriors wouldn't have thought twice about killing lions who threatened their livestock. But a new generation is striving to protect the predators.

"Without a balanced landscape, one that includes lions and other wildlife, we could also lose the plants and water that we also depend on for living," says Samburu-born Jeneria Lekilelei, who is now director of community conservation at NGO Ewasu Lions. Working alongside communities, he helps to resolve conflicts, and has changed attitudes by transforming warriors into species ambassadors through his Warrior Watch programme.

"I now realise how important it is that I am a shepherd of all animals in Samburu and without the wild animals, our domestic animals and our way of life is also threatened," he says.

The turtle hero: Tomas Diagne, Senegal

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Tomas Diagne, Senegal
 

Although it serves as a life-long shield, a tortoise's shell is not enough to protect the prehistoric creatures from modern-day dangers. When biologist and conservationist Tomas Diagne realised there were more sulcata tortoises in captivity than in the wild, he created NGO Save Our Sulcatas, at the age of 21, and soon turned his attention to turtles.

"I have worked tirelessly for 25 years to study and protect as many turtle species as possible in West Africa," he says.

In 2009, Diagne created the African Chelonian Institute, establishing two centres for turtle protection and captive breeding programmes.

He is currently managing a project to collect data on several endangered turtle species, estimating numbers for the first time and identifying which populations might be at risk of extinction.

The Tusk Awards will take place in London in November. For more information visit www.Tuskawards.com

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