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Cameroonian Nature Conservationist Wins Ecology Prize! 

By Azore Opio & Elvis Tah

A Cameroonian eco-system conservationist has received one of the world’s most prestigious environmental awards from the Whitely Fund for Nature, WFN, in London, UK. Louis Nkembi, Founder and Director of Environment and Rural Development Foundation, ERuDeF, received the 2010 WFN Award from Her Royal Highness Princess Anne, for his community-based landscape and biodiversity management project in Cameroon. The award includes a project grant of £30.000 donated by WildInvest, an engraved trophy, membership of the influential network of past Whitley Award winners, international recognition and leadership development training.

The WFN award is presented to eminent individuals who have raised public awareness about global ecology and made significant contributions to environmental protection and biodiversity conservation. The award is testimony that Nkembi is a committed and effective nature conservationist, who has taken positive action for both people and wildlife in his own country. He was amongst seven other laureates to receive the award:

Nkembi has spent 10 years engaged in supporting the sustainable management of biodiversity in the Lebialem Highlands region of Cameroon with emphasis on globally threatened wildlife species, fragile ecosystems and the indigenous and local communities.
He has combined science, education and community involvement, both in wildlife surveys to protect the globally-important rainforests of the Lebialem Highlands of the Southwest Region and the rare special wildlife from damage, in the face of a rising human population, deforestation, poaching, over-hunting and habitat fragmentation.

The jury of the contest was also fascinated by Nkembi’s re-discovery of two rare species of birds; Bannerman’s Turaco and Banded Wattle-eye, and a previously unknown population of Cross River gorilla, which is Africa’s most endangered great ape. In a gala party held in his honour at the Lady L Hotel in Buea, Nkembi was praised for his continued efforts to sensitize the public on local ecology and the significant contributions towards environmental protection and biodiversity conservation.

The Southwest Regional Delegate of Forestry and Wildlife, Grace Mbah, said: "It is a victory for the Southwest Region, a victory for the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife that we are having an award like that coming to Cameroon from a partner that works closely with us and above all, a victory for Africa as a whole. This shows that the civil society has a very cardinal role to play in the management of our wild life resources."

Mbah said ERuDeF is a striking example of a civil society organisation that works hand in gloves with the government to ensure that government policies on conservation and management of wildlife resources are implemented. In relation to the efforts made by government to assist ERuDeF in mapping out some protected areas, she said the groundwork had been done.

"We had to first of all begin with a technical note and forward it, after that, we are going to have a public notice from the minister after which the rest of the process will continue." The laureate said the award is going to upgrade the level of operation of ERuDeF and its international profile, "it will increase the funding opportunities that will come across to ERuDeF. The £30.000 (circa FCFA 24 million) grant is aimed at supporting ERuDeF activities geared towards achieving conservation and nature protection goals."

According to Nkembi, the cash prize is meant for specific activities: "It is allocated for the development of the Lebialem Highlands, Mountain Forest Project, and the creation of the Mt. Bamboutous Integral Ecological Reserve and another botanical sanctuary within the Lebialem Highlands." The Whitley Awards is a flagship grant scheme is an annual competition, which is now in its 17th year. It identifies, funds and encourages inspirational local conservation leaders and their teams in developing countries.  

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