The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced today that Swann Htet Naing Aung of WCS Myanmar, William Ferrufino of WCS Bolivia, and Fernando Ayerbe of WCS Colombia have been honored with a Disney Conservation Hero Award. The award recognizes local citizens for their commitment to save wildlife, protect habitats and inspire their communities to take part in conservation efforts to create a healthier home for people and wildlife. Recipients from around the world were nominated by nonprofit environmental organizations, and each honoree and his or her nominating organization will share a $1,500 award from the Disney Conservation Fund.
Swann, William, and Fernando are 3 of only 15 award recipients in the 2021 cohort globally.
Raised at the Shwe Settaw Wildlife Sanctuary in Myanmar where both his father and aunt had long, impactful careers, Swann Htet Naing Aung followed in his family’s footsteps to dedicate his life to protecting wildlife. His stellar performance and unbridled enthusiasm throughout schooling and training secured him a research assistant position with WCS and Turtle Survival Alliance, and later a promotion to oversee the Burmese Star Tortoise reintroduction and conservation program at the sanctuary. Already an exceptional and dedicated leader, Swann’s selfless devotion shone after the outbreak of Covid-19 in Myanmar and the political unrest that followed, when he and his team voluntarily elected to remain in the field caring for captive tortoises, monitoring reintroduced tortoises and conducting anti-poaching patrols to ensure the program continued and the world’s most critically-endangered turtle species remained protected. Their presence enabled nearly 1,000 captive-bred tortoises to be returned to the wild during the pandemic, leading to an overall total of more than 2,000 tortoises reintroduced under Swann’s leadership to date.
William Ferrufino grew up surrounded by nature, forests, and bird songs in Bolivia – his favorite was the song of the endangered Palkachupa cotinga, and he learned to imitate it and recognize all the birds’ favorite nesting trees. He became an invaluable naturalist partner to organizations like WCS, as well as Armonia, a key player in establishing the Palkachupa Nature Reserve, and was also an effective park guard for Madidi National Park, the world’s most biologically diverse protected area. He has been a critical bridge between the Lecos Indigenous People and protected lands, promoting joint efforts for the benefit of all, and engaging ranchers and communities to conserve forest patches for wildlife including species like the Andean bear, Geoffroy’s woolly monkey and military macaw. William helped establish an artisan association to support local livelihoods and recycle discarded wood into wooden utensils that are provided to nearby communities. He has also been instrumental in the identification and promotion of sustainable ecotourism, scientific research and respect for indigenous cultural identity and ancestral knowledge.
In honor of retired Walt Disney Imagineer and Disney Conservation Fund champion Joe Rohde, Fernando Ayerbe is recognized as a Disney Conservation Hero this year for his dedication to using art to advance conservation efforts, honor cultures and inspire others to save wildlife. As a university student studying biology, Fernando recognized the power of scientific illustrations to support conservation decision making and cultural cohesion in both urban and rural towns. While working with various biodiversity conservation projects in Colombia, he taught himself how to draw birds and began to contribute to and author bird guides. He spent six years extensively researching to develop 3,035 illustrations for his Avifauna Colombiana (2018) bird guide, which includes all the known species of birds in Colombia. His personal quest and dedication led him to become one of the most important wildlife illustrators in Colombia. Today he uses his talent to encourage more people to learn about nature, raising awareness not only through his books, but also through his participation in congresses, workshops, projects, press, radio, television and social networks.
Disney Conservation is committed to saving wildlife and building a diverse global community inspired to protect the magic of nature together. Since 1995, the Disney Conservation Fund has directed more than $120 million to support nonprofit organizations working with communities to save wildlife, inspire action and protect the planet, and has honored more than 200 Conservation Heroes for their extraordinary conservation efforts.
For information on Disney’s commitment to conservation and a complete list of recent Conservation Hero Award recipients, visit Disney.com/Conservation.
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