African Parks Congratulates Rian Labuschagne and Brighton Kumchedwa for Winning the Prestigious Tusk Conservation Awards

Elephants at Zakouma © Michael Lorentz
Elephants at Zakouma National Park in Chad

African Parks is extremely pleased to congratulate the winners of last night’s coveted Tusk Conservation Awards which were presented at a gala ceremony in Cape Town, South Africa. Rian Labuschagne, former Park Manager of Zakouma National Park in Chad was awarded the “Prince William Award for Conservation”, a lifetime achievement award recognising his outstanding dedication and exceptional contribution to conservation in Africa.  Brighton Kumchedwa, the head of the Malawian Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) received the Conservation Award, recognizing him as an emerging and successful leader in conservation.  The Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, former First Lady, Mrs Graça Machel, and former President F W de Klerk presented the awards on behalf of Tusk’s Royal Patron, HRH The Duke of Cambridge.

Rian Labushagne, along with his wife, Lorna Labushagne, have championed the protection of endangered species including black rhinoceroses and elephants since the late 1970’s. Rian was instrumental in helping to restore rhinos in Ngorongoro Crater and the Moru Kopjes area of Serengeti National Park. He served as the managing director of the Grumeti Reserve in Western Serengeti for seven years, and through the massive improvement to anti-poaching and improved relationships with communities and local government, the area has now one of the densest wildlife populations in the ecosystem.  Rian was the Park Manager for Zakouma National Park in Chad for African Parks from 2010 to 2017 where under his management poaching of elephants essentially stopped. The elephant population had been reduced by 90% from over 4,000 elephants in 2002 to just 450 in 2010. Thereafter, between 2011 and 2014 no known elephants were poached in the park, allowing the population to stabilize and begin to rise for the first time in over a decade. In 2011 one elephant calf under the age of three was counted, in 2016, 81 calves were confirmed. The population has since surpassed 500 individuals.

“Rian and Lorna are two of those special individuals who is both a visionary as well as a pragmatist” said Peter Fearnhead, CEO of African Parks. “He is able to visualize what conservation success looks like, and then builds the necessary foundations to get there, creating long lasting impacts for conservation”.

Malawi has made some tremendous gains for wildlife in the past decade, especially with Brighton  Kumchedwa as the head of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife. Brighton was recognized Tuesday night for his leadership in taking the poaching crisis head-on, helping to create new laws and policies to investigate, prosecute and recognize poaching as a serious crime. Brighton was instrumental in working with African Parks in the recent historic ‘500 Elephant’ translocation where 520 elephants were safely rehomed, a conservation success story that made global headlines. “Brighton is truly a leader for conservation in Malawi and is leaving a lasting legacy for the future of wildlife in the country” continued Peter Fearnhead. “These awards are so well deserved as they shine a global spotlight on the heroes in our field, and hopefully inspire others to follow in their footsteps”.