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Annually, the Disney Conservation Fund awards grants to nonprofit organizations that are spearheading critical conservation efforts and honors individuals “going above and beyond to ensure a world in balance,” according to a press release written by Disney’s Claire Martin. Osa Conservation nominated two of its own outstanding leaders, Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya and Yolanda Rodriguez, for their tireless work to protect our planet.

In 2021, Disney recognized a cohort of 15 Disney Conservation Heroes across 13 countries who “demonstrated incredible commitment to working with their communities to care for wildlife and habitats,” Martin said. “From individuals who protected their own land as nature reserves to those who found innovative ways to support wildlife while honoring cultural traditions, these Heroes have each taken risks, shown courage, and contributed to an inspiring global story of hope for the future,” Martin added.

Below are descriptions of Osa Conservation’s nominees for the esteemed award.

Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya

A trilingual field biologist and exceptional leader, Ruthmery is a Quecha woman working in conservation throughout the Americas. Her work has focused upon the magnificent Andean spectacled bear, as well as rare plant conservation on the Osa Peninsula. Hailing from a small farm in Peru bordered by the Andean highlands, Ruthmery has dedicated her life to protecting wildlife and rainforests. Ruthmery is leading an effort to restore and rewild landscapes, where the Andean bear is currently threatened by habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict. Her work doesn’t stop in Peru either — in Costa Rica, Ruthmery’s botanical expertise and program leadership has helped her team prevent the extinction of a rare and critically endangered plant species. The plant, belonging to the cinnamon family, has only been known to science since 1998. Ruthmery’s team has delicately worked to collect seeds found from the four remaining mature plants left in the wild. These precious seeds are then propagated and planted with the aim of replanting them in the wild. Ruthmery is currently active in efforts to protect plants of the Osa Peninsula.

Yolanda Rodriguez is an active conservation leader working from her small community of Rancho Quemado on the Osa Peninsula. Yolanda is an entrepreneur and community activist, where she started her own family business raising native butterflies while teaching local communities and tourists alike about the importance of the environment. She is a member of several community committees working to promote education, natural resource protection and increase the accessibility of nature to those with disabilities. Yolanda was a leader in the Rancho Quemado Community Biological Monitoring Group, heading a project that monitored and protected local peccary populations from hunting and habitat loss. She has raised awareness surrounding this vulnerable species through community events, such as the first White-lipped Peccary Festival held in 2019. Yolanda was also active in supporting the first annual Peccary Brigade, which brought community members together to spend 24 days tracking migrating peccary herds of over 100 individuals, work critical for informing conservation strategies.

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