Our History

A Rich Tradition of Conservation

In 1961, African Wildlife Leadership Foundation, Inc., later African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), was established to focus on Africa’s unique conservation needs. This chronology highlights important steps in AWF’s growth and success for the past 50 years.

  • AWF partners with cybersecurity and intelligence expert Irdeto to identify and investigate the online sale of illegal wildlife parts, as well as to provide forensic data for local law enforcement officials to track down criminals.
  • In October, at the Illegal Wildlife Trade conference, AWF pledged a US $25 million investment over the next four years to support African governments and local communities working to protect threatened species and stop wildlife crime.
  • Following a regional law enforcement conference in 2016, AWF and Space for Giants convene the inaugural East African Wildlife Prosecutors Coalition Workshop in Rwanda, promoting interagency cooperation and information-sharing across borders.
  • AWF and Nickelodeon International launch the Together for Good Wildlife Special — an educational mini-series inspiring children across the world to take a stand for African conservation and support the heroes protecting the continent’s at-risk wildlife.
  • AWF begins a collaborative expansion into Europe hosting, for the first time, members of the United Kingdom government, media, private sector, and individual donors at the Royal Geographical Society.
  • In a historic partnership, AWF and the Beijing Zoo raise the Chinese public’s awareness on threatened African wildlife through a series of exhibitions and conservation forums at the zoological institution.
  • AWF donates 27.8 hectares of land to the Government of Rwanda, expand Volcanoes National Park and protecting critical mountain gorilla habitat as populations of the great ape rise steadily.
  • AWF, the U.N. Development Programme Uganda, conservation partners, and the Government of Uganda build public-private partnerships at the Giants Club Conservation & Tourism Investment Forum.
  • AWF Global Ambassador and Board Member Veronica Varekova joins key personalities invited by the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic for the rhino horn burning ceremony in September. In the previous month, she represented AWF at Kwita Izina, Rwanda’s annual naming ceremony for baby mountain gorillas.
  • In August, AWF and a coalition of leading wildlife conservation groups support New York’s ivory burn in Central Park, destroying more than one ton of ivory confiscated by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.
  • AWF launches a partnership with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), ensuring Africa’s economic goals support natural ecosystems under AU Agenda 2063. 
  • To develop environmentally friendly and inclusive agricultural systems, AWF and the Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) resolve to build a relationship on shared values.
  • AWF and the African Union Commission agree to prioritize the continent’s wildlife and wild land as assets for sustainable development on signing a historic partnership agreement in December.
  • At the Global African Investment Summit in September, AWF and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) commit to advance a conservation-centered development agenda.
  • For the 11th consecutive year, AWF receives a coveted 4-star rating from Charity Navigator.
  • With support from the Aspen Institute, AWF convenes Chinese and African civil society leaders and celebrities in the lead-up to the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation in December.
  • AWF launches a multi-faceted wildlife law enforcement program across Sub-Saharan Africa, building regional capacity and interagency cooperation to deter wildlife crime.
  • AWF becomes a member of the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance, a new coalition of corporate, foundation, and non-profit leaders geared to combat wildlife trafficking in the United States and abroad with federal support.
  • Conservation scientists and great ape experts from AWF lead week-long ecological assessment mission through Dja Faunal Reserve as part of African Apes Initiative’s bid to strengthen anti-poaching strategy.
  • Kenya burns 15 tons of confiscated ivory at the Nairobi National Park to commemorate World Wildlife Day on March 3.
  • AWF launches Canines for Conservation, an intensive wildlife detection training program to develop national wildlife authority rangers across the continent, deploying robust sniffer dog-and-handler teams to high-risk trafficking exit ports.
  • AWF established a US $10 million Urgent Response Fund to support targeted anti-poaching projects that are protecting priority populations of elephants, rhinos and other threatened wildlife.
  • In September, AWF officially opened Ilima Primary School in Equatorial Province, Democratic Republic of Congo, and student enrollment increased by 40 percent.
  • The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization declared the Okavango Delta as its 1000th World Heritage Site in June. AWF’s Dr. Karen Ross was instrumental in achieving the designation for this critical ecosystem.
  • In September, AWF makes three Clinton Global Initiative Commitments to Action, pledging US$80 million, with fellow conservation partners, for the Partnership to Save Africa’s Elephants, declaring a US$5 million investment in sustainable African enterprises and committing to build 15 conservation primary schools across the continent.
  • AWF’s CEO was appointed to the United States Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking to provide advice and support to the Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking.
  • AWF launches the “Say No Campaign,” a celebrity-driven public awareness campaign in Asia, with partners WildAid and Save the Elephants, to stop the trafficking of Africa’s rhinos and elephants.
  • The Bwindi mountain gorilla census shows increased population of 400 mountain gorillas. The total world mountain gorilla population now stands at a minimum of 880.
  • The U.S. State Department adds wildlife trafficking to its foreign policy agenda. AWF starts working with the U.S. State Department on wildlife crime issues.
  • AWF and Tricorona partner to reforest Mau Forest Complex.
  • AWF launches Conservation Management Training Program in April and welcomes the first class of trainees in August. 
  • AWF celebrates 50 Years of Success in conserving Africa’s wildlife and wild lands.
  • AWF partners with Disneynature through the Save the Savanna campaign, and secures 50,000 acres of the Amboseli Wildlife Corridor in the Kilimanjaro Heartland.
  • AWF-supported Ngoma Lodge opens in northern Botswana, providing jobs and continuous income for local communities.
  • AWF receives 4-star rating from Charity Navigator for 10th consecutive year.


  • A new Conservation Center in Nairobi celebrates AWF's 50th year, ushering in an era of sustainable conservation planning for the continent.
  • AWF launches its first Heartland in West Africa, Regional Parc W.
  • In the Kazungula Heartland, AWF establishes the Sekute Conservation Area in partnership with the Sekute Chiefdom.
  • AWF helps to lead a historic transboundary wildlife census in the Kilimanjaro Heartland.
  • Virunga Massif census results indicate a mountain gorilla population increase of 26% between 2003 and 2010.
  • AWF launches “carbon offset” programs in the Kolo Hills Forest Reserve in Tanzania and on the Mbirikani Group Ranch in Kenya.
  • AWF concludes its first-ever comprehensive capital campaign—the Campaign to Save Africa’s Heartlands—on June 30, effectively doubling its investment in Africa in five years.
  • The Lomako Conservation Science Center opens in the remote forests of DRC, home of the rare bonobo.
  • AWF President Dr. Helen Gichohi is featured in "Milking the Rhino," the first major documentary to explore wildlife conservation from the perspective of people who have lived alongside wildlife all their lives.
  • AWF launches the Leasing Land for Conservation Program in the Kilimanjaro Heartland.
  • AWF rolls out the Sustainable Economic Resources for Africa (SERA) initiative, an agenda of policy, legislative, and institutional recommendations based on the principles and lessons of the African Heartlands Program.
  • The Livestock for Livelihoods Program is launched in partnership with USAID in two Heartlands—Kilimanjaro and Samburu.
  • The Chiawa Cultural Village, an AWF-supported community enterprise that integrates historical attractions with conservation initiatives, opens on the banks of the Lower Zambezi in Zambia.
  • The Leopard Conservation Science Project begins in Kruger, South Africa.
  • AWF's Conservation Enterprise team opens three new eco-lodges that benefit local communities: Satao Elerai Camp in Kenya, Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge in Uganda, and Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge in Rwanda.
  • The Easements for Education Program is launched in the Samburu Heartland.
  • AWF introduces its first blogs, giving people around the world a chance to follow the stories of conservation directly from the field.


  • Dr. Helen Gichohi is appointed President of AWF. She is AWF's first African president.
  • The Sanctuary at Ol Lentille opens for business in Laikipia, Kenya. This world-class eco-lodge is a one-of-a-kind conservation enterprise.
  • AWF forms a partnership with The Nature Conservancy that will have a vast impact on the conservation of Africa's savanna and fresh-water ecosystems.
  • AWF helps establish a new protected area in DRC called the Faunal Reserve of Lomako-Yokokala. This is a major win for endangered bonobos and a large benefit to local communities.
  • AWF completes construction of new park headquarters in the Samburu National Reserve. The new building—along with new staff housing—will improve overall operations of the reserve and improve effective conservation management.
  • The Mgahinga Gorilla National Park Visitor Center is officially opened, welcoming tourists who come to Southern Uganda to trek the endangered mountain gorillas.
  • Artist John Banovich partners with AWF to create the Lion PRIDE Initiative. The program raises public awareness about the plight of Africa's lions and generates new fundraising opportunities for their protection.
  • AWF partners with the Mozambican government to restore the magnificent Banhine National Park. Biological surveys and the construction of an international research center begin.
  • AWF helps design and implement the Kenya Land Conservation Trust (KLCT), a new national body that will allow land to be privately held for conservation, thus supplementing the traditional government parks and reserves.
  • African wild dog research is in full swing in the Samburu Heartland. AWF trains and equips community scouts to monitor wild dogs, one of Africa's most endangered predators, with the goal of increasing wild dog numbers and minimizing conflict with people.
  • AWF partners with Starbucks Coffee Company, launching a three-year project that is aimed at promoting coffee quality, environmental sustainability, and natural resource conservation in East Africa.
  • The Zambezi Heartland team conducts a massive biological survey on the Zambezi River. The team samples fish species, measures water quality, and examines ways to improve fisheries management.
  • Thanks to a partnership between AWF, USAID, and Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), a new Visitor Center at Lake Manyara National Park is opened. The center educates visitors about the park's importance and the effort to conserve the natural resources of the area.
  • For the first time, AWF has accurate data on elephants in the Zambezi Heartland. A large mammal survey shows that the elephant population has increased by 8% from an estimated 21,114 in 2001 to 22,826 elephants.
  • The highly endangered mountain gorilla population in the Virunga Volcanoes grows by 56 since 1989. The IGCP has played a key part in the increase. The total population is 700 individuals.
  • AWF launches the new Congo Heartland in DRC. This brightens the future of many species in DRC, like the endangered bonobo.
  • The Large Carnivore Research Project begins, focusing on lions and spotted hyena in the Chobe National Park in Northeastern Botswana and the Eastern Caprivi Strip of Namibia.
  • The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park is launched with AWF's help, doubling the protected area (35,000 square kilometers or 13,500 square miles) for wildlife and neighboring communities.
  • Africa's rhinoceros population continues to increase from 13,109 rhinos in 1999 to an estimated 14,770 rhinos, in just two years.
  • Poachers kill two mountain gorillas in the Parc National des Volcans of Rwanda for their babies. This is the first case in that region in 17 years.
  • The enormous Limpopo Heartland is established and spans Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe and is larger than the entire country of Switzerland.


  • Dr. Patrick J. Bergin is appointed to the position of President and Chief Executive Officer of AWF.
  • The Four Corners Heartland (now called Kazungula Heartland) becomes AWF's sixth and largest conservation landscape. It extends across the borders of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
  • Tanzania's President, Benjamin Mkapa, declares that the government-owned Manyara Ranch will be protected as a major wildlife corridor and gives the ranch to the conservation trust facilitated by AWF.
  • Eugène Rutagarama, Director of the International Gorilla Conservation Program, is awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for his heroic and dedicated work protecting the mountain gorillas during war and conflict.
  • AWF-colleagues record three sightings of elephants in the Central Kajido District of the Kilimanjaro Heartland for the first time in 30 years.
  • AWF's Conservation Business Ventures and USAID inaugurate the Koija Starbeds eco-lodge in the Laikipia district of Kenya.
  • The Zambezi Heartland, encompassing parts of Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique, becomes AWF's fifth Heartland.
  • AWF works with The Nature Conservancy to refine conservation targets and establish a baseline ecological status for each AWF Heartland.
  • AWF helps form the new Tanzania Land Conservation Trust (TLCT) to secure important wildlife dispersal area. This is the first institution of its kind in Tanzania and is expected to become a regional model.
  • By late 1999, AWF is operating in four Africa Heartlands: Kilimanjaro, Maasai Steppe, Samburu, and Virunga.
  • AWF's Amboseli Outreach Program is the first conservation group to work specifically with young Maasai warriors and concentrates on easing tensions between livestock owners and wildlife arising from competition for food and water.
  • Partnership Options for Resource-Use Innovation (PORI), a project supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and designed to help develop community-based wildlife enterprises in Northern Tanzania, becomes the first African Heartland program. Through PORI, AWF works with landowners, park officials, and other stakeholders to ensure that wildlife and human communities alike thrive.
  • AWF marks a new era in African conservation with its African Heartland Program, which will identify and help conserve large landscapes of exceptional natural value.
  • AWF opens its second Conservation Service Center in Nairobi.
  • Responding to efforts by AWF and the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, Maasai leaders agree to participate in a plan that compensates owners for livestock killed by elephants outside the parks.
  • AWF's Tarangire Elephant Project, conducted by Charles and Lara Foley, assesses the Tarangire elephant population and its rebound since widespread poaching was halted in the 1980s.
  • AWF's "Living with Lions" project examines the coexistence of landowners and animal predators on Kenya's Laikipia Plateau.
  • Despite the civil conflict in Rwanda and although many aid workers leave the region, IGCP personnel remain to protect Virunga mountain gorillas; no gorillas are killed in 1996, and at least nine babies are born in Rwanda alone.
  • AWF establishes its first Conservation Service Center in Arusha, Tanzania, and hires a team of African professionals to begin helping communities that live near wildlife to benefit from their natural resources.
  • The Charlotte Conservation Fellowship Program, honoring long-time AWF supporter Charlotte Kidder Ramsay, is established to provide scholarships for African conservation students to pursue masters and doctoral degrees.
  • AWF begins working with the National Museum of Kenya to conserve game birds on communal lands.
  • AWF extends its rhino conservation work beyond East Africa to Waterberg National Park, Namibia.
  • AWF forms the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP) with Flora & Fauna International and World Wide Fund for Nature, a regional strategy to protect mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.


  • AWF's "Only Elephants Should Wear Ivory" campaign runs on television and in print. AWF staff travel throughout Africa to promote a ban on ivory sales.
  • Commercial imports of elephant products are banned in the United States.
  • The African elephant is elevated to the "most endangered" category by the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
  • AWF launches its "Save the Elephants" campaign, and 1988 is designated the "Year of the Elephant."
  • AWF helps construct the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary in Kenya's Tsavo West National Park, providing funding, supplies, and housing for the staff.
  • Dian Fossey is murdered in Rwanda.
  • North Yemen bans the legal import of rhino horns after diplomatic intervention by AWLF.
  • AWLF begins long-term support of Cynthia Moss' Elephant Research Project; elephant population grows from 400 to 1,000+ during the next 20 years.
  • AWLF unveils "Give a Lion a Home" ad; proceeds are used to expand two African parks.
  • Dian Fossey's mountain gorilla study receives funding from AWLF, which is joined by the National Geographic Society and other conservation organizations.
  • An AWLF research grant finances the Serengeti Research Institute.


  • Dian Fossey sets up camp in Congo's Kivu Province to study mountain gorillas, but civil unrest forces her to relocate to Rwanda's Volcano National Park.
  • The first class graduates from the College of African Wildlife Management, Mweka.
  • AWLF finances the first all-Swahili wildlife newspaper, Our Heritage.
  • Perez Olindo, later the youngest director of Kenya's national parks, is the first AWLF scholar to earn a degree in the United States.


  • AWLF builds a conservation education center at Nairobi National Park.


  • AWLF's first project is to help establish the College of African Wildlife Management at Mweka, Tanzania.
  • March 20: The African Wildlife Leadership Foundation, Inc. (AWLF) is legally established.