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Thailand’s Environment Minister Wins Prestigious Getty Award for Efforts to Wipe Out Wildlife Trade

Tigers, Elephants and Sea Turtles Have All Benefited from Suwit Khunkitti’s Political Leadership


WASHINGTON, DC, March 25, 2010 – Suwit Khunkitti, Thailand’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, has been named the winner of the 2009 J. Paul Getty Award for Conservation Leadership, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) announced today. He is being honored for his efforts to eliminate illegal wildlife trade, save tigers, elephants and sea turtles, and create wildlife corridors and sanctuaries in Thailand.

The annual J. Paul Getty Award for Conservation Leadership is one of the world’s most prestigious international conservation awards and includes a $200,000 prize. 

"The J. Paul Getty Award is unique in that it not only honors today’s top leaders in conservation but also helps develop conservation leadership for tomorrow,” said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of WWF–US.   “This year, the award honors Suwit Khunkitti, whose work in strengthening enforcement against illegal wildlife trade has served as a model in his native Thailand and throughout Southeast Asia.  His efforts demonstrate to the world what is possible with commitment and leadership.” 

With illegal wildlife trade estimated as a lucrative $10 billion enterprise across Southeast Asia, second only to drugs and weapons smuggling, the need to create and implement ways to diminish illegal wildlife trade has been clear. Khunkitti successfully proposed Thailand as the host country for CITES COP 13, the 2004 meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. 

An international agreement between governments, CITES aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. At the 2004 meeting, which Khunkitti chaired, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) was proposed. This precedent-setting, multi-country, multi-agency organization is designed to bring police and customs agencies together with natural resources officials.

Since its creation, ASEAN-WEN has brought attention to wildlife crimes and driven a large number of interdictions against Southeast Asia’s wildlife traffickers. Due to its success, ASEAN-WEN has become a model replicated in South Asia.  Khunkitti has spent a substantial portion of his career establishing and implementing ASEAN-WEN but also working to ensure that Thailand’s own Wildlife Enforcement Network (WEN) provides a functional working model for other countries.


Khunkitti’s work also includes a completed national action plan for tiger conservation in Thailand, critical to stopping the decline of tigers – a major conservation focus in 2010, the Year of the Tiger.  Khunkitti also revised Thailand’s elephant law and pushed reforms to require sea turtle excluders on fishing trawlers. Additionally his work has resulted in the creation of habitat corridors by linking national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in Thailand. Throughout his career, Khunkitti has both actively engaged civil society and nongovernmental organizations in policy initiatives and supported constitutional reforms. 

This year’s Getty Award recognizes political leadership, one of three rotating themes of the award, which also honors community leadership and scientific leadership.  Administered by World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Getty Award is sponsored by J. Paul Getty’s son Gordon and his family. The award is intended to encourage conservation innovation and heighten public awareness of the need for conservation. Nominees for the Getty Award are submitted to WWF by conservation organizations around the world and the winner is chosen by an independent jury of individuals from a wide and distinguished pool of experts. Khunkitti was recognized for his political leadership in support of biodiversity conservation.

Established in 1974 as The Getty Prize by the late U.S. billionaire businessman J. Paul Getty, the award was later renamed the J. Paul Getty Award for Conservation Leadership.  In July 1983, former US President Ronald Reagan, in awarding that year’s winners in the Rose Garden of the White House, described the Getty Prize as “the Nobel Prize for Conservation.”  Previous winners of the Getty Award have included world renowned scientists Dr. Jane Goodall, Sir Peter Scott and Pan Wenshi. 

WWF is the world’s leading conservation organization, working in 100 countries for nearly half a century. With the support of almost 5 million members worldwide, WWF is dedicated to delivering science-based solutions to preserve the diversity and abundance of life on Earth, halt the degradation of the environment and combat climate change. Visit to learn more.   

TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. TRAFFIC is a joint program of IUCN and WWF. Visit to learn more.