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National Awards Recognise Conservation Excellence

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Auckland Zoo.jpg
Auckland Zoo.jpg

A New Zealand native frog expert and a 10-year-old crusader against the use of palm oil are the winners of Auckland Zoo's inaugural Conservationist of the Year and Young Conservationist of the Year awards.

Dr Phil Bishop, University of Otago frog research leader and former co-leader of the Native Frog Recovery Group has been named Conservationist of the Year for his extensive work in frog research, and communicating the conservation message about frogs to the wider community.

Mad about frogs and toads since the age of four, Dr Bishop says New Zealand's four native frogs are the most evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered amphibians in the world, and should be national icons like the kiwi and tuatara.

"We have the most significant frogs in the world, and several species are in danger of becoming extinct in our life time. It's morally irresponsible for us to sit back and document their declines without working to prevent their extinction," says Dr Bishop, who, receives $1000 towards a frog conservation project.

"As the inaugural recipient, I'm truly honoured to receive this zoo award during the global Year of the Frog, in which I've pulled out all stops to ensure as many people as possible find out about these frogs and how we can help them."

Ten-year-old Isabella Wilson of Waterview in Auckland has been named Young Conservationist of the Year for her personal campaign against the use of palm oil. In many everyday products, palm oil is grown in tropical climates, including in Indonesia - where rainforests are being cleared at a rapid rate to produce it, depriving the now critically endangered orang utan of its natural habitat.

Inspired after attending the zoo's orang utan encounter early this year, Isabella researched the palm oil issue, then proceeded to audit her parents', grandparents' and neighbours' pantries for products containing palm oil, and to challenge local retailers and restaurants. She gave a talk to her school, Pt Chevalier Primary, and convinced its management to remove products containing palm oil from its tuck shop. Friends and teachers have joined Isabella in giving up some favourite foods because of the palm oil content.

"The orang utans aren't doing anything to us, but we are killing them. They are amazing animals - they are the closest mammals to humans. We all need to stop buying products containing palm oil. Shopping takes us longer now because we have to check all the labels, but it's worth it," says Isabella.

Auckland Zoo conservation officer Peter Fraser says Isabella and Dr Bishop are "shining examples of how people with passion and drive can really make a difference."

"For Auckland Zoo, these awards are a great opportunity to recognise conservation excellence and to also profile conservation issues and further the shared conservation goals of New Zealanders. As the awards grow, we aim to secure sponsorship to enable us to offer substantial financial assistance to winners' conservation projects," says Mr Fraser.

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