Cathy Dreyer becomes first South African to win prestigious Tusk Award

DECEMBER 1, 2016

Local wildlife conservationist and anti-rhino poaching activist, Cathy Dreyer, made history when she won the Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa, at the 2016 Tusk Awards, which was held in London on Wednesday. This is the first time a South African has won this prestigious award - a great achievement for the Eastern Cape. 

The awards, which are received by only three individuals annually, were hosted at the V&A Museum, in London, were attended by the Royal Patron of Tusk, Prince William, who was joined this year by veteran broadcaster, Sir David Attenborough.

The Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa, sponsored by Land Rover, presented by Sir Attenborough, went to Dreyer for her commitment to, and remarkable success in protecting black rhino, work vital to the survival of this iconic species.

With the award, Cathy received a trophy created by Tiffany & Co as well as a grant for £20 000 (more than R350 000). 

In a statement, the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency (ECPTA), where Cathy is working, congratulated her receiving the 2016 International Conservation Tusk Award. 

"ECPTA is extremely proud and honoured to have experts like Cathy working towards advancing the mandate of ECPTA. We salute you!" it said.

Other recipients were Angola’s Manuel Sacaia the winner of the Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award, in recognition of his fearless dedication to protecting the critically endangered giant sable antelope from extinction. The Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa, sponsored by Investec Asset Management, was presented by The Duke to John Kahekwa from the Democratic Republic of Congo for a life lived in pursuit of a future for the Grauer’s gorilla within the Congo’s war zones.

L to R Prince William, Charlie Mayhew,  Paul Gardiner and Caroline Price.

The Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa

This award is given to an individual who has been judged to be emerging as a leading conservationist and in recognition of their outstanding contribution to, and considerable success, in their chosen field. The award is sponsored by Land Rover and this year will be presented by Sir David Attenborough. 

Charlie Mayhew, Tusk CEO, said “Whilst the illegal wildlife trade continues to flourish, we must not lose sight of the remarkable achievements of these five extraordinary men and women, whose lives are threatened daily on Africa’s conservation front line”.

The ceremony was attended by many of the charity’s high profile supporters including Ronnie Wood, Deborah Meaden, Katherine Jenkins and Bear Grylls. The awards ceremony was hosted by broadcaster, Kate Silverton, a Patron of the Charity. Among the guests were the Chinese, Rwandan and Angolan Ambassadors.

Hendrik du Toit, CEO of Investec Asset Management, added, “We live in unprecedented times. Over the last 40 years the world’s wildlife population has decreased by more than half and some of the planet’s most iconic species, many of which count the continent of Africa as their home, are on the brink of extinction. Now is the time to act if we are to reverse this. The awards are not only a celebration of the achievements of the nominees; they are also about inspiring all of us for the ongoing battle to preserve our natural heritage for the generations to come.”

With the addition of a surprise award, Prince William turned the tables on Sir Attenborough, offering the legendary natural history broadcaster heartfelt thanks for his ‘immense contribution’ to conservation and for inspiring generations around the globe to care for the natural world. 

The Duke said, “As ever, tonight I have been humbled by the sheer dedication and commitment that all of our 2016 nominees have shown, in preserving – against the odds - our precious natural world.  Their work is dangerous but vitally important – and we are immensely grateful for it.”

“Let’s remember,” he added “that the illegal wildlife trade is the fourth biggest illegal trade in the world after drugs, weapons and human slavery.”

Adrian Gardiner, Cathy Dreyer and Will Fowlds

About Cathy Dreyer

Cathy started her career over 17 years ago, at the age of 22, with South African National Parks as a conservation student, assisting with the capture of black rhino. This became a turning point in her life as she developed a deep, lifelong passion for the species (Cathy calls it a “slight obsession”), which has shaped her career in conservation.

Coming from humble roots and starting a career at the bottom of the ladder, Cathy’s perseverance and focus built a career which graphically illustrates that being disadvantaged is not a barrier to achieving great heights, not only in conservation but also in life itself.

On hearing about her nomination, Cathy said: “It has been incredibly humbling and I am truly honored to have been nominated for this award.”

Cathy’s success has been totally through her own efforts and as a woman she has faced greater challenges than most. She admited that: “I have always been driven by my work and family has had to take a back seat for a number of years.”

Crucially, Cathy has helped to bring people working in conservation together, principally in a number of national and international rhino translocations. 

Her response to the nomination showed her overarching modesty: “This nomination is as much for the people who have inspired me, taught me what I know and continue to motivate me daily.”

Cathy’s work has led directly to the establishment of new black rhino populations and in South Africa, the country with the highest population of rhino – yet facing the highest rate of poaching – Cathy offers the potential to provide vital protection for this species far into the future. Behind her success is her approach to life: “the harder the battle the sweeter the victory”.

Cathy Dreyer is a clear example of the commitment and future of young African leadership in Conservation in Africa.

“I am driven by the need to feel that I am making a difference and contributing meaningfully to conservation," she said.

Main image: William Fowlds;  Cathy Dreyer and David Zimmerman.