“Green Oscar” awarded for conservation of Borneo’s iconic great apes

London, UK: 8 May 2014 –
HRH The Princess Royal will today present a Whitley Award, a prestigious international nature conservation prize, to Melvin Gumal at a special ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society in honour of his work to conserve orang-utans in Sarawak.

Melvin Gumal is one of eight exceptional individuals to have been awarded a share of prize funding worth £280,000 by the Whitley Fund for Nature, winning the Whitley Award for Conservation in Ape Habitats, donated by the Arcus Foundation. Dr Melvin Gumal, aged 49, has been Director of the Malaysia Programme at the Wildlife Conservation Society since 2003. Prior to that he worked with the Sarawak Forest Department for 15 years, where he initiated programmes to engage local communities with park management through eco-tourism, guiding, and developing alternative livelihood sources.

The Bornean orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus) is the last iconic large mammal left in Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo, as other large mammals including the Sumatran rhino and the Banteng, a species of wild cattle, are considered extinct, having not been scientifically recorded for more than 30 years. Today orang-utan populations are only found in two locations in Sarawak and Melvin plans to lead a team of researchers and educators to conduct a definitive orang-utans survey and undertake conservation education programmes with the local Iban communities. Working with the government to develop conservation policies and alongside other agencies such as nature travel groups will increase the likelihood that all stakeholders share a common vision to secure the future of orang-utans and their habitats.

Sir David Attenborough, a Trustee of the Whitley Fund for Nature, said: “Whitley Award winners are successful because they don’t just watch and measure – they act! They are the conservation experts – not us – they know what to do and, more importantly, how to get it done.”

Other winners in the 2014 Whitley Awards are:
  • Shivani Bhalla - Warrior Watch: Creating coexistence between people and lions in northern Kenya, Whitley Award donated by The Garden House School Parents’ Association 
  • Tess Gatan-Balbas - Taking local action to save the world’s rarest crocodile in the Philippines, Whitley Award donated by WWF-UK 
  • Monica Gonzalez - Community conservation of the long-wattled umbrellabird and its disappearing habitat in Ecuador, Whitley Award donated by Sarah Chenevix-Trench 
  • Paula Kahumbu - Hands off our elephants: Delivering African leadership to address Kenya’s poaching crisis, Whitley Award donated by The LJC Fund in memory of Anthea and Lindsey Turner 
  • Fitry Pakiding - Uniting coastal communities to secure the last stronghold of Pacific leatherback turtles in the Bird’s Head Seascape, West Papua, Indonesia, Whitley Award donated by The Shears Foundation 
  • Stoycho Stoychev - The Imperial Eagle as a flagship for conserving the wild grasslands of south-eastern Bulgaria, Whitley Award donated by Fondation Segré
  • Luis Torres - Building a national movement to protect Cuba’s amazing plant life, Whitley Award donated by The William Brake Charitable Trust in memory of William Brake

HRH The Princess Royal also presented a special prize donated by The Friends and The Scottish Friends of The Whitley fund for Nature, the Whitley Gold Award worth £50,000, to Jean Wiener, a past Award winner who has achieved particularly outstanding results in conserving Haiti’s coastal ecosystems and securing its first ever Marine Protected Areas. Joining the Judging Panel to assist in selection, the Gold winner also acts as mentor to Whitley Award winners receiving their Awards in the same year.

Edward Whitley, Founder of The Whitley Fund for Nature, says: “We recognise that wildlife and habitat conservation in developing countries cannot be successful without the involvement of people at the grassroots level. Every year, I am delighted to meet the winners of the Whitley Awards. Although they each face remarkable and different challenges in their home countries, these individuals are passionate about the natural world and remain determined to involve local communities in making a long-term difference. The Whitley Awards honour these conservation leaders for their outstanding achievements and celebrate their efforts to secure a better future for both people and wildlife alike.”

Visit www.whitleyaward.org to find out more.

Media contacts:
For further information or to arrange interviews contact Firebird PR: Jane Bevan or Susannah Penn at Firebird PR on +00 44 01235 835297 / +00 44 07977 459547 or via email to sp@firebirdpr.co.uk

Press materials available:
  • Copyright-cleared photographs of Melvin Gumal, his project and the awards ceremony will be available to download online via Picasa from 22.00 BST on Thursday 8 May: https://picasaweb.google.com/105548002819098368093
  • Video footage of the awards ceremony and an individual film featuring Melvin Gumal will be available upon arrangement with Firebird PR: contact Jane Bevan or Susannah Penn at Firebird PR on +00 44 01235 835297 / +00 44 07977 459547 or via email to sp@firebirdpr.co.uk

Notes to Editors:
  • The Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is a UK registered charity that champions outstanding grassroots leaders in nature conservation across the developing world. 
  • The Whitley Awards are prestigious international prizes presented to individuals in recognition of their achievements in nature conservation. Each Award Winner receives a prize worth £35,000 to be spent over one year. The charity’s patron, HRH The Princess Royal, presents the Awards each year at a special ceremony in London.
  • The Whitley Awards have been presented annually since 1994. Since then, the Whitley Fund for Nature has given over £10 million to conservation and recognised more than 160 conservation leaders in over 70 countries. 
  • WFN operates a rigorous application process involving expert panel representation from international NGOs including WWF-UK and Fauna and Flora International. This year, WFN received nearly 200 applications which passed through four stages of assessment, reviewed at every step by the expert screeners and panellists who kindly offer their expertise voluntarily.
  • The Whitley Awards are open to individuals working on wildlife conservation issues in developing countries. Further eligibility criteria are available from Firebird PR.
  • During their trip to London to accept their award, winners have the opportunity to meet the judges, WFN trustees, including Sir David Attenborough and HRH The Princess Royal. In addition they are able to network with the other finalists, attend receptions with leading conservation organisations and academics, meet Whitley Fund for Nature donors and participate in professional development training. Meeting the media is also a significant event since publicity both in the UK and their home countries helps raise the profile of their work.
  • Whitley Award winners join an international network of Whitley Alumni eligible to apply for Continuation Funding. These follow-on grants are awarded competitively to winners seeking to scale up their effective conservation results on the ground. Each grant is worth up to £70,000 for projects of between one to two years in length.
  • The Whitley Gold Award recognises an outstanding past recipient of a Whitley Award who has gone on to make a significant contribution to conservation. Joining the Judging Panel to assist in selection, the Gold winner also acts as mentor to Whitley Award winners receiving their Awards in the same year. 
  • WFN is generously supported by: Arcus Foundation; The William Brake Charitable Trust; Byford Trust; The Evolution Education Trust; Garden House School Parents’ Association; HSBC Holdings Plc; The LJC Fund; Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin; The Rufford Foundation; Sarah Chenevix-Trench; The Schroder Foundation; Fondation Segré; The Shears Foundation; The Whitley Animal Protection Trust; WWF-UK; The Friends and The Scottish Friends of the Whitley Fund for Nature; and many individual donors.