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Highlights - RACHEL ASHEGBOFEH IKEMEH - Whitley Award Winner - Founder of Southwest Niger Delta Forest Project
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"I think the entirety of the work we do, we are navigating a lot of embedded preconceived notions or traditions or culture. And especially in Africa, none of that is easy to navigate. You can't do without stepping on somebody's toes or upsetting the system that was in place. For example, at one of the sites where we created a conservation area, we worked there for seven years before the establishment of that conservation area. It shouldn't take that long or it wouldn't take that long normally, probably a year or two years because you've learned everything you need to know. But in those seven years, we got to really understand how the people think, what their histories are and their experiences, and then considering all that, I think is one of the most important things in navigating traditions and cultures and also respecting those people's beliefs."
Rachel Ashegbofeh Ikemeh is a Whitley Award-winning conservationist and Founder/Director at the Southwest Niger Delta Forest Project, a grassroots-focused conservation initiative that has been dedicated to the protection of fragile wildlife populations and habitat across her project sites in Africa’s most populous nation. Rachel won the award in 2020 for her work on chimpanzee populations in Nigeria and is aiming to secure 20% of chimpanzee habitat in Southwest Nigeria. She is also the winner of the National Geographic Society Buffet Awards for Conservaton Leadership in Africa, a Tusk Conservation Awards Finalist.
She works to protect some of the most highly threatened forest habitats and primate populations in southern Nigeria. For example, Rachel’s determined efforts has helped to bring back a species from the brink of extinction – the rare and critically endangered Niger Delta red colobus monkey, also, considered one of 25 most endangered primates in the world. She has helped to establish two protected areas and have also taken on the management of these PAs to restore habitats in these very highly threatened ecosystems which are also areas of high-security risks in the country.
Rachel is the Co-Vice Chair for the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group African Section and Member of the International Primatological Society (IPS) education committee. Through her strategic positions in these networks, Rachel has been committed to championing the need to increase conservation leadership amongst Africans as she co-founded the African Primatological society in 2017. She’s trained the 55 persons that make up her team from local institutions and local communities.