San Diego Zoo Scientist Gets the Royal Treatment


Cameroonian Ekwoge Abwe receives a prestigious conservation award for his life’s work with wildlife and biodiversity.

Ekwoge Abwe, a principal scientist for the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (SDZWA) was honored at a royal event in London in November, receiving the Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa by Tusk, an English conservation organization. The lifetime achievement award is for outstanding dedication and exceptional continued contribution to conservation in Africa. He received the award from the Prince of Wales himself. 

He is the heartbeat of the SDZWA’s African Forest Hub Program and a testament to the power of relentless passion and unwavering dedication to our planet’s precious wildlife.

– Andrew James of SDZWA

Ekwoge has worked for SDZWA for over twenty years. A proud Cameroonian, Ekwoge is the President of the Cameroon Biodiversity Association, and is widely recognized as one of West and Central Africa’s most influential, dynamic, and committed conservationists. 

“He is the heartbeat of the SDZWA’s African Forest Hub Program and a testament to the power of relentless passion and unwavering dedication to our planet’s precious wildlife,” says Andrew James, Senior Public Relations Representative for the SDZWA. “This accolade is not only a personal milestone for Ekwoge, but also a monumental recognition of San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s global impact on wildlife conservation.”

Born in a small village adjacent to what is now the Bakossi Mountains National Park, Ekwoge was brought up to believe that hard work and generosity could take him anywhere. He was critical to forging alliances between more than forty traditional chiefs of two different tribes to protect Cameroon’s Ebo forest, and he leads the campaign to dissuade the government of Cameroon from logging the forest, which could lead to the loss of entire communities of chimpanzees, gorillas, elephants, and other wildlife. While the future of the forest remains unresolved, Ekwoge is committed to advocating for the involvement of peoples living around the forest to decide its future in an inclusive and transparent local land-use planning process.

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Dr. Ekwoge Abwe
Dr. Ekwoge Abwe. – Courtesy of SDZWA; photo by Anthony Ochieng

Ekwoge says, “I have always believed that we humans have a duty to ensure that those less fortunate than ourselves, as well as our children and future generations, live in harmony in a diverse and thriving world for the benefit of all.”

He began working with San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance twenty years ago, contributing to great ape behavioral research. Ekwoge’s work with chimpanzees at Ebo has been ground-breaking and vital for their conservation. His research on chimpanzee habitat requirements, social structure, and behavior has been invaluable in developing effective conservation strategies. He was also the first to witness endangered Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees using stone and wood like hammers to crack open tree nuts. Ebo’s forest elephant conservation has also been a priority of Ekwoge’s, and his team pioneered the use of video-camera trapping for monitoring the reclusive elephants.

Bethan Morgan, head of the African Forest Program at SDZWA, who nominated Ekwoge, says, “Ekwoge’s hope and belief in a better future for all is inspiring and infectious, and is evident in the significant numbers of young Cameroonians who call him their mentor. His inauspicious start in life may have led to his determination to succeed, and a deep knowledge of and respect for the poverty-stricken populations with which he works. His pride in and love for his country and people shines through every day.”

Tusk was founded in 1990 in response to the poaching of rhinos and elephants, and tackles the rampant illegal wildlife trade, habitat loss, and human-wildlife conflict in Africa. It boasts a bevy of celebrity ambassadors, including the Prince of Wales, musicians like Mark Knopfler and Ronnie Wood, actors like John Cleese and Ali McGraw, and prominent bug-muncher (he probably prefers “wilderness educator”) Bear Grylls.

Tusk Chief Executive Charlie Mayhew says, “Ekwoge’s conservation impact on a local, national, and international level is unparalleled. The judges were impressed by his notable achievements in peace-making and activism, his commitment to the people of Cameroon, and the extraordinary legacy he has created. He is a worthy winner of this lifetime achievement award and we’re honored to celebrate this true defender of biodiversity.”

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Jim Miller
Jim Miller
Jim Miller, co-editor of Bluedot San Diego and Bluedot Santa Barbara, has been an environmental economist for over 25 years, in the private sector, academia, and the public service. He enjoys sharing his knowledge through freelance writing, and has been published in The Washington Post and Martha’s Vineyard magazine. He’s always loved nature and the outdoors, especially while on a bicycle.
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