Corneille Ewango grew up among poachers and hunters. Poaching was simply the way of life in his village, and this future was ahead of him too. But when he got the chance to go to school, he seized that opportunity and changed course. Corneille wanted to become a doctor and applied to study medicine a couple of times. In the meantime, he started studying biology to pass the time waiting on the approval for medicine. But after three years he lost his heart to nature and the conservation of the flora and fauna of his region, the Ituri forest.
Vision and Approach
The rainforest of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) contains roughly half of Africa’s tropical moist forests and one-eighth of all tropical rainforests in the world. During the Second Congolese Civil War from 1998 to 2003, Corneille was chief botanist at the Okapi Faunal Reserve (OFR), which covers about one-fifth of the Ituri forest in the north-east of the DRC. During this period, he put his life at risk by passing on messages from inside the reserve to the UN and UNESCO. These messages were about the plans and actions of the rebels, who were out to kill both the local people and local wildlife. To the astonishment of many, the reserve remained intact. As a result of Corneille’s efforts, a number of poachers were arrested or exiled, and mining within the reserve was prohibited.
“People sometimes act out of ignorance. I did so myself. If I had known – when I was young – that by killing an elephant I was destroying biodiversity, I would not have done it. That’s why I’m now working with universities to fill the need for training more local experts and overall capacity building initiatives for the young generation, for a better future for Africa’s tomorrow.”- Corneille Ewango
Corneille Ewango held a prestigious TED lecture in 2007 and in November 2010 obtained his doctoral degree at Wageningen University following research into 300 types of lianas.
The Future For Nature award was bestowed at the Burgers’ Zoo in Arnhem on April 5. It was accepted by Professor Frans Bongers of Wageningen University on behalf of Ewango, who was unable to get a visa due to administrative reasons.
“Corneille is especially impressive in covering all species, from the charismatic mega-fauna through to the plants of DR Congo. His courage in staying in the field during a time of war to continue protecting valuable species is a true inspiration. His focus on training others and sticking to projects in the long term are essential if conservation in central Africa is to have a future.” – 2011, Simon Stuart, International Selection Committee