2015 Wildlife Warriors!

A huge thank you to all of our amazing nominees for the Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior award. Their work shows how they are incredible heroes! After much careful thought our selection committee has decided on our 2015 Houston Zoo Wildlife Warriors. These exceptional leaders demonstrated excellence and were selected based on their outstanding work in the field. Below is the criteria for the award.


  • Has to be a current employee of an existing Houston Zoo Wildlife Conservation partner
  • Nominated by an existing Houston Zoo Wildlife Conservation partner
  • Grassroots community conservationist, local employee from the project region( local people on the front lines of conservation)
  • Performed extraordinary things in their communities to save wildlife


Here are the 2015 Wildlife Warriors:

Ayubu Msago

Where he is from:
Born in Tanzania

Why he is a Wildlife Warrior:
Ayubu Msago has been the Ruaha Carnivore Project’s community liaison officer since 2009, but has dedicated his whole life to wildlife conservation. Msago gave up his job to come and help start RCP under very difficult conditions – there were only 3 people living in small tents in a remote wilderness area, and the local Barabaig tribe were extremely hostile. Msago worked tirelessly to build a project field camp, and spent years patiently building relationships with the Barabaig, who were killing dozens of lions annually. One night, a young Barabaig girl went missing, so Msago helped organize a search party and searched for 3 days till she was found, very dehydrated but alive. This helped him bond with the fearsome Barabaig warriors, and he became the first outsider they accepted and were willing to work with. Msago tirelessly leads local conservation efforts to help villagers prevent carnivore attacks, even sleeping at households in danger of attack to deter carnivores. He heroically saved the life of a villager who was being attacked by a lion, at extreme risk to his own life, by shooting over the head of the lioness to scare her off the severely injured man and then driving him to the hospital more than 2½ hours away. Long-term conservation depends upon local people seeing real benefits from conservation, so Msago has dedicated years to developing meaningful community benefit initiatives which are linked to wildlife presence. He led local efforts to equip a healthcare clinic, helped establish secondary school scholarships for pastoralist children, developed a program to link village schools with international schools, and implemented Tanzania’s first specialized livestock guarding dog program. He is endlessly passionate about conservation – he conducts wildlife DVD nights in local villages, which have engaged over 20,000 people, and has taken hundreds of warriors, women and schoolchildren on educational Park visits. Living hundreds of miles from his wife and children, Msago is working exceptionally hard to conserve some of the world’s most important carnivore populations, while also helping local communities see real benefits from carnivore presence.

How the award will help:
This award will send Msago to another lion conservation project, the Niassa Lion Project in Mozambique, to learn from their programs to save lions.


George Kakule


weWhere he is from:
Born in Democratic Republic of Congo

Why he is a Wildlife Warrior:
George has been with Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education GRACE in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)since its inception in 2008. Hired as a driver, he was quickly promoted to Facility Manager due to his impressive technical expertise, unparalleled work ethic, and outstanding leadership qualities. His commitment is unwavering. George even stayed with the project throughout a period of insecurity in 2009. To us, George is considered absolutely irreplaceable, as we depend on him in so many ways, from repairing solar panels at the gorilla facility to expertly navigating North Kivu’s treacherous roads to safely transport staff, supplies, and rescued gorillas. George’s accomplishments in 2015, however, show how exceptional he is.

Fourteen gorilla orphans now live at GRACE in a single surrogate family group. GRACE’s ultimate goal is to reintroduce them into their natural habitat, where they can help save the rapidly
dwindling wild Grauer’s gorilla population. For the past three years, George led a massive construction initiative to build the world’s largest forest enclosure to give gorillas an environment
to practice survival-critical skills (e.g., foraging, nest building, coordinating group movements) in preparation for their return to the wild. This groundbreaking achievement, which was completed
in March, was accomplished in one of Africa’s most remote places and all labor was done by hand. George’s team employed over 200 people from local communities, so this project truly
“took a village”.

How the award will help:
This award will send George to a computer training course in the Democratic Republic of Congo to improve his abilities to communicate and share his talents.


Jeneria Lekilelei


Where he is from:
Born in Northern Kenya

Why he is a Wildlife Warrior:
Jeneria grew up in Westgate Community Conservancy in northern Kenya. As a Samburu herder, he saw lions only as livestock killers – a threat to his livelihood. In 2008,
however, Jeneria joined Ewaso Lions, whose mission is to conserve lions and other large carnivores by promoting coexistence between people and wildlife.

First working as a Lion Scout and then a Field Assistant, Jeneria learnt that the animal he always knew as a threat was actually itself threatened and wanted to change this. He realised the only way to protect lions would be to engage his own age-class – Samburu warriors; a group traditionally neglected from conservation but who play a central role in protecting their communities and livestock from external threats. In 2010, Jeneria conceived the idea for Warrior Watch, Ewaso Lions’ flagship program.

Warrior Watch encourages warriors to become ambassadors in their communities, raising awareness about carnivores, and advocating for peaceful coexistence. It builds on their traditional protection role by increasing capacity to mitigate human-carnivore conflict and leverages their presence in wildlife areas to monitor threatened species and record conflict incidents. Today, Jeneria manages a network of 18 warriors across 4 Community Conservancies (673 square miles), coordinating their work based on lion movements, and providing leadership and training.

When valuable livestock is lost, tensions can run high but because of his deep connection to the community and constant outreach, Jeneria is usually the first person his community
contacts. Jeneria often intervenes and risks his own life to protect lions. In the past 5 years, Jeneria and his warriors have prevented over 35 retaliatory attacks on lions.

Jeneria has shown such tremendous growth and talent that he has taken on a significant leadership role. As Field Operations and Community Manager, he spends countless hours in the field monitoring lions (covering 1,157 square miles), leads community workshops, and provides management for Ewaso Lions’ community programs: Mama Simba, Lion Kids Camps, and Lion Watch.

Jeneria has already made a significant impact on the survival of lions in Samburu and is shaping up to be a key leader for lion conservation in Kenya.

How the award will help:
This award will send Jeneria to a leadership course that will strengthen his peacemaking skills to encourage peaceful solutions for local people living with lions.

Houston Zoo staff with Wildlife Warrior, Jeneria.

The Houston Zoo is so grateful for and proud of all of these outstanding wildlife saving heroes!

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