Marsh Marjan Award

This Award is run in partnership with the Marjan Centre for the Study of War and the Non-Human Sphere within the Department of War Studies at King’s College.

In parts of the world, the need for conservation is great, due to a high density of species or richness in natural resources. However, quite often these areas are also marked by human conflict which infringes on the need for conservation.The Award is given annually to someone who has made an invaluable contribution to an area where conflict and conservation overlap.

Nominations for the Award are put forward to the Marjan Centre and approved by the MCT.

Ahmed Saleh Neema 2021

Ahmed’s motivation for his environmental activity is due to his faith in the necessity of serving and protecting Nature.  

Ahmed has been active in protecting all biodiversity connected to Iraq’s central marshes for the last decade, after he changed from being a hunter to a protector. This fight has become his full-time work, having previously been employed at the Missan University’s Faculty of Administration and Economics in the large and historic town of Amara. 

The marshes were heavily drained by Saddam Hussein not only to increase agriculture but also because the Marsh Arabs, The Ma’dan, were sworn enemies of his regime. The reasons for this were largely on account of their Shiite religion which made them ally closer to Iran and saw them living separately from Iraqi society – they lived traditionally in reed-houses on artificial islands amid the waters of the marshes. Saddam’s engineers diverted almost the entire flow of the Euphrates river into a large drainage canal, known as the Third River, which was connected to the sea. The Ma’dan armed opposition to Saddam and this strategy was brutally put down in a series of tactical operations focused on the town of Amara, displacing thousands of people. 

Ahmed’s conversion from hunter to protector was largely stimulated by the plight of the Maxwell’s Otter species which had become virtually extinct due to the activities of fur-trappers and the draining of the marshes. Ahmed was instrumental in the return of the otter to the marshes on a small-scale, releasing six that he raised himself. Ahmed is also actively engaged with stopping the poaching of migratory birds which he reports to the Environmental Police. He also has another focus also on restoring both rare aquatic plants and fish populations that have been heavily reduced because of the extensive drainage of the marshes. 

Previous Winners

John Kahekwa

John, who comes from the Bukavu region, has spent his whole life trying to look after the eastern lowland gorillasone of Africa’s most spectacular speciesin one of the continent’s most magnificent protected areas, Kahuzi-Biega National Park. He spent years combating poachers, became a park ranger and set up the Pole Pole Foundation (POPOF) in 1992 where he involved local communities and the National Park. The POPOF focuses on projects affected the local areas as well as protecting gorillas. They have projects to focus of afforestation where they have planted over 4 million trees which creates an important buffer zone for protection, and the wood of the mature trees is distributed to the local communities to stop them cutting trees down in the National Park.  Alongside this they have a focus on education where they can stress the importance of their conservation work and teach the communities how to manage their natural resources in harmony with other local communities. Other projects include handicrafts training, fish ponds, spirulina protection, and mushroom growing which all contribute to aiding the community. Since 2012, John has won the 2013 Whitley Award, and the 2016 Prince William Lifetime Award for conservation in Africa. 

Caucasus Nature Fund

The Caucasus Nature Fund began working in this security vacuum in 2008, not only to restore the national parks of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, but to help build bridges that would reduce regional tensions.

Their Mission is to provide long-term support and management assistance for the protected areas of the region, conserve the unique flora, fauna and ecosystems of the Caucasus for future generations, and improve the lives of local people.

The CNF’s vision is for a Caucasus biodiversity hotspot where a rich natural heritage and diverse local cultures combine in harmony so that the people and species of the region can thrive.

Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia (BPSSS)

After the end of the Balkan wars of the 1990s, many paramilitary groups became criminal syndicates involved in running guns, drugs, humans and the lesser known trade of wild birds, which are plentiful in the Balkans due to its position as a major fly-way between Africa and Europe. The birds are traded for human consumption and as part of the thriving shooting/hunting trade which can see hundreds of birds shot every day. This is all done despite a raft of international laws either forbidding this trade or placing restrictions on it.

Fighting this bird trade in Serbia is the BPSSS, a small group of highly motivated bird conservationists who for their efforts get little recognition and a great deal of aggression from hunters and non-cooperation from the relevant authorities. The BPSSS work in partnership to swap information with their counterparts in Croatia and other Balkan countries, building bridges between countries that only 25 years ago were fighting with each other.

The BPSSS point to a future point to a future of both hope and also darkness as they continue their fight. They have produced a short video which further demonstrates their crucial work in action, and what they are up against.

Adrian Garside

Adrian is a former officer of the British Army and has over 25 years’ experience in policy and execution in addressing conflicts in the Middle East, the Balkans and Africa. He has worked as a strategic planning officer at the UN Headquarters in New York, advisor to the African Union mission in Darfur and as the UK government’s first Stabilisation Advisor in Sudan. He has spent the past five years working with the support of Flora and Fauna International at the inter-face between politicised violence and natural resources in the ongoing civil war in South Sudan.

In 2012, Adrian began working with a group of 12 former militia youth, establishing a fairly unique model that combined wildlife service and community security patrols, to monitor and protect the game reserves on the border with the DR Congo. The group became known as the Community Wildlife Ambassadors of Bire Kpatous. The link between the South Sudan Wildlife Services and these community ambassadors that Adrian has helped to form, has enabled the maintenance of an area of stability which is surrounded by fighting. The group have achieved the first photographic evidence of Forest Elephants, Chimpanzees and Bongos, as well as an unusual density of species in a key transition zone between East and West Africa.

Keith Somerville and Stephane Crayne

Keith Somerville

Keith is a lecturer, writer and journalist who previously spent 28 years in a variety of senior editorial roles at the BBC. He currently lectures in journalism studies at Kent University as well as being a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London. He is founder-editor of the ‘Africa News and Analysis’ website. His interest in Africa has led him to write numerous articles and books about the continent, last year publishing the highly-acclaimed Africa’s Long Road Since Independence: The Many Histories of a Continent.

Keith’s passion for the continent’s conservation has enabled him to form an almost unparalleled overview of the many overlapping aspects of the ivory trade. This is clearly demonstrated in his nuanced understanding of ‘blood ivory’, i.e. ivory sold to fund militia insurgency and terror.

Keith has shown a long-time vigilance and commitment to drawing the world’s attention to Africa’s multiple conservation issues linked to the illegal wildlife trade, especially the ivory trade. These efforts have culminated in the publication of a master work on the subject, Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa, which Keith discussed in more detail at the presentation.

Stephane Crayne

Stephane is a truly ‘global citizen’ having been educated in Damascus, Montreal, Casablanca and the UK, as well as serving in the French Army and in a number of volunteering positions across the world. He has made a great contribution to conservation in the Central African Republic where the civil war has killed scores of people and resulted in rampant ivory poaching alongside chronic underdevelopment.

Working in contrast of beautiful, prime rainforest and a real fear of trouble and violence, Stephane was trying to hold the ring in one of the world’s ivory poaching ‘hotspots, balancing the reality of dealing with armed poachers who had been involved with the mass killing of elephants in the world-famous Sangha Sangha National Park.

Following his Central African Republic WWF contract, Stephane took on the challenge of turning around the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in the heart of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The headquarters of the organisation had been attacked many years ago, resulting in the death of several rangers and is still wracked by feuding militias and poaching today – it is there that Stephane travelled from for the Awards presentation.

Julia Gorricho

Colombian Julia Gorricho has worked in environmental protection and biodiversity conservation in her country since 2004. Her in-depth knowledge of biodiversity conservation in settings affected by violent conflict and transnational drug-trafficking has meant that she has become a highly influential individual in conservation circles.

Julia initially became involved with the not-for-profit organisation International Crisis Group, working on a project focusing on the Andean region. After this she undertook a Masters in Environmental Studies at York University (Canada), with her thesis being on ‘socio-environmental conflict management in protected areas: the case of the Galapagos Marine Reserve’. Following her Masters, Julia returned to Colombia to engage in a project with the Bogota-based World Bank Patrimonio Natural Trust Fund. Here she took over the management and implementation of the Conservation Mosaics programme in Colombia’s Atlantic coast.

This programme consisted of a number of conservation projects involving local communities, the Colombian National Parks authority and representatives of government institutions and international organisations. Julia worked with communities affected by paramilitary rule as well as large-scale illegal drugs and arms trafficking and she has been amongst the first group of Colombian environmentalists to address the challenges of biodiversity conservation in regions affected by conflict.

Julia moved on to join a five year Environment Program supported by the US Agency for International Development. She was responsible for a wide range of biodiversity projects and works on the ‘climate-change’ portfolio of the programme. Julia is presently pursuing her doctoral studies on “The Governance of Nature Conservation in the Heart of Violent Conflict: the case of Colombia” at the Institute of Environmental Social Science and Geography, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg (Germany). In 2014, Julia joined WWF Living Amazon Initiative as the Director of the project “Amazon protected areas: Natural Solutions to Climate Change.

Julian Rademeyer

South African Julian Rademeyer, pictured right, is an award-winning investigative journalist who won this Award for his work in raising awareness about wildlife crime and poaching, especially through his acclaimed book, ‘Killing for Profit: Exposing the Illegal Rhino Horn Trade.’

‘Killing for Profit’ was a transformational piece of investigative journalism which shed light on the world of the illegal rhino horn market. With the rhino horn trade being one of conservation’s most pressing issues, Rademeyer examined a number of perspectives, interviewing police, middle-men, farmers, hunters in South Africa, and ‘shooters’ in Mozambique.

The main focus of his work is on South Africa, which is home to 75% of the world’s rhino population. However, Rademeyer also travelled to the medicine markets in Vietnam and unravelled the workings of one of the key international ‘syndicates’ in Laos.

‘Killing for Profit’ is a balanced piece of work which doesn’t apportion blame or take sides. To write ‘Killing for Profit’ Rademeyer gave up his job as Chief Reporter for Media 24, a South African news group, and during the course of research his life was threatened a number of times.

‘Killing for Profit’ was short-listed in 2013 for South Africa’s most prestigious literary prize, the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction, named after the author of ‘Cry, The Beloved Country.’

Sonali Ghosh

Sonali Ghosh has been awarded for her work on the Mannas project. Delivered by the Marjan Centre in partnership with Indian representatives, the project works to protect the biodiversity of the much contested Manas eco-region in the Himalayas, focusing on the conservation of the Bengal tiger.

As rivalry between India and China heightens, the region of Assam north-east India becomes ever more significant, given its proximity to both China and Myanmar and its borders with Bhutan and Bangladesh. Assam has endured thirty years of conflict with fluctuating intensity in its Bodoland region, driven by a series of inter-locking issues such as autonomy, land reform, ecological degradation and an influx of non-Bodos.

The Manas National Park in Assam combines with the Royal Manas National Park over the border in Bhutan to form a key conservation area, demonstrating how biodiversity can play a central role in trans-boundary security issues.

The Manas complex represents some of the last and best remaining habitats of the Bengal tiger, clouded leopard, leopard, Asian elephant, Asiatic water buffalo, gaur, greater one-horned rhinoceros as well as a huge variety of other fauna and flora. The preservation of the Bengal tiger is a catalyst for tackling the human and ecological problems that have contributed to insecurity on local levels.

Sonali Ghosh has worked as a forest officer in Assam, having gained an MSc in both Wildlife Science and Forestry. She is now completing a PhD on the use of technology for mapping tiger habitats in the Indo-Bhutan Manas Tiger Conservation Landscape. In 2012, Sonali Ghosh gave a presentation at the Royal Geographical Society’s Annual Meeting titled: ‘armed conflict and its impact on wildlife habitat: a case study from the Manas Tiger Reserve and World Heritage Site, India’. Her contributions to this all-important area of work have been exceptional.

John Kahekwa

John Kahekwa is the founder of the Pole Pole Foundation, (POPOF) located in Bukavu, in east Democratic Republic of Congo.

POPOF aims to conserve Kahusi-Biega National Park, which was created in 1937 to protect the Graurer’s or the Eastern Lowland gorilla. Two major wars in the area, the First Congo War (Nov. 1996 – May 1997) and the Second Congo War (Aug. 1998 – July 2003) have meant that the park has been put on the list of World Heritage in Danger since 1997, due to the overwhelming threats and danger caused by the political instability; influx of refugees, illegal settlers, poaching, removal and burning of timber, presence of militia groups.

John started as a lead gorilla park tracker. He often came into contact with gorilla poachers and spoke to them about the reasons why they poached. Their reply was ‘Hungry stomach got no ears’ and it soon became evident to him that poaching was a result of these people’s destitution.

Through the profits he received from his small business which sold T-shirts to tourists, John started Pole Pole, which means ‘slowly’ in Kiswahili. The aim is to use small amounts of funding to start projects which grow steadily over time, and which provide sustainable local human security. The approach sees conservation and humanitarian development as intertwined and all projects are designed to benefit both the environment and the people.

POPOF is involved in a variety of projects that helps achieve this. 47 former poachers were recruited and trained as wood carvers. The carvings have been sold in Japan, the USA and the UK, and the profits went back to the carvers. More than 24 Batwa women, also former poachers, were trained as tailors in three different villages surrounding the gorilla habitat. Furthermore, the organisation runs an afforestation project and communities around the park are encouraged to grow trees in their fields, gardens and perimeters of their lands.

At the heart of POPOF’s work is the aim to provide sustainable development that will change the social and ecological landscape in the area over time. John contributions throughout this process have been, and continue to be, outstanding.