Palawan’s Indira Lacerna-Widmann, who has been named a winner of the 2017 Whitley Award by the Whitley Fund for Nature, dedicated the prestigious and international recognition she received to all Filipinos. Conferred to her in London on May 17, the award recognizes her work in protecting the critically endangered Philippine cockatoo (or Katala), specifically for her ‘Jail Birds’ project, where she is partnering with prisoners to safeguard the said bird species. Widmann also received a prize worth £35,000 for the award.
“I am so grateful first to the cockatoos who remained resilient to fight against all odds over the years. This prestigious recognition I dedicate to all Filipinos but most especially to all Palaweños who take pride in conserving this beautiful bird and eventually letting it fly free where it used to be in the rest of the Philippines,” Widmann told Palawan News.
The Philippine cockatoo’s population has declined by a staggering 80% over the last 40 years. Decimated by the cage bird trade and habitat loss, the bird is now extinct in much of its range. In Puerto Princesa, a population of the birds still nest in the forested grounds of the Iwahig penal farm. Widmann plans to use the Whitley Award to work with the prison farm in securing the population of the Katala in the city. Widmann’s project will train prisoners and members of army as ‘wildlife wardens’ so they can patrol the breeding sites against poachers, as well as secure important areas against unwanted development projects.
The Katala Foundation, which Indira co-founded, has been doing conservation work for the said species since 1998. Widmann and her colleagues have been running ‘PRIDE’ campaigns to reach out to children and city residents in hopes of building national pride for the Philippine cockatoo.
Edward Whitley, Founder of the Whitley Fund for Nature, said, “WFN focus on conservation success stories which give us a reason for optimism. The Awards Ceremony is about recognizing progress – winning those small battles which cumulatively equate to change at the national level. In addition to the financial benefit of winning an Award, winners receive professional communications training to turn scientists into ambassadors, so they are able to communicate effectively with the public and inform change at the political level.”
Widmann is one of the six individuals who received the said award, sharing with them the total prize money worth £210,000.
“The Whitley award will push our efforts to reach and engage more people in all walks of life be a prisoner in penal farm, a business man, military or anyone. Everyone’s participation is not an option—it is a must for things to happen,” Widmann added.