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16 May 2011

Princess presents top conservation accolade to Uzbek saiga champion

Elena Bykova. Photo by Stacey Iverson. London, UK: 11 MAY 2011 - HRH The Princess Royal (Princess Anne) tonight presented one of the worlds top prizes for grassroots nature conservation a Whitley Award to Elena Bykova, of Uzbekistan, for her success in persuading former hunters to support a campaign to save the saiga antelope - an icon of the desert-steppe - which has seen its numbers fall by 95% in just 10 years.

Elena Bykova, a researcher for Uzbekistans Institute of Zoology and the executive secretary of the international Saiga Conservation Alliance, received her prize during a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society, London, hosted by The Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) the UK-based charity behind the international awards scheme.

Her Whitley Award includes a project grant of 30,000 - donated by the Scottish Friends of the WFN - an engraved trophy, membership of the influential network of past Whitley Award winners, international recognition and development training.

The prize recognises Elena Bykovas work to involve the people of the Ustyurt Plateau in halting the decline of Uzbekistans saiga populations, including by renewing local interest in its place in desert-steppe traditions and by getting former hunters to swap their guns for GPS recorders so that they can help to monitor where the surviving herds travel and graze.

The evenings top honour - the 60,000 Whitley Gold Award went to marine biologist Dr Rachel Graham, of Belize, for her work to protect Belizes sharks and coastal biodiversity and so safeguard local livelihoods and Belizes economically important tourism industry.

In addition, Her Royal Highness presented other Whitley Awards worth 30,000 each to conservation leaders from Argentina, Croatia, India, Indonesia and Russia.

Commenting on Elena Bykovas success, Georgina Domberger, Director of the Whitley Fund for Nature, said: "The aim of the Whitley Awards is to identify and applaud inspirational conservation leaders, and give them new funds and skills to enable them to make even greater use of their scientific expertise and local knowledge to deliver real and lasting benefits for people and wildlife and the places both share".

In the case of Elena, the judges were particularly impressed by her recognition that saiga conservation will only succeed if it is supported by local people and that they need to be reassured that healthy saiga herds are better for them, their environment, local culture and the economy than over-hunting , to meet the demand for horns and body parts from the Traditional Chinese Medicine trade.

The ceremony at which Elena Bykova received her accolade was co-hosted by the author and broadcaster John McCarthy and witnessed by a 350-strong audience which included embassy officials, Whitley Fund for Nature donors, including HSBC and WWF-UK, and leading environmentalists.

The Whitley Awards scheme is an annual competition, first held in 1994. In the 18 years since the scheme began, it has given grants worth more than 6m to support the work of inspirational conservation leaders in 70 countries and built a network of more than 120 Whitley alumni. To learn more about the charity, its donors and past winners, please see:



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