Global Leadership

AWF in 2023: Reflecting on a Year of Conservation Triumphs

Earlier this month (December 2023), I visited Manyara Ranch in Tanzania. The African Wildlife Foundation has been working here for over 20 years to restore an important section of one of the two remaining wildlife corridors between Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti National Park. It is a unique community conservation model for Tanzania, where we’ve successfully blended a livestock operation with wildlife. This past year, we transferred a fully renovated school, Manyara Primary School, to the government as part of our Classroom Africa program, where we invest in rural schools and conservation education. We saw wildlife flourish in this space, including a growing population of lions, which now numbers 19. Importantly, no elephants have been poached at Manyara Ranch since 2015, and no cattle have been killed by lions since 2019.

Manyara Ranch inspires me because it is a powerful example of how our strategies of Leading for Wildlife, Living with Wildlife, and Caring for Wildlife work in an integrated way. From early land use planning and partnership with government (national and local), to strategies that reduce human-wildlife conflict, increase economic opportunities for the surrounding communities, and improve habitat and security for wildlife, we have demonstrated how everything comes together at Manyara Ranch.

Another milestone this year (coincidentally also in Tanzania) is the 60th anniversary of the College of African Wildlife Management (CAWM), Mweka. This college has educated over 11000 conservation leaders, from wildlife managers and rangers to government ministers from 52 countries worldwide (28 African countries and 24 other countries in the world). In 1963, it was founded with the support of AWF. It is part of our legacy of investing in conservation leadership, a legacy we are expanding with our current national and global policy work, where we are engaging with governments across the continent and the world to advocate for the integration of conservation into Africa’s economic, political, and social agendas.

That integration is happening. We saw clear evidence in 2023 of leaders' growing commitment to conserving and restoring Africa’s wildlife and their habitats.

The African Union convened continental and global leaders at the first-ever African Climate Summit in Nairobi, bringing together over 20 African heads of state and over 30,000 policymakers, practitioners, and leaders in business and civil society around a bold message: Africa is not just a continent vulnerable to climate impacts; it also has the potential and ambition to lead the world in climate and nature-based solutions. We helped our partners in the African Protected Areas Directors network and the Africa CSO’s Biodiversity Alliance contribute to shaping that message, one that Africa brought to the global climate COP28 that just concluded in Dubai.

The Zimbabwe government, with technical support from AWF, launched a groundbreaking analysis, the Zimbabwe Biodiversity Economy (ZBE) Report, which offers a framework for the country to mainstream the importance of and contribution from nature into policy formation, development planning, and public and private sector investment decision-making. This aligns with regional and global pledges to support the growth of biodiversity economies. Others have taken notice, and we have been approached by several other countries interested in developing their own reports.

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Hearing on International Conservation invited me to testify in Washington, D.C at a hearing to review strategies and gather insights to further U.S. support for international conservation. In an oral and written testimony, I outlined AWF’s recommendations, highlighted the importance of locally-led conservation, and stated that American support for balancing conservation and development on the continent is welcome and vital if it is tied to African perspectives, priorities, and aspirations.

In addition to our policy work, I am delighted to share that in 2023, the hard work of our dedicated staff and partners resulted in significant conservation achievements on the ground. We've elevated the conservation status in 14 of the 17 landscapes where we work, with 90% of the species populations we monitor either improving or stable. Human-wildlife conflict has also been reduced by 50%, year-over-year. In addition, we directly improved people's well-being, such as in Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroon, where our work with communities to develop sustainable livelihoods reduced poverty by 83% and increased community income by 78%.

We believe investment in conservation today is a down payment for a healthy world for future generations. No other group in Africa has more reason to care about that investment than African youth. It is part of our strategy to support young conservation leaders and entrepreneurs through education, professional opportunities, and networks that scale their ability to influence decision-makers.

To date, we’ve led two Africa Youth summits with the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Global Youth Biodiversity Network, the latest summit being in Morocco in September 2023. The prior fall, we brought young African conservation filmmakers to the world stage in Austria with Jackson Wild as part of our African Conservation Voices media program, which we recently relaunched. And earlier this year, in May we launched the second class of the Charles R. Wall Young African Policy Fellows initiative and relaunched the Conservation Leadership and Management Fellows program. Both Wall fellowship programs give young African professionals hands-on leadership experience in the field of biodiversity conservation. Last December, the first cohort of AWF Wall policy fellows helped to contribute to Africa’s position in the Global Biodiversity Framework – the global conservation community’s blueprint for protecting biodiversity.

As we stand at the threshold of a new year, I celebrate these successes and thank everyone who has been with us in building a future for Africa where people and wildlife thrive. Africa and the world face critical challenges. Habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict will continue as climate change, development, and Africa’s population surge exert pressure on the environment. Our mission to protect and conserve Africa's wildlife is more vital than ever before. It will only succeed if we continue to put people at the center of our work. I am proud of what the African Wildlife Foundation and our partners have achieved in 2023 and look forward to what we will do together in the coming year.