Dr. Helen Gichohi is responsible for directing the African Heartlands Program in eight massive landscapes throughout central, eastern, and southern Africa, and commands African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) programs with style and determination.
Founded in 1961 as the African Wildlife Leadership Foundation, AWF is an international conservation organization that focuses on critically important landscapes in Africa. The organization's motto is: To insure the Wildlife and Wild Lands of Africa will endure forever.
Originally, the purpose was to train Africans to maintain game reserves professionally, ensuring an adequate supply of game for hunters on safari. Later, the mandate evolved to supporting western scientists in studies of protected animals in their natural habitat. More recently, the focus has been on developing sustainable systems that benefit both animals and local human communities.
In her role as President of AWF, Dr. Gichohi works with a wide variety of scientists, community officers, government officials, lawyers, donors, and partners to ensure the future for Africa's wildlife. She designs and manages conservation strategies that will reduce threats to wildlife in the Heartlands and improve socioeconomic conditions for the people living there. Achieving this objective is not always straightforward, since threats to wildlife are often the product of a complex interaction of ecological, social, political, economic factors.
In January 2006 during the 42nd Independence Day celebrations, the President of the Republic of Kenya awarded Dr. Gichohi the Order of Great Warrior of Kenya Award in recognition of her sterling contribution to conservation.
Helen Gichohi was born into an agricultural community in central Kenya, where animals were seen as something to be exploited rather than protected. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology from Kenyatta University and a Master of Science degree in Biology of Conservation from University of Nairobi. She went on to the University of Leicester, where she gained a PhD degree in Ecology. While working for her PhD, Helen studied the effect of controlled burning on wildlife grazing areas in the Nairobi National Park. Her conclusion was that, properly managed, fire could be helpful in maintaining an open savannah that provides food for wildlife. She has said that she drifted into ecology, partly because she much preferred to work outdoors than inside in a laboratory.
In 1990, while a researcher at Wildlife Conservation International (WCI), Helen Gichohi prepared an environmental impact statement on a commercial Export Processing Zone for the Kenyan government. She became Director of the African Conservation Centre (ACC), supported by Wildlife Conservation Society where her key focus was to provide vision, leadership and strategic direction towards the development of the ACC as a centre for conservation excellence. In 1998 she was appointed to a five-person panel to advise US President Bill Clinton about environmental issues in Africa.
Dr. Gichohi joined the African Wildlife Foundation, the leading international conservation organization focused solely on Africa, in February 2001 as Director of the African Heartlands Program and in February 2002 she was appointed Program Vice President.
In January 2007 the Board of Trustees elected her as President of the African Wildlife Foundation. She is responsible for building strong partnerships with large donors for funding of AWF's conservation work and represents the organization at the highest levels of government in Africa. She also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Kenya Wildlife Service. Helen Gichohi features as an expert speaker in the award-winning 2009 movie Milking the Rhino. As of 2011 she was a member of the Local Advisory Committee in Kenya of the Global Give Back Circle. She was a board of trustees member of the Kenya Land Conservation Trust and of Beads for Education, a non-profit organization that helps mothers earn money to send their daughters to school. In addition to Dr. Gichohi's environmental work, she served as a board member of the Equity Bank, which started as a building society, later becoming a microfinance institution and then a full-fledged commercial bank.
For her lifelong dedicated work in protecting and conserving the wildlife
and wild lands of the African continent, Dr. Helen Gichohi is The WIFTS Foundation
recipient of the 2012 Environment Award.