Peruvian primatologist to receive Emerging Conservationist Award
The Indianapolis Zoological Society on Tuesday announced Fanny Cornejo as the inaugural winner of the Emerging Conservationist Award. Cornejo is the co-founder of Yunkawasi, a Peruvian conservation organization that works with Amazonian and Andean communities to protect threatened species such as the yellow-tailed woolly monkey.
The award was created in connection with the Indianapolis Prize and comes with $50,000 for Cornejo to continue her conservation work with Yunkawasi.
During a virtual news conference, Cornejo said the award represents the hard work her team has put in over the years.
“We’re really hoping that this award will take us to the next level, to be able to show the world everything that we can do, and to be able to receive more support to be able to continue doing this amazing work,” Cornejo said. “I’m really proud of my team, and they’re really excited about, and really hopeful also, about the conservation commitment that all of our partners have on the ground.”
Cornejo co-founded Yunkawasi along with her late mother, Fanny Fernández Melo. The organization aims to use sustainable economic development, education and protected area management to protect threatened species in rural and indigenous communities in Peru.
She is also executive director of the Rainforest Partnership, Yunkawasi’s strategic partner for conservation and sustainable development activities in Peru.
Over the last 15 years, Cornejo’s work has led to the identification of a new population of yellow-tailed woolly monkeys, the discovery of a rare golden-colored Andean bear, and the discovery of some of the oldest primate fossils of the Americas, the Indianapolis Zoological Society said.
Yellow-tailed woolly monkeys, classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, were seen in 2018 in a region of Peru about 125 miles south of the monkeys’ known range.
The biennial award was established to recognize and support conservationists under the age of 40 “working to make strides in saving animal species from extinction.”
Indianapolis Zoo CEO Dr. Rob Shumaker said the award was created not only to recognize young conservationists, but to help keep them going in what can be a difficult career path.
“We wanted to give them that foundation, both in terms of visibility and opportunity to get the word out, but also a $50,000 grant to move forward with,” Shumaker said. “We wanted to provide that bit of encouragement and make sure they know that they are greatly appreciated, their work is tremendously valued, and the world cares about what they’re doing. That was paramount in this.”
Cornejo said one of the biggest challenges when it comes to conservation is getting everyone involved.
“When we talk about conservation, it’s not only about saving a species per se or protecting a forest or creating a protected area. It’s also about changing economies. It’s about changing our relationship with nature,” she said. “We [as conservationists] already know what needs to be done, but we need to push beyond our bubble. We need to involve everyone because we cannot really expect to have sustainable, inclusive, real conservation action and results if we don’t transform economies.”
Cornejo will formally receive the Emerging Conservationist Award at the Indianapolis Prize Gala in downtown Indianapolis on Sept. 30.
The event will also include the presentation of the Indianapolis Prize, considered to billed as the world’s leading award for animal conservation. The finalists for the award were announced in March, and the winner will receive $250,000, with the remaining finalists receiving $50,000.
Shumaker said the addition of the Emerging Conservationist Award completes the cycle of honors from the Indianapolis Zoological Society, which also includes the Jane Alexander Global Wildlife Ambassador Award.
You can learn more about Cornejo and the new award by clicking here.
The IBJ’s Dave Lindquist contributed to this report.