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Conservation Heroes Honored by National Geographic, Buffett Foundation

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The 2008 winners of the National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation are Denise Marçal Rambaldi, executive director of the Golden Lion Tamarin Association, and Fatima Jama Jibrell, founder of the humanitarian organization Horn Relief and co-founder of Sun Fire Cooking, which provides affordable solar cookers to the Somali people.

Rambaldi (lower photo) is being recognized for her leadership in conservation on the continent of South America. Jibrell wins for leadership in African conservation.

They will receive their U.S. $25,000 prizes at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C., tonight.

Established through a gift from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the awards acknowledge the winners’ outstanding work and lifetime contributions that further the understanding and practice of conservation in their countries.

Photos by Sebastien Viaud (top) and Roberto de Moraes

Rambaldi is awarded the prize for her work in ensuring the survival of the golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia), a primate that lives in a restricted area of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, one of the world’s most critically endangered biodiversity hotspots, according to a National Geographic press release about the awards.

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“Thanks to her efforts to restore forest areas, connect forest fragments and create protected reserves for the primates, the golden lion tamarin population now numbers 1,500, and they can be found in more than 30 private ranches and federal reserves totaling 10,600 protected hectares (26,000 acres),” the statement said.

The species has been upgraded from “critically endangered” to “endangered” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of Threatened Species.

Rambaldi has also been a force in creating a local consortium to protect the 15,000-hectare (37,000-acre) São João watershed in Rio de Janeiro state.

Photo by Roberto de Moraes 

“The entire watershed is now zoned as an ‘Environmental Protection Area.’ Under her leadership, many private landowners are conserving remaining forest areas and dedicating their forest fragments as private reserves in what amounts to the largest private conservation effort in a single Brazilian state,” the official statement reads.

She also has worked tirelessly to help local people in the Atlantic Forest.

“The Golden Lion Tamarin Association has achieved success in combating poverty while reducing the human footprint in the forest. Activities have included helping residents establish and maintain production of tree seedlings for use in forest restoration and corridor creation.

“She has also initiated a program involving dozens of teachers in projects promoting environmental consciousness.”

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Jibrell has dedicated her life to the preservation of the natural environment in Somalia. Born into a Somali nomadic pastoral family and motivated by love for the fragile, semi-arid landscape and pastoral way of life, she founded Horn Relief in 1991, a nonprofit organization to mobilize local and international resources to protect the environment.

“Through her work with Horn Relief, she introduced the ‘rock dam’ approach to environmental issues,” said the Society’s statement. 

Photo by Sebastien Viaud

“A rock dam is composed of rocks piled together to stop soil erosion and gully formation. By slowing down the flow of water during the brief rainy season, the rock dams gather soil and create conditions that allow plants and even small trees to germinate.”

Jibrell has encouraged community groups throughout Somalia to build and maintain rock dams so that sustainable plant growth can take place, even in areas hardest hit by drought and desertification.”

In 1996 she co-founded the Resource Management Somali Network, which brought together 13 environmental groups from across Somalia and Somaliland. It is the only cross-clan, cross-regional environmental network in Somalia, the release added.

“Several years ago she helped organize a peace march to stop the “charcoal wars” in the northeast of the country, caused by commercial interests exploiting small trees and shrubs to make charcoal for export to the Middle East. Through her advocacy, the Puntland regional government in northeast Somalia prohibited charcoal exports through the port of Bosasso in 2000.”

In 2004 Jibrell co-founded Sun Fire Cooking, which introduced affordable solar cooking to the Somali people and substantially reduced the cutting of Somalia’s limited acacia forest for charcoal. The following year she delivered 950 solar cookers to the people of Bender Bayla, making it the first solar cooking village in the world.

National Geographic Society/Buffett Award recipients are chosen from nominations submitted to the National Geographic Society’s Conservation Trust, which screens the nominations through a peer-review process.

Howard Buffett is president of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which focuses on humanitarian and conservation issues. An agriculturalist, businessman and widely published photographer, he is also a member of the Commission on Presidential Debates, serves as a United Nations Ambassador Against Hunger for the United Nations World Food Program and is a member of National Geographic’s Council of Advisors.