Natural Heritage
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Across Africa, dedicated conservationists are making big strides in making sure our continent’s natural heritage is protected. Meet the Unsung Heroes leading the charge for conservation in Africa:


Cape Town, South Africa (23 April 2024) — Our continent, with its diverse ecosystems and iconic wildlife, is home to passionate and dedicated conservationists who are making significant strides in protecting Africa’s natural heritage. From tackling deforestation to finding innovative human-wildlife conflict solutions to addressing plastic waste and promoting sustainable farming practices, these are the Unsung Heroes working on the front lines of conservation who are also reshaping how we think about it.

These extraordinary individuals have emerged as beacons of hope in the fight against threats like poaching and habitat destruction, and pioneers of approaches that originate in Africa, for Africa. Their stories are also varied, showing that everyone has a role to play in protecting Africa’s ecosystems, whether community leaders, academics, government employees, NGO stakeholders, artists, farmers, veterinarians, rangers, or ordinary citizens.

People and Wildlife Must Thrive Together

Across the continent, communities and wildlife live alongside each other, often leading to struggles for space and resources, despite our natural heritage being something we should all share. In many countries high unemployment and poverty levels put pressure on natural systems, with few viable alternatives for those who poach for bushmeat or income through the illegal wildlife trade. But the idea that each of these individuals is popularising through their work is one of compatibility and interdependence: the notion that people and wildlife can only survive and thrive together.

Each of the conservation heroes stories is a testament to the generosity, ingenuity, and resilience of the human spirit and a reminder of how intimately we are connected to the natural world on which we rely. With that being said, meet the heroes of conservation in Africa and keep a slice of their stories on hand for inspiration as brought to life by Wild Africa Fund.

Safeguarding the Emerald Forest Reserve in Nigeria

Professor Akin Abayomi recognises the global implications of climate change and biodiversity loss. He is actively involved in protecting the Emerald Forest Reserve, a crucial biodiversity hotspot in Nigeria, by involving local communities in sustainable conservation practices—a community effort for natural heritage.

Custodian of Raponda Walker Arboretum in Gabon

Andrea Minkwe passionately manages the Raponda Walker Arboretum, defending it against illegal activities such as felling and unlawful encroachment by farming, mining, and commercial logging concerns, as well as promoting responsible tourism. Her commitment showcases the importance of individual stewardship in preserving Gabon’s natural beauty. The Gabonese forests also form part of the Congo Basin and are the world’s second-largest rainforests after the Amazon.

Coastal Conservation in Garden Route National Park

Bongani Mdaka, a ranger and environmental advocate, addresses poaching challenges in Africa’s oldest Marine Protected Area, Garden Route National Park. His journey unfolds as he explores the potential of a multi-stakeholder approach to protect marine treasures. Passionate about taking his work further and into environmental law, and with the support of SANParks, he’s busy with a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Management.

Rescuing and Rehabilitating Endangered Wildlife in Nigeria

Chinedu Mogbo, founder of Greenfingers Wildlife Conservation Initiative, has dedicated over a decade to rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing endangered wildlife in Nigeria. His work not only saves individual animals but also educates young people about the importance of wildlife conservation. Through Greenfingers, Chinedu has been able to rescue and rehabilitate over 500 animals, including primates, birds, and reptiles. He’s recently upgraded the facilities to include a nature school and upcycling classroom.

Connecting People to Nature Through Art in Gabon

As an artist, illustrator, and graphic designer in Gabon, Corailking uses his creative talents to convey a powerful message about the urgency of environmental conservation. His work aims to connect people, especially the youth, with nature and emphasises the need to protect our planet.

Advocate for Environmental Conservation in Nigeria

The founder of LUFASI Nature Park, Desmond Olumuyiwa Majekodunmi is a dedicated advocate for environmental conservation. For over 50 years, Desmond has championed the cause, using his voice on Nigeria Info 99.3 FM’s “Green Hour” and his talents as an author, singer, and scriptwriter. His multifaceted approach, including agricultural projects and media engagement, highlights the importance of sustained efforts over decades.

Sustainable Farming for Forest Preservation in Zimbabwe

Douglas Mafukidze, a tobacco farmer in Zimbabwe, advocates for alternative approaches to protect indigenous forests. His collaboration with the Forestry Commission promotes the use of fast-growing trees for tobacco curing and to preserve natural habitats.

Turning Plastic Waste into Opportunities in Nigeria

Doyinsola Ogunye is addressing Nigeria’s plastic waste crisis through initiatives like Kids Clean Club and Kids Beach Garden. Her recycling scheme for women and youth empowerment not only contributes to a cleaner environment but also provides income-generating opportunities for women and young people. It was recently nominated for a UNDP accelerator programme and was a finalist in the 2023 Afriplastic Challenge sponsored by the Canadian government. A lawyer turned conservationist, she’s also working to protect critically endangered leatherback and olive ridley sea turtles. Her team both responds to turtles in distress and promotes turtle-friendly practices in local fishing communities.

Lifelong Mission to Save African Manatees

Dr. Bolaji Dunsin is dedicated to saving the African manatee from extinction. Through innovative approaches, like modifying fishing gear and identifying manatee vocalisations, he has saved many of these gentle marine mammals and improved the livelihoods of local communities in Lekki Lagoon, Nigeria. Today, the community sustainably produces over 1.5 tonnes of fish annually and has a thriving manatee population.

Guardian of Elephants in Omo Forest

Emmanuel Olabode is leading on-the-ground efforts to save forest elephants in Omo Forest, Nigeria, one of the last areas of pristine rainforest left in Nigeria. Combating deforestation and human-wildlife conflict daily, Emmanuel and his team are fighting for the survival of our forests, elephants, and cultural heritage: they are all interdependent.

Community-Based Conservation for Cross River Gorillas

The Gorilla Guardians form part of the Mbe Mountains project, supported by WCS with funds and technical support. This community-based initiative champions the conservation of the endangered Cross River gorilla, by addressing habitat loss and poaching, offering hope for the survival of this most threatened of all African ape species, with less than 300 individuals remaining.

Veterinarian and Conservationist in Nigeria

Dr Mark Ofua runs St. Marks Animal Hospital, rescuing and caring for endangered species impacted by the illegal bushmeat trade. Over the years, he’s saved and cared for innumerable species, releasing them back into the wild where they belong, including pangolins, civets, and crocodiles. His dedication to changing social attitudes towards animals contributes to the broader mission of wildlife conservation. Dr Mark also advocates for wildlife as a spokesperson for Wild Africa Fund and presents “Dr Mark’s Animal Show”, an edutainment series for kids aged  7- 14  available on  several TV channels across Africa.

Popularising Human-Wildlife Coexistence in Zimbabwe

Ndelende Ncube, the director of Tikobane Trust, leads efforts to address human-wildlife conflict around Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Rural areas often represent a borderless intersection of humans and wildlife, which has sadly led to losses on both sides, but can be reimagined through varied solutions and approaches. Tikobane Trust is committed to ensuring the peaceful co-existence between humans and wild animals through conservation clubs, conservation committees, and training. In 2023, Tikobane engaged and trained 423 local people, 17 traditional leaders, and 68 stakeholders. The organisation’s innovative chilli elephant repellant has proven effective in protecting crops and promoting communities that come together as one with their environment.

Penguin Conservation at Two Oceans Aquarium, South Africa

Shanet Rutgers, the head penguin keeper at Two Oceans Aquarium, passionately works to conserve African Penguins. Her insights into their behaviour and the threats they face highlight the urgent need to protect marine life and habitats. In 2024 she is busy with research on Rockhopper penguin vocalisations, a first for Two Oceans Aquarium and South Africa and a big move for our aquatic natural heritage.

Travel Mufasa: Connecting Youth with Zimbabwe’s Natural Heritage

Joseph Makowa, known as @thetravelmufasa, embarked on a 1,500km journey on foot through Zimbabwe, aiming to connect with the country’s wildlife and vibrant communities. His heart-warming story is sure to inspire a deeper appreciation for natural heritage and the need to protect it and pass this on to younger generations, as Joseph has now committed to.

Yankari Rangers: Guardians of Yankari Game Reserve in Nigeria

Rangers Jonah and Yusef, stationed at Yankari Game Reserve, exemplify dedication to protecting wildlife and local communities. Their efforts go beyond law enforcement, as they have transformed the rangers and become a united force, engaging with communities to raise awareness about the consequences of poaching and deforestation.

Rachel Ikemeh: Protecting Nigeria’s Primates

Rachel Ikemeh is an award-winning conservationist whose efforts have brought the rare Niger Delta red colobus monkey back from the brink of extinction. As the Director of SW/Niger Delta Forest Project, she’s spearheading grassroots conservation, helping to create protected areas, and managing them to restore vital ecosystems in the face of high-security risks. Going from strength to strength, her team has doubled in recent years and the Niger Delta red colobus monkey population now stands at around 300 individuals  in the area they oversee. With this success, her focus is now shifting into building local institutional capacity to continue the work, and increasing public awareness, with the goal of creating a community education and communication hub in Lagos. She’s also a Co-Vice Chair for the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group African Section, a Member of the International Primatological Society (IPS) education committee, and a co-founder of the African Primatological Society. Her position in these networks is propelling African conservation leadership forward.

Twizerimana Anne-Marie: Changing the Face of Conservation

Twizerimana Anne-Marie, a dedicated ranger at Nyungwe Forest National Park in southwest Rwanda, embodies resilience and redefines the face of rangers. Her remarkable journey challenges gender norms and reshapes the perception of conservationists in the region. Her story serves as a beacon of hope, inspiring numerous women to pursue their passion for protecting our natural heritage through environmental and wildlife conservation.

Mitigating Human-Wildlife Conflict

Fiston Ishimwe, serving as the Community Liaison Manager at Akagera National Park, highlights the formidable challenges encountered by local communities striving to coexist with wildlife. Addressing these hurdles requires a comprehensive approach that extends beyond mere surface solutions. Alongside his team, Fiston endeavours to deeply understand the socio-economic dynamics of the local population, integrating their needs into a holistic strategy. Their ultimate aim is to foster a peaceful and enduring coexistence between humans and wildlife, ensuring a sustainable future for all.

These conservationists exemplify the dedication and creativity required to address diverse environmental challenges across Africa. Their efforts go beyond protecting wildlife; they inspire change and foster harmony between humans and nature. Their stories inspire hope and emphasise the collective responsibility we share in safeguarding the continent’s precious natural heritage. To find out more about these unsung heroes, you can head to Showmax or access Wild Africa Fund’s video library.

Sources: Media Release
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About the Author

Ashleigh Nefdt is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Ashleigh's favourite stories have always seen the hidden hero (without the cape) come to the rescue. As a journalist, her labour of love is finding those everyday heroes and spotlighting their spark - especially those empowering women, social upliftment movers, sustainability shakers and creatives with hearts of gold. When she's not working on a story, she's dedicated to her canvas or appreciating Mother Nature.

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