WESSA recognises conservation stars at 90th celebrations

WESSA paid tribute to a wide range of outstanding environmental achievements with the presentation of the organisation’s Annual Awards. These Awards were presented at the organisation’s 90th AGM, which was hosted by the WESSA’s Lowveld membership branch at Skukuza in the Kruger National Park on Saturday 17 September.

The WESSA Awards, which have been presented since 1974, enable WESSA to recognise and honour those who have made a significant contribution to the environmental conservation or environmental education sector in South Africa over the past year in an exceptional and sustained manner.

In celebration of the organisation’s 90-year anniversary of Caring for the Earth, WESSA presented awards in a number of additional categories this year.  The Special 90th Celebration Medal was awarded to Keith Cooper and the Chairman’s 90th Celebration Medal was presented to John Green.  The 90 Lifetime Conservation Achiever Awards category, which was introduced for the occasion, provided a unique opportunity to acknowledge 90 living individuals who have dedicated their lives to conservation in South Africa.

The WESSA Individual Award was presented posthumously to Chris Skinner, the WESSA Group Award recipient was the Magaliesberg Protection Association and the WESSA Award for Corporates went to the film Blood Lions and also to the Morning Sun Nature Reserve in Limpopo.

WESSA also played tribute to outgoing Chairman Dr Richard Lewis for his more than 13 years of service to WESSA as a Board member, including six years as Chairman. Dr Lewis was commended for his “enthusiasm and strategic planning skills” in re-positioning WESSA to meet today’s challenges and for “his unstinting support for the mission and vision of the organisation”.

In addition to the awards ceremony, the programme at the celebratory event was aptly structured around the theme of “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” and guest speakers – all game-changers in the field of conservation – had the audience enthralled as they shared personal and professional insights into their work on a variety of important projects. Xolani Nicholus Funda, Chief Ranger at Kruger National Park, spoke about challenges and successes of the park’s campaign against rhino poaching, highlighting key milestones of on-the-ground efforts of rangers, military and police. Chris Galliers, WESSA’s Senior Manager for Wildlife & Conservation Initiatives, spoke specifically to WESSA’s Rhino Initiative work, adding his voice to the rallying cry that we take ownership of our natural heritage and that local communities in particular become involved and benefit from our remarkable biodiversity.  Ricky Pott, WESSA Lowveld Region Chairman, gave a fitting introduction to internationally renowned wildlife filmmaker and photographer Kim Wolhuter, with a vivid account of the legend of the speaker’s grandfather, HarryWolhuter, and hisfamous encounter with a lion in Kruger.  Kim Wolhuter then inspired and enlightened guests with his presentation “Wild Whispers”. He spoke of his ability to bond with his wild “subjects” and shared the importance of understanding the species (and the individual’s) particular ways of behaving and communicating, as well as the need for patience and respect. WESSA Western Cape member John Green gave a detailed account of WESSA’s rich history while Trust Ndlovu, WESSA Eco-Schools Programme Manager for Mpumalanga, affirmed that WESSA’s future – and indeed the future of our planet – lies in our young people, saying “If each learner reaches at least one parent, we can reach entire communities.”

Considering the special history that the organisation shares with SANParks, it is only fitting that members and supporters from around the country returned to WESSA’s roots in Kruger to mark the milestone occasion.  The association between the two organisations dates back to 1926 when the then disbanded Transvaal Game Protection Association (TGPA) members formed the Wildlife Protection Society, the direct ancestor of today’s WESSA.  Their first resolution was to urge the Minister of Lands to proceed with the proclamation of the National Parks Bill as quickly as possible, following on from 14 years of lobbying by the TGPA for the Sabie and Shingwedzi Reserves to be nationalised. The Society’s first environmental campaign was then successful in leading to the proclamation of the Kruger National Park.


Special 90th Celebration Medal               

Keith Henry Cooper

For his lifetime contribution to sustainable biodiversity and marine, terrestrial and urban environments. Internationally respected, he pioneered many conservation principles.

Chairman’s 90th Celebration Medal

John Green

For his extensive contribution to WESSA through his commitment to environmental conservation and promoting “People caring for the Earth”.

WESSA Award for Individuals

Presented posthumously to Chris Skinner                

Chris Skinner will be remembered as a remarkable yet unassuming and purposeful man whose life is inextricably linked to the Umbogovango Environmental Education Project.  His work has supported many, through environmental education, to be inspired by the value of nature including fresh air, clean water, healthy food and life-supporting biodiversity.  Chris was an outstanding Rotarian and all who knew him were motivated by the calm, yet insightful manner with which he went about his public-spirited work.

WESSA Award for Groups

Magaliesberg Protection Association

For their tireless work to conserve the Magaliesberg mountains since 1975.  Their compliance and watchdog efforts have ensured that these majestic mountains retain their tranquility, beauty, biodiversity and cultural heritage for the benefit of generations to come. As one of the founding members, WESSA is proud to be associated with this remarkable work that has led to establishment of the Magaliesberg Biosphere declared by UNESCO.

WESSA Award for Corporates
(Two 2016 recipients)

Blood Lions

By putting their lives on the line, the makers of “Blood Lions” deserve full commendation for the production of an outstanding documentary which has exposed the predator breeding, canned lion hunting and lion-petting tourism industries in South Africa.  This film has been a key element of a successful campaign leading to the adoption, by the IUCN of a motion to terminate such activities in South Africa.

Morning Sun Nature Reserve

The Morning Sun Nature Reserve was created over a period of 46 years by its founder Dr Hans Hahn, to protect, manage and conserve one of South Africa’s hotspots of faunal and floral biodiversity.  Today the nature reserve is proudly located within the UNESCO-registered VHEMBE Biosphere Reserve (VBR).  One of its key features is the economic sustainability achieved through eco-tourism. In this way not only is the biodiversity conserved, but visitors are able to participate in a unique Venda cultural experience. WESSA is proud to salute the public-spirited actions of Dr Hahn, his family and all who have worked towards making the Morning Sun Nature Reserve such a success.

WESSA 90 Lifetime Conservation Achiever Awards

View our online list of recipients in this category.



Images and captions:

Image 1:  John Green with WESSA Chairman Dr Richard Lewis

Image 2:  John Green with Keith Cooper and WESSA Chairman Dr Richard Lewis

Image 3: WESSA CEO Dr Thommie Burger and Chairman Richard Lewis with Margaret Burger (centre) who accepted Chris Skinner’s award on behalf of his family

Image 4:  Andrew and Mariska Kruger from Morning Sun Nature Reserve in Limpopo

Image 5: Pippa Hankinson (centre) from Blood Lions with Chris Galliers and Sarah Alcock from

WESSA Presented at WESSA Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve on Monday 19 September

Image 6:  Kim Wolhuter with WESSA Chairman Dr Richard Lewis

Image 7:  WESSA CEO Dr Thommie Burger and Chairman Richard Lewis with John Wesson (centre), Chairman of the Magaliesberg Protection Association

WESSA’s 90th birthday and history:

Please refer to the press release issued 17 March 2016 for further information.


Broadcasters please note that WESSA CEO Dr Thommie Burger, former Chairman Dr Richard Lewis, and the all award winners are available for radio and television interviews.

About WESSA:

WESSA (the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa) is a leading implementer of high-impact environmental and conservation initiatives in southern Africa. With a remarkable history of 90 years, WESSA is an NGO with a proud track record of enabling individuals and organisations to use natural resources sustainably, and is a trusted and effective project partner. The organisation is driven by the critical focus areas of its work which include the international eco-labels of Eco-Schools and Blue Flag, environmental education and training, the conservation of life-supporting biodiversity and water resources, climate change mitigation and adaptation, environmental governance, and the WESSA Rhino and Elephant initiatives. For more information visit www.wessa.org.za

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