Fact Sheet

PDF of Fact Sheet for the Conservation Champion Award

Conservation Champion Award

Nature conservation is inherently a social process operating in a social context. As such, it is people who will determine its success or its failure. Recognizing this fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service International Affairs Program supports on-the ground projects around the world to promote wildlife and habitat conservation by working with local partners. These individuals are not only at the forefront of conservation efforts, but for most, this is a lifetime mission, not a mere job. Through their unwavering commitment, they achieve great accomplishments with very little resources and frequently with great personal sacrifices.

In recognition of these individuals the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in association with the Organization of American States, created the Conservation Champion Award to honor individuals or groups that are making outstanding contributions to the conservation of species, habitats, or ecological processes across landscapes in the Western Hemisphere.

Meet the Conservation Champions

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Guadalupe Del Río Pesado | Rosamira Guillen | Marleny Rosales-Meda and Maria Susana Hermes Calderón

2018 Winner

Guadalupe Del Río. Credit: Alternare

Guadalupe Del Río Pesado
Executive Director, Alternare (Mexico)

Guadalupe del Rio takes photos of monarchs.Guadalupe Del Río Pesado has spent the last 30 years of her life working to protect the wintering habitat of the monarch butterfly in Mexico. Twenty five years ago, she co-founded the NGO ALTERNARE, A.C., to strengthen efforts for the conservation of monarchs. Each day she travels to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacan, Mexico to manage operations of the Monarch Butterfly Training Center for local subsistence farmers in the heart of the reserve, which she raised funds to build and equip. Guadalupe and her team have trained thousands of local subsistence farmers to have sustainable natural resource management skills, resulting in these people becoming the drivers of conservation. A very high percentage of these farmers are women. In addition to protecting the forest were the monarchs spend the winter in the reserve, Guadalupe and her team have created brigades of local farmers who are detecting and denouncing illegal logging by the "timber mafias" operating in the area, at great risks to their lives. Guadalupe and her team have received several threats, but continue to work for monarchs and people despite the great personal risks they are taking.

A family helps with a reforestation project. Credit: Alternare

A family helps with one of Alternare's reforestation projects. In addition to a variety of habitat restoration projects, Alternare has been working with farmers to experiment with the production and sale of organic blackberries. Credit: Alternare

In addition to providing a permanent presence in the heart of the reserve, the Training Center also provides a place for the local people to gather, exchange information, and plan their conservation activities. It has also served as a facility to shelter community members. Several years ago, when massive mud slides occured, hundreds of local people took refuge in the Center. Finally, through environmental education and training, Guadalupe and her team have created awareness of the importance of the monach butterfly for the health of these forests, creating opportunities for local people to serve as eco-tour guides and service providers to tourists that come to the reserve to observe this amazing phenomenon. The management of ecotourism in the area has helped reduce the destructive practices of the past that destroyed monarch overwintering habitat by locals and visitors alike.

2017 Winner

Rosamira Guillen. Credit: Proyecto Titi


Rosamira Guillen
Executive Director, Proyecto Titi (Colombia)

Rosamira Guillen has made outstanding contributions to the conservation of Colombia’s critically endangered Cotton-top tamarin. This small primate is endemic to a small patch of land in northwestern Colombia and is one of the most endangered primates in the world. It is about the size of the squirrel and has a large white poof atop its head from which its name is derived. It has a sophisticated language with 38 different vocalizations that even have grammar associated with them. The species was declared endangered in 1973 under the Endangered Species Act following the exportation of up to 40,000 tamarins to the U.S. for use in biomedical research, primarily associated with colon cancer. In 1976 CITES gave them the highest level of protection and all international trade was banned. There are now only 6,000 individuals remaining in the wild. Today, the greatest threats to the survival of this species include the illegal pet trade and deforestation of their habitat for agriculture, fuel, and housing.

Children celebrate the national holiday that Rosamira helped establish, dressed up as Cotton-top tamarins.A cotton-top tamarin. Credit: Proyecto Titi

(Left) Children celebrate the national holiday that Rosamira helped establish, dressed up as Cotton-top tamarins. (Right) A cotton-top tamarin. Credits: Proyecto Titi

Rosamira and her team's leadership has resulted in successful conservation efforts for these unique animals over the past decade. The organization she leads, Proyecto Titi, successfully implements field research, scientific assessment of habitats, and education programs that engage local communities in action-based programs. These communities are engaged in conservation actions including reforestation, recycling plastic ( which has led to the successful creation of environmentally-friendly businesses), promoting the use of small cook stoves to burn fuel more efficiently thus reducing deforestation, building fence posts made of plastic instead of wooden posts, and reducing the cotton-top tamarin pet trade. Thanks to these efforts, and the political will Rosamira helped create, the Colombian Government formally declared the creation of two protected areas for cotton-top tamarins. Rosamira also helped to establish the Day of Cotton-top tamarin, a national holiday in Colombia.

2016 Winners

Marleny Rosales-Meda. Credit: Heidi RufflerMaria Susana Hermes Calderón Credit: Heidi Ruffler / USFWS

Marleny Rosales-Meda and Maria Susana Hermes Calderón
Founders, ORCONDECO (Guatemala)

Marleny Rosales-Meda and Maria Susana Hermes Calderón are the founders of the Organization for the Conservation of Nature and Community Development (ORCONDECO). Based in Guatamala, ORCONDECO has been offering bilingual environmental education programs in communities near to Laguna Lachua National Park. They have helped more than 100 Maya-Q’eqchi’ communities implement locally-driven wildlife management programs and promote sustainable economic growth.

A community processes Ramon Nuts. It's one of Orcondeco's alternative livelihood projects designed to generate income for communities..

A community processes ramón nuts, as one of ORCONDECO's alternative livelihood projects designed to generate income for communities. Credit: ORCONDECO

The program has revitalized pride in the Maya-Q’eqchi’ culture, and has empowered indigenous youth to help conserve their heritage. Thirty Maya-Q’eqchi youth have been trained to deliver one of their programs, which now reaches over 2,200 children in 56 elementary schools and high-schools every year. At times, Maria and Marleny have risked their personal safety. But because of their love for the natural heritage and culture of the area, they persevere when many others would pull back.