Award winner 2010
Location: Morocco

Els van Lavieren

After an unexpected career change, Els van Lavieren chose to put her energy into Barbary macaque conservation in Morocco. Around 80% of the Barbary macaque population lives  within the Ifrane National Park. And in 25 years, the macaque population declined by over 50%. Els founded the Moroccan Primate Conservation Foundation (MPC) when she began her research into the illegal trade of barbary macaques. What started as a solo adventure, has become a team effort. Nowadays MPC’s team consists of over 20 people and the macaque population is recovering steadily.

With the macaques in good hands Els embarked on a new mission. Since 2015, she has been fighting against illegal wildlife trade in Suriname and managing the marine programme at Conservation International Suriname.


Els van Lavieren decided to care for exotic wildlife in a Dutch animal sanctuary upon finishing her studies in wildlife management in 1998. For six years, she worked as head of the animal care department at Stichting AAP. While there, she saw a large increase in the number of Barbary macaques being confiscated from Morocco. So, in 2003, she decided to pursue a Master’s degree in primate conservation and write her thesis on the illegal trade in Barbary macaques. In the process, she founded the Moroccan Primate Conservation Foundation (MPC). And by the end of her programme, Els had sold her house and moved to Morocco to work full time on Barbary macaque conservation.

In 2017, Els decided to open a new chapter in her life and moved to Suriname to work with Conservation International.

Vision and Approach

Els van Lavieren is determined to curb the decline of the Barbary macaque population. This decline is the result of habitat loss, poaching, and traffic to the illegal pet market. Els was the first to undertake research on the illegal trade of Barbary macaques in Morocco. After founding the Moroccan Primate Conservation Foundation (MPC), Els was doing scientific research, conducting outreach programmes for tourists and schools, training customs officials in Spain and Morocco, and lobbying on legislation. She managed to do it all, mostly alone, and in close cooperation with the Moroccan authorities. Resulting from her hard work, there is now a government protection plan for the Barbary macaques, and they are listed on CITES Appendix 1. Despite having moved to Suriname, Els van Lavieren remains dedicated to fighting wildlife crime and working towards wildlife conservation.

“The Future For Nature Award gave me the opportunity to compose a team, which consists of more than 20 people today. One of our results is that, where these animals were still regarded to be the cause of forest degradation because of wrong population estimates in 2004, there is now a government protection plan for the Barbary macaques, and they are listed on CITES Appendix 1.”
Els van Lavieren

Impact of the Future For Nature Award

  • After receiving the Future For Nature Award, Els gained international recognition for her work and was motivated to push forward.
  • Els used the opportunity from receiving the Award to compose and train a team of almost 20 people to help her and the Barbary macaques. Part of this team is the anti-poaching squad that is still working today to protect the Barbary macaques in Ifrane NP.
  • The Morrocan Primate Conservation (MPC) received a huge financial boost, which made it possible to set up a government protection plan for the Barbary macaques.

Moving Forward

The Barbary macaque population in Ifrane National park has been recovering steadily due to the efforts of Els and the MPC. Infants are being born and thriving, and poaching has been reduced to a very low level. Els is far from done with her outstanding conservation efforts. After winning the Future For Nature Award, she finally had time to go on a well-deserved holiday to Suriname. During her holidays Els was so impressed and fascinated by the country’s pure and untouched nature, that she didn’t want to leave. So, in 2017, she contacted local nature organisations, found a job as the Wildlife Manager at Conservation International (CI), and moved to Paramaribo. She is involved with population surveys of Suriname’s wildlife, fights illegal wildlife trade and manages the marine programme. Besides this, Els found her way back into primate conservation and is working on a Spider monkey rehabilitation project as well.

Read more about her career switch in her blog ‘From Primates to Marine Life’ 

"At every level, from her field research on illegal trade of youngsters, to training of wildlife law enforcers, education and involvement of local communities, and successful (inter)national lobbying, Els has proven to be brave, determined, and versatile."
Ms. Saba Douglas-Hamilton, International Selection Committee