Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas


Biologist Gabriela Cabral Rezende coordinates the Black Lion Tamarin Conservation Program of IPE, one of the longest-living conservation programs in Brazil, and that recently completed 35 years of uninterrupted activities. Among more than 100 applications, the researcher and other five scientists from different countries won the 2020 Whitley Awards. Each prize is worth £40,000, which will be used in the respective projects.

Nine years ago, Gabriela inherited the program coordination from primatologist Claudio Padua, one of the founders of IPE and the first Brazilian to win the Whitey Award, in 1999. In the extreme west of São Paulo state, the main headquarters of the program is in the Pontal do Paranapanema region, where is located the largest forest remnant of Atlantic Forest in the interior of São Paulo state – one of the last hotspots of global biodiversity.

With an original area of 1.3 million square kilometers, only 14% of the Atlantic Forest remains, as much of it was cut for sugarcane plantation and cattle ranching. With only 1,800 black lion tamarins in the wild, its remaining habitat is highly fragmented, with small and isolated populations.

“The black lion tamarin exists only in the state of São Paulo. For this reason, it is the official state mammal symbol. We are responsible for guaranteeing its existence. I am extremely grateful for the award, that will help us to continue a conservation work that needs to be carried out for the long term, in order for us to see its results” stated Gabriela.

Gabriela and her team work to protect the black lion tamarins by carrying out scientific research, environmental education, and forest restoration. With the collaboration with local communities, IPE restores forest corridors that connect several native forest fragments. The action generates capacity building and improves the income of the population: nine community nurseries and agroforestry plantations help to implement the corridors. The largest of them is also the largest in Brazil, with more than 20 kilometers long and 2.5 million of trees planted.

To know more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGnWKzzYVD4&t=

Funding from the Whitley Award will enable the plantation of more corridors by Gabriela and her team. The goal is to connect every population of black lion tamarin in the region, with the establishment of a continuous forest area of approximately 45,000 hectares (45,000 soccer fields). Besides reforestation, the research plans to transfer groups of black lion tamarins to forest patches currently uninhabited by the species, to guarantee their presence in a wide forested area. This is part of a plan to avoid genetic consanguinity and to assure that these small monkeys have enough resources to survive. The environmental education activities promoted by IPE will also continue in the region.




The main Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) award – the Whitley Gold Award – was given to Patrícia Medici, coordinator of LTCI – Lowland Tapir Conservation Initiative, a project from IPE, the institute that she co-founded. Leading conservation actions for the lowland tapir and its habitat for 24 years, Patricia’s work resulted in the creation of the world’s largest dataset about the species. Her contributions for the knowledge about the species and for the progress of science have inspired students and researchers from several countries.

Patricia’s actions combined field research, conservation practices, environmental education, communication, training, and capacity buildings. Added to these actions, there is planning for the reduction of threats and establishment of public policies that benefit the species and its habitat. The outcomes of her work have impacted not only the lives of the tapirs but also of other animals, plants, and humans living in several biomes: the Atlantic Forest, Pantanal, Cerrado, and now with the prize, the Amazon.

The lowland tapir is the largest terrestrial mammal in South America, and it is considered a living fossil as its lineage has survived through several extinction events along millions of years of evolution. However, the species currently faces several threats caused by humans, including the destruction and fragmentation of its habitat due to the expansion of large-scale agriculture, cattle ranching, roadkill, hunting, mining, among others.

“When we support the cause for the conservation of the lowland tapir, we are also defending our own lives, our natural resources and our health. Considered to be the gardener of the forests, the tapir promotes forest renewal and restoration though seed dispersal. Several plant species exist only because their seeds pass through the guts of tapirs. The tapir “plays” with the plant composition and diversity of the forest and is largely responsible for maintaining the integrity of these environments”, explains Patricia.

Patricia Medici anta

Despite being very important for the ecosystems it occurs, in Brazil the Portuguese
word for tapir, “anta”, is a pejorative slang for a person that is not intelligent. To solve this problem and to spread more information about tapirs, Patricia, her team, and supporters of the cause have created the hashtag in the social media: #antaÉelogio.
For the researcher, communicating with the large audience is essential for the
academic developments to reach more people and for a better comprehension about the importance of biodiversity, not only for wildlife but also for humans, that are part of biodiversity.

To illustrate this, Patricia mentions the study of LTCI in the Cerrado of Mato Grosso do Sul state, that found that pesticides and roadkill have contributed to the reduction of the tapir population in the region.

“We need to consider that both pesticides and roadkill impact the wildlife and also us humans. Many people are affected by the excessive use of pesticides. Our studies also show that many people are killed in vehicle crashes with tapirs, mainly due to the lack of safety measures that avoid road crossing by these animals, and also lack of adequate signs. Together with the state and federal public departments, we are using our database to request the implementation of mitigation measures in the roads where tapirs are frequently killed. For obtaining this kind of information we need science and scientists, that also help to apply this knowledge for the good of both humans and wildlife”, defends the forestry engineer.

Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) has supported Patricia’s work in the last 12 years, greatly contributing for the expansion of the LTCI actions all over Brazil. Patricia began her field studies in the Atlantic Forest in 1996, and with WFN help, have expanded her efforts to the Pantantal (2008) and the Cerrado (2015).

The Whitley Gold Award won today will be used for bolstering LTCI’s actions all over the country. In the Atlantic Forest, part of the resources will be used for a reevaluation of the tapir population in the Morro do Diabo State Park. In the Pantanal, tapirs will continue to be monitored using radio telemetry and camera traps. In the Cerrado, the work will be focused in avoiding roadkill and also solving the pesticide contamination issues and hunting, in a landscape that is rapidly changing due to the agricultural developments in Brazil. The new work in the Amazon will be aimed at mitigating the threats to tapirs in the southern part of the deforestation arch, in Mato Grosso and Pará states.

Edward Whitley, founder of WFN, said: “Patricia’s work is vital to fight deforestation in Brazil and to protect this amazing species that is the tapir. Her dedication to research, education, and capacity building are a brilliant example of an effective work. Patricia Medici is a strong voice in conservation in Brazil and in the world. We are privileged to still be able to support this cause”



Regarded as the most prestigious award in the field of Environmental Conservation and often described as the Green Oscar, the Whitley Awards, granted by the Whitley Fund for Nature (United Kingdom), has announced the 2020 winners in April 29th.

Two Brazilian won the prize in different categories: Patricia Medici (with the Gold Award, the top award), and Gabriela Cabral Rezende (with the Whitley Award, granted to other five conservationists from around the world). Both Brazilian winners are researchers from IPE and have dedicated their lives to the conservation of the lowland tapir and the black lion tamarin, respectively. These two species are threatened by human activities.


The prize is awarded annually, and the ceremonies take place in London, when each winner receive the prize from the hand of Her Royal Highness Princess Anne. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemics, the ceremony was postponed, but the winners will still receive their prizes, which consist of worldwide recognition of their conservation efforts and a sum of money that will be used in their projects.

“This award is extremely important, particularly considering the moment that we are passing through. More than never, we need to highlight the importance of keep the balance of our ecosystems. The current pandemic crisis is intrinsically connected with the destruction of our ecosystems and with the way that we treat nature. Never in history we have seen the current impacts caused by human beings in nature. Acting now is extremely important to revert the impacts of climate emergencies and prevent future wildlife extinctions. Conservationists like me must help set the tone and agenda for environmental conservation strategies in the decade ahead”, says Patrícia Medici.

Know the history of the researcher and how will IPE use the resources of the Whitley Gold Award

Gabi WFN


“Inspiration from pioneering researchers is the energy that moves me toward my dreams. As a conservationist, my dream is to save species from extinction. Making a difference for a species and its habitat is the way that I found for leaving a better planet for future generations and inspire them to get involved with conservation,     be it professionally or in their daily actions. With the award, I hope to stimulate other women scientists to act for environmental conservation”, says Gabriela. 

Know how the Whitley Award will help the Black Lion Tamarin Conservation Program



Text From WFN

For many people, a love of nature and a passion for its conservation has been inspired by visiting a wild place. However, those of us with the capacity to travel, at an individual or corporate level, are under increasing pressure to consider our carbon footprint.

In the past few years the concept of ‘carbon-offsetting’ has evolved, and there are now a broad spectrum of ways to counteract the environmental impact of the decisions we make.

Following encouragement from our partners and donors, we have developed an tree planting scheme with Brazilian NGO, IPÊ (the Institute of Ecological Research), the organizational backbone of 3 Whitley Award winners.

Whilst this is an informal scheme, it offers an opportunity to directly funnel your donations into a Whitley Award winning reforestation project which is growing a carbon store and building local livelihood capacity.

We will be working specifically with Laury Cullen, Research Coordinator for IPÊ, who is championing a reforestation initiative in the Brazilian Atlantic forest.


Supported by his 2002 Whitley Award, Laury project-managed Brazil’s largest reforested corridor (1,800 ha), connecting two protected primary forest habitats, bringing the black lion tamarin back from the brink of extinction. This most charismatic little monkey has suffered greatly from habitat fragmentation, leading to in-breeding and genetic weakening of the species. Laury is now scaling up his approach, developing more forest corridors, connecting vital Atlantic forest fragments for the black lion tamarin and other threatened animals including jaguars and tapirs.

Laury works with local landowners who grow and sell seedlings, while trained local forestry teams plant and manage the reforested areas. His project is creating significant livelihood opportunities among landowners and in local communities.

By supporting tree planting with WFN and IPÊ you are supporting proven grassroots conservation; driving resilience and bringing about positive change for people and wildlife.


  • We’ll calculate the number of trees required using this calculator platform, and let you know the cost.
  • If you decide to go ahead, we’ll send you a donation link.
  • On receipt of the donation we’ll write to you personally, detailing the number of trees you’ve planted with some more information about the project you’ve supported.



Gabriela Cabral Rezende, coordinator of the Black Lion Tamarin Conservation Program, from IPÊ (Institute for Ecological Research), is part of a shortlist of top conservationists that compete for the Whitley Awards 2020, considered the Green Oscar.

Each year, the Whitley Awards recognize the work of six conservationists with projects in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. For this year, 112 researchers competed. The list of six winners will come out in April.

Gabriela competes for conservation work with the black lion tamarin, the animal that is the symbol of São Paulo State. For nine years, she has continued the project that began 35 years ago, in Pontal do Paranapanema, with primatologist Claudio Padua, which is the first Brazilian to win the Whitley Award in 1999. The project grew, using tamarin protection strategies that have already produced results, such as the reforested corridor that connects the Protected Areas of the region, guaranteeing more area available for the circulation of the species. In addition, black lion tamarin conservation is supported by environmental education and sustainable income generation actions. As examples, agroecology and community nurseries both help to strengthen the population's relationship with the local fauna.

Currently, the researcher is engaged in studies for the management of the species and developing innovative experiments that can contribute to the collection of more accurate data on tamarins, such as the installation of nest boxes in areas of young forests where there are no trees holes to be used by the tamarin yet. Under the leadership of Gabriela, the project also brought the first monitoring collars with GPS to be used on small animals in Brazil.

“Me and the entire IPÊ team are very happy with the nomination. This is an integrated work, where everyone's action is fundamental, not only for research itself, but for environmental education, landscape restoration, and community involvement. It is this integration and collaboration that makes conservation work happen. The scientific research on the black lion tamarin can gain even more if we win this award, so it means a lot to us to be in this shortlist”, she comments.