Scientist and biologist Benezeth Mutayoba, professor at Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture and vice chairman of the Tanzania Elephant Protection Society, who highlights the plight of African elephants and the bushmeat crisis in Africa, is this year’s recipient of the National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in African Conservation.
The award was established through a gift from The Howard G. Buffett Foundation in 2002 to celebrate and recognize unsung conservation heroes working in the field. The National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation is given each year to two outstanding conservationists, one in Latin America and one in Africa. The award acknowledges the winners’ remarkable work and lifetime contributions that further the understanding and practice of conservation in their countries.
For more than a decade and a half, Benezeth Mutayoba, a professor at Sokoine University of Agriculture’s Department of Veterinary Physiology, Biochemistry, Pharmacology and Toxicology, has engaged in challenging conservation research, especially on elephants and the bushmeat trade, and has mentored students to take action to protect their unique natural heritage.
Among his many conservation accomplishments was to develop, with colleagues, mitochondrial DNA testing methods to identify bushmeat sold illegally as domestic beef and pork to hotels in Tanzania and other East African countries. His technique is now used by scientists in other parts of Africa. He also served as a member of the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force aimed at identifying and supporting solutions that effectively respond to the bushmeat crisis around the world.
In addition, Mutayoba collaborated on research examining the long-term impacts of poaching of female elephants in Mikumi National Park in southern Tanzania. The research found that survivors who had lost kin displayed altered behavior, heightened stress levels and lower fertility. These long-term impacts also prevail in elephants that survived past heavy poaching in Tarangire National Park in northern Tanzania. Mutayoba presents these finding at various venues to communicate that poaching has long-lasting effects on elephant populations.
He also has been instrumental in several genetic studies to develop DNA tools for determining the origin of seized ivory, and, as vice chairman of the Tanzania Elephant Protection Society, he has challenged the Tanzanian government’s denial of the elephant poaching crisis and has raised awareness of its scope and impact. As a result, at the end of 2013, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete launched “Operation Tokomeza” to end elephant poaching in Tanzania and ordered aerial counts of all the major elephant populations in southern Tanzanian reserves and national parks.
Additionally, Mutayoba is deeply involved in researching and documenting wildlife connectivity and the movement of large animals outside the protected areas in Tanzania.
National Geographic Society/Buffett Award recipients are chosen from nominations submitted to the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration, which screens the nominations through a peer-review process.
“This year’s awardees are recognized for their outstanding leadership and the vital role they play in managing and protecting the natural resources in their regions. They are exemplary conservation advocates who often battle difficult odds with courage and commitment,” said Peter Raven, chairman of the Committee for Research and Exploration.