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Double victory for our Conservation Leadership Alumni at the Marsh Awards

Every year the Marsh Christian Trust Gives awards to individuals or organizations that go beyond what is necessary to make a difference for social, cultural and environmental causes. In collaboration with Fauna & Flora International (FFI), the Trust Dr. Ravinder Kaur for the 2020 Marsh Award for Terrestrial Conservation Leadership and Natia Javakhishvili for the 2020 Marsh Award for Early Career Conservation for their outstanding contributions to nature conservation.

Both Ravinder and Natia, celebrated for their exceptional efforts to conserve the Bornean Hornbills in Malaysia and the Eastern Imperial Eagles in Georgia, are alumni of our Conservation Leadership Program (CLP), which we partner with FFI and Wildlife Conservation Society perform.

“The award will give our project much-needed attention.” Ravinder Kaur

The 2020 Marsh Award for Terrestrial Conservation Leadership (worth £ 4,000) was presented to Dr. Ravinder Kaur for her “significant contribution to sustainable biodiversity at the local level”.

When Henry Rees, CLP program director at FFI, told Ravinder the good news, she couldn’t believe it at first. “I refused to be nominated because I thought I didn’t have a chance, so I was totally shocked to hear that I had won!” She said.

Ravinder runs a project to conserve endangered hornbills in the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in Borneo, Malaysia, through her own social enterprise Gaia (in collaboration with the local NGO HUTAN / KOCP).

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Unfortunately, the project was suspended during the lockdown as most of their donors were unable to offer funds due to the pandemic. “The Marsh Award came at the right time – it definitely lifted my spirits. I hope that winning our project will get more exposure and we can connect with future long-term donors to keep it going, ”said Ravinder.

The project certainly deserves all the support it can get, given its track record. In 2013, HUTAN / KOCP and its partners (Chester Zoo, Beauval Zoo, Sabah Wildlife Department and Sabah Forestry Department) began installing artificial nesting boxes to provide key nesting sites for the hornbills of Kinabatangan. The boxes were visited by three hornbill species and finally in 2017 the team recorded the first successful growing up of a wild rhinoceros hornbill buceros rhinoceros chick from an artificial nesting box.

After joining the HUTAN / KOCP initiative in 2014, Ravinder won a CLP Future Conservationist Award in 2017 to further improve the breeding opportunities for Kinabatangan hornbills. Working with a local team, she designed a new set of artificial phase 2 nesting boxes based on her research into the variations in the internal temperature and humidity of Hornbill nest boxes. She also worked with HUTAN / KOCP to restore six abandoned tree hollows that were eventually used by Oriental Pied Hornbills Anthracoceros albirostris to make nine chicks.

CLP Executive Manager Stuart Paterson welcomed the news about the Ravinder 2020 Marsh Award. “Along with having a dedicated local team, Ravin’s dedication and determination to monitor nesting sites and increase nesting success makes a huge difference in the conservation of these amazing birds,” he said.

Ravin tells us that the Phase 2 nesting boxes are now attracting a new species, the Endangered Wrinkled Hornbill Rhabdotorrhinus corrugatus. This year a woman filmed exploring one of the boxes.

Ravinder is now considered an expert in her field and is a member of the Helmeted Hornbill Working Group (a sub-group of the IUCN SSC Hornbill Specialist Group), which is part of a ten-year vigil to rescue the endangered Hornbill Rhinoplax wearing a helmet. Looking ahead, Ravinder aims to improve the nesting opportunities for hornbills across Malaysia and to help reclaim fragments of the degraded Kinabatangan forests to further secure the future of these fascinating birds.

In this video you will learn more about Kinabatangan hornbills and why they are so desperate for artificial nesting boxes.

“It helped me realize that people believe in me.” Natia Javakhishvili

Natia Javakhishvili’s 2020 Marsh Award for Early Career Conservation (worth £ 2,000) recognizes Natia as a “young conservationist who has achieved amazing success since the beginning of her conservation career”.

Natia was pleasantly surprised when she first heard of her nomination for a Marsh Award. “When you work in conservation, you often face so much resistance and problems that you often forget to acknowledge your own achievements,” she said. “For me, winning the Marsh Award was linked to another reward: the realization that other people believe in me.”

In 2015 Natia won a CLP Future Conservationist Award to receive the endangered Eastern Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca in the steppes of Eastern Georgia, which are important breeding and wintering areas for the species. By tracking adolescents using satellite telemetry and GPS loggers, Natia and her team showed that the eagles were mainly threatened by nest destruction, poaching and electric shock. In fact, over three years 80% of the young people marked were killed as a result of these causes.

Natia tags the eagles with GPS transmitters to investigate their threats.  © Zura Javakhishvili

As part of her CLP project, Natia led a major campaign to increase public support and successfully campaigned for Georgian electric utilities to be held accountable for the destruction of eagle nests. In 2017, Natia and her team won a Landscapes Restoration Scholarship as part of the Endangered Landscapes Program, which enabled them to restore critical habitat not only for eagles but also for other important species in the region.

Henry Rees, CLP program director, describes Natia as a real role model for future conservationists. “Not only will this award give Natia the recognition she deserves, but it will also help her build on her important work and help her continue to make an impact across Georgia,” he said.

The award recognizes Natia’s remarkable achievements – not only in her conservation projects, but also in her career. After starting out as a volunteer for SABUKO (BirdLife Partner in Georgia) in 2014, Natia was named CEO just three years later. From 2016 to 2017 she headed the Ministry of Education of the Georgian Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources.

Under the leadership of Natia, SABUKO has worked with four government departments to play an important role in shaping nature conservation policy in Georgia. She is also credited with setting up the country’s first nature conservation volunteer network.

In the future, Natia hopes to focus more media attention on nature conservation in Georgia and neighboring countries while working with the national government to develop a species action plan for the imperial eagle and to develop strict biodiversity laws.

In this video you can find out more about the SABUKO project for Eastern Eagles.

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