Pictured: Winners of first Tony Whitten Conservation Prize
The six winners of the inaugural Tony Whitten Conservation Prize have been announced.
Dr Whitten, one of Cambridge’s top conservationists, has left an indelible legacy which has expanded following his death on the Newmarket Road in late 2017. The conservation prize has been overseen by Cambridge Conservation Initiative for early-career conservationists and biodiversity researchers from East and South-East Asia. Intended to be an annual event, it is open to under-35s and nationals involved in any area of conservation or field biology in Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste or Vietnam.
The six winners are:
Discovering a number of new species: Ayu Savitri Nurinsiyah was one of the six 2019 winners for her work on Java’s land snails. Ayu explores their diversity, and has discovered new species, including Landouria tonywhitteni, named in honour of Dr Whitten.
Studying reptiles in karst regions: Evan Quah Seng Huat won for his work on the conservation of karst habitats in Myanmar. Evan has been studying reptiles and amphibians in these little-explored karst regions before they are endlessly quarried for cement. He has been involved in the discovery of several new species, including the gecko Hemiphyllodactylus tony-whitteni, named in honour of Dr Whitten.
Saving land snails in Malaysia: Junn Kitt Foon won for his work on conserving and taxonomically reviewing land snails in Malaysia. Junn was inspired to pursue a conservation career by Tony Whitten’s books and his passion for limestone biodiversity. Working alongside Tony taught him about the need to engage with and understand stakeholders – including communities, government, conservationists and extractive companies – when undertaking conservation work.
Working on taxonomy: Ming-Kai Tan won for his work on taxonomy and orthopteran biodiversity in South-East Asia. Ming-Kai is studying for a PhD in ecology and bioacoustics and runs workshops and seminars. He seeks to resolve taxonomic problems, name previously unnamed species, and provide species lists and distribution and natural history data so that protection of these neglected species is well informed.
Exploring evolutionary relationships: Nattawadee Nantarat won for her work on snails transitioning from water to land in Thailand and South-East Asia. Nattawadee analyses the biodiversity and evolutionary relationships of these early land snails in Thailand and South-East Asia to help support programmes for karst conservation. She has a particular interest in terrestrial operculate snails of the genus Cyclophorus.
Investigating millipede diversity: Weixin Liu won for her work on millipede diversity in subterranean habitats in China. Weixin carries out her research in subterranean habitats in China – pictured right – and is working on phylogenetic relationships using both morphological and molecular characters. She is also investigating the status and ecology of millipedes, to provide data for their conservation.
The selection process was overseen by a panel selected by Tony’s family, with emphasis on work on the overlooked species and habitats that Dr Whitten was most passionate about – including caves and karst ecosystems, with their under-studied invertebrates and fishes.
There were 38 entries for the prize, whittled down to six winners and six highly commended entries.
“We were utterly overwhelmed with the quality. The six winners all received a £1,000 cash prize and a certificate of international significance for their work,” said Professor Andrew Balmford, professor of conservation science at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology. “They are all East or South-East Asian field workers making remarkable discoveries about poorly known creatures and using these to safeguard critically endangered habitats, so they really epitomise Tony’s extraordinary legacy.”
The highly commended applicants were Daoyuan Yu, for his work on the species diversity and bio-geography of springtails in East and South-East Asia; Liew Jia Huan, for his work on conservation of freshwater ecosystems in South-East Asia, particularly freshwater fishes; Mark Louie D Lopez, for his work on microcrustacean species in the Philippines and elsewhere in South-East Asia; Odbayar Tumen-demberel, for her work on Gobi brown bears; Sheherazade, for her work on flying foxes in Sulawesi, Indonesia and Wildan Ghiffary Turmudi, for his work on fisheries in Indonesia.