The 2023 African Conservation Awards, hosted by the Game Rangers’ Association of Africa (GRAA) and sponsored by CNEI, took place on Saturday, September 16th, at the Southern African Wildlife College in Greater Kruger, South Africa.
This prestigious event honoured outstanding conservationists and showcased their exceptional contributions to protecting Africa’s natural heritage.
Reflecting on the journey that led to this gathering, Dr. Larry Hansen, the visionary Founder of the African Conservation Awards said “13 years ago on a visit to The Kruger National Park there were three rhinos poached on the day I arrived. This shocking day led me to start the Rhino Conservation Awards 12 years ago together with Ms. Yu to honour and celebrate the brave conservation heroes that protect and do research on our wildlife.”
Every organisation and individual nominated for these awards has demonstrated exceptional determination to overcome formidable challenges. Often faced with daunting odds, they have showcased an unwavering commitment to their conservation missions. The African Conservation Awards serves as the vital stage where their exceptional efforts are rightfully acknowledged and celebrated.
“There are very few people who are willing to sacrifice to save wildlife,” adds Dr Hansen. “The expanded Awards have this year attracted nominations from 11 countries and incredible candidates. I wish to congratulate the winners and all of those nominated, they are TRUE HEROES and among the last protectors of the planet!”
The Winners for the 2023 African Conservation Awards are:
Best Field Ranger
Winner: Nkateko Letti Mzimba, Sergeant of Black Mambas Unit, Olifants West Nature Reserve, South Africa
Nkateko Letti Mzimba is a shining example of dedication and leadership in conservation. Her journey, beginning in 2014, reflects unwavering commitment and leadership that extends beyond routine patrols. Nkateko serves as a vigilant guardian of rhinos and other endangered species, diligently removing snares to protect wildlife. She also extends her caring hand to local communities, providing essential food and educational resources, and passionately educating the community’s children about the importance of protecting nature.
1st Runner Up: Givemore Bako, Senior Ranger and Head Rhino Monitor, Savé Valley Conservancy, Zimbabwe
2nd Runner Up: Reginah Smith, Corporal of the Rhino Protection Unit, Pilanesberg Game Reserve, South Africa
Best Game Ranger
Winner: Amos Gwema, Principle Investigation and Security Officer, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, Zimbabwe
Amos Gwema is a dedicated wildlife protector in the Matebeleland region. His jurisdiction includes Hwange National Park, Zambezi National Park and Matopos National Park, which is renowned for its high rhino population. Amos’s efforts have made a significant impact, notably reducing elephant and rhino poaching rates while achieving an impressive 95% conviction rate in Hwange and Bulawayo Magistrate courts. He also plays a crucial role in training rangers in wildlife law enforcement and intelligence techniques. Beyond his official duties, Amos engages in community projects, such as school programs and initiatives to encourage the safe surrender of wild animals, fostering a harmonious relationship between local communities and the natural world.
1st Runner Up: Petronella Chigumbura, Deputy Ranger Supervisor, Akashinga, Zimbabwe
2nd Runner Up: Orlat Ndlovu, Head of Ranger Services, Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, South Africa
Best Conservation Team
Winner: Wildlife Action Group, Thuma Forest Reserve and the Dedza Salima Escarpment Forest Reserve, Malawi
Wildlife Action Group (WAG), a Malawian non-profit conservation NGO, was created in 1996 in response to severe illegal commercial deforestation and poaching of wildlife in Thuma Forest. WAG’s tireless efforts have restored ecological balance, ensuring the well-being of wildlife and the people of Malawi. They’ve played a vital role in reviving wildlife populations, preventing elephant poaching for five years, restoring 7,000+ hectares of degraded forest, reducing human-wildlife conflicts, and educating local schools about conservation.
1st Runner Up: Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi
2nd Runner Up: Zinave National Park, Mozambique
Best Conservation Supporter
Winner: Rhino Man, South Africa
Rhino Man, with their impactful 8-year film production, sheds light on the courageous South African rangers who risk everything to protect rhinos from extinction. This documentary honours these unsung heroes, showcasing their relentless dedication and the rigorous selection process they undergo. The film pays tribute to their late friend and training partner, Martin Mthembu, while also remembering the late and great Anton Mzimba, who dedicated his life to safeguarding the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. Rhino Man’s work is a testament to the invaluable role of rangers in protecting our precious natural world.
1st Runner Up: Joseph Serugo Ssalongo, Honorary Wildlife Officer, Uganda
2nd Runner Up: African Pangolin Working Group, South Africa
In a heartfelt video message, His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco, the esteemed Patron of the African Conservation Awards, paid tribute to the dedicated conservation heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice. He honoured the memory of the 68 rangers who tragically lost their lives while safeguarding our natural heritage in the past 12 months. Additionally, Prince Albert extended his heartfelt tribute to the remarkable “633 African rangers killed in the fight for the preservation of our wilderness since 2011.” His words resonated with deep respect for the thousands of individuals who daily face enormous risks, even putting their lives on the line, to protect the precious biodiversity, nature, and our planet, of which they are the unwavering and loyal stewards.
“Congratulations to all winners, runner ups and nominees of the 2023 African Conservation Awards! Your unwavering commitment to the conservation of our wildlife is both commendable and deeply inspiring. I wish to emphasize the pivotal role you each play in safeguarding our continent’s invaluable natural resources. Your dedication to conservation is instrumental in shaping a brighter and more sustainable future for Africa. It is an honour and privilege for the Game Rangers’ Association of Africa to recognise your remarkable achievements. Well done!” – Andrew Campbell, CEO, Game Rangers Association of Africa
The 2023 African Conservation Awards celebrated these exceptional individuals and organisations for their unwavering commitment to preserving Africa’s natural heritage. They inspire us all to work toward a sustainable and harmonious future for our continent and its incredible wildlife.
In addition to the awards ceremony, the morning of the event witnessed the Game Rangers Association of Africa hosting the South Africa Hub Regional Challenge of the Wildlife Ranger Challenge. This unique sporting event took place at the South African Wildlife College, where rangers and their supporters united to run a challenging 21 kilometers in solidarity with wildlife rangers across Africa.
The primary objective of this initiative is to raise crucial funds in support of the courageous men and women on the front lines of Africa’s protected areas. Beyond fundraising, the event also serves as a powerful platform to increase awareness of the ever-expanding and diverse roles that wildlife rangers undertake. These dedicated individuals are often operating with increasingly stretched resources, making their tireless efforts even more remarkable.
The African Conservation awards are hosted annually by the Game Rangers’ Association of Africa (GRAA) and are made possible with the generous support of sponsors Chinese New Enterprise Investment (CNEI) and are endorsed by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment. His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco, who is committed to the protection of endangered species through the support of his Foundation, is the Patron of the African Conservation Awards.