Indira Lacerna-Widmann from Leyte recently won the prestigious 2017 Whitley Award, a prestigious international nature conservation prize, in honor of her work to safeguard the critically-endangered Philippine cockatoo in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.
Her Royal Highness Princess Ann presented the award worth £35,000 (around PhP2.4 million) in project funding to Widmann during a ceremony held by the Royal Geographical Society in London.
The Philippine Cockatoo has declined by a staggering 80 percent over the last 40 years, decimated and nearly rendered extinct by cage bird trade, and an unfavorable habitat in its immediate environs in Palawan.
Cockatoos now rest in the forested grounds of “Iwahig Prison,” a huge open air penal farm, and forage over military and private land in Puerto Princesa.
Widmann said she will use the Whitley Award funds to continue working with Iwahig soldiers and prisoners to secure the future of the cockatoo population; training both parties to address poaching in breeding sites and working with landowners to secure feeding corridors under threat from development.
The Katala Foundation, co-founded by Widmann, has undertaken conservation work to safeguard the bird since 1998. By using specifically developed “PRIDE” campaigns and reaching out to children and city dwellers, she hopes to build national pride in the Philippine cockatoo.
“WFN focuses on conservation success stories which give us reason for optimism. The Awards Ceremony is about recognizing progress—winning those small battles which equate to change at the national level,” Edward Whitley, founder of the Whitley Fund for Nature said.
In addition to the financial benefit of winning the award, Whitely added that the winners would receive professional communications training to turn scientists into ambassadors who are able to communicate effectively with the public and inform change at the political level.
Widmann is one of six individuals worldwide to have been awarded a share of the total prize money worth £210,000. The others are Sanjay Gubbi from India for reducing deforestation in Karnataka’s tiger corridors; Ian Little from South Africa for serving as custodian of South Africa’s threatened grassland biodiversity; Purnima Barman from India for inspiring women to protect Assam’s greater adjutant and its welfare habitat; Alexander Blanco of Venezuela for conserving the country’s harpy eagles as a rainforest flagship; and Ximena Velez-Liendo of Bolivia for enabling coexistence of Andean bears and farmers in the Bolivian mountains.
Widmann, who graduated magna cum laude at the University of San Carlos in Cebu, was selected from 166 applicants from 66 countries for the Whitley Awards, dubbed as the international “Green Oscars.”