Director of National Parks and Wildlife Brighton Kumchedwa won the K19.5 million Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa on Wednesday.
Kumchedwa shone the brightest in the £20 000 race against Nigerian Nachamada Geoffrey who leads anti-poaching raids in Yankari Game Reserve and Kenyan Serah Munguti who campaigns against land-grabs by agricultural tycoons in the biologically-rich Tana River Delta.
The organisers of the awards, presented for the first time in South Africa on Wednesday, hinted at a tight race, saying “the deserving finalists” all share a passion for African wildlife and the protection of the continent’s delicate ecosystems in conjunction with government bodies, nongovernmental organisations and local communities.
Kumchedwa received the award from Graca Machel.
“I am humbled to be a finalist for this prestigious award. I did not expect this. Although the wildlife crisis we are facing is terrifying, we are all in a position to make a difference before it is too late. That’s what I remind myself every day,” he said.
Not in vain
The head of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) was nominated by Lilongwe Wildlife Trust and supported by African Parks, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and former British High Commissioner Michael Nervin.
According to his backers, Kumchedwa is a dedicated conservationist who passionately engages partners, including non-State actors in the fight against crimes, especially poaching and illegal trade in ivory.
They credit him with constructing a team of campaigners and lawmakers in support of the fight against ivory trade
and the passing of the amended Wildlife Act last year.
The new law prescribes tougher penalties for offences that halved the country’s elephant population since the 1980s.
In an interview, African Parks country director Patricio Ndadzera described the proud winner of the award, sponsored by Land Rover, as a fearless protector of wildlife who always consults widely and respects the views of government’s partners when it comes to the war on wildlife crimes.
He told Nation Online: “I have known him since the early 1990s when he joined the department as a parks and wildlife officer. He is a deserving finalist because he has always been committed to protecting wildlife. The Tusk Award is a coveted award and his feat is a big recognition of his role and the country’s efforts to safeguard wildlife. It shows his work is not in vain.”
African Parks runs Liwonde National Park as well as Majete and Nkhotakota in Malawi.
The South African firm worked closely with Kumchedwa’s department to execute a record-breaking translocation of 500 elephants from Liwonde and Majete to Nkhotakota in Central Malawi where the giants of the jungle had been almost wiped by poachers and ivory traffickers.
According to Tusk, Kumchedwa is a highly personable, strategic and dedicated conservationist who holds a masters environment and socio-economic development
He has dedicated his life to conserving Malawi’s wildlife and has spent his entire career within the DNPW, starting as a Parks Officer before and working his way up to the helm.
The citation reads: “Brighton’s openness and vision has secured multiple strategic partnerships with NGOs to implement large-scale education and training, alternative livelihoods, park management, combating illegal wildlife trade and wildlife veterinary support programmes.
“He was instrumental in negotiating the agreement for African Parks to manage Liwonde and Nkhotakota National Parks, which were suffering from significant poaching and lack of investment. This was a game-changing decision and Brighton will continue to provide strategic leadership through his position on the African Parks Malawi Board.”
In 2014, Brighton commissioned the region’s first Illegal Wildlife Trade Review.
He was instrumental in securing President Peter Mutharika’s commitment to burn the country’s stockpile of ivory, a radical step taken to send a strong message to the world that government will not allow Malawi to be exploited as a market and conduit for illegal ivory trade.
The country is now southern Africa’s major illegal wildlife trade route—the rating which led to the development of the stiffer Wildlife Act and establishment of the Inter-Agency Committee for Combating Wildlife Crime with support from Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus.
Kumchedwa says: “During my career, I have sadly seen us move from a period of plenty in terms of wildlife to a period of huge losses. We must work every day to ensure that our wildlife and forests are not lost.
This award is given to leading conservationists in recognition of their outstanding contribution to, and considerable success, in their chosen field.
Tusk runs the conservation awards in partnership with Investech Asset Management and Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge.
Kumchedwa’s runners-up received a grant of £7 500 (about K7.2 million) each.