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Премия рунета 2017

Laura Williams award for wildlife conservation

Launched in 2019 in memory of Laura Williams, co-founder of WWF-Russia, the Award will be presented biannually to young professionals who have made exceptional contribution to Russia’s wildlife conservation.

The aim of the Award is to recognize and celebrate the efforts of young conservation leaders in preserving and protecting the country’s biodiversity and natural resources.

The nominees must be 35 or younger. No WWF-Russia staff member shall be eligible for the Award. All nominations shall be made by federal or regional nature reserves, non-commercial conservation organizations, research institutions, WWF-Russia Board members or staff members, representatives of local authorities or communities of the indigenous peoples of the Russia’s North, Siberia and the Far East.


The history of WWF-Russia began with Laura Williams. She first briefly visited Russia as a student in 1990, and – three years later – she came back to the country as a representative of WWF-US for an international project to assess local biodiversity issues. So at 23, Laura became an advocate for wildlife conservation in Russia and later on, she was vigorously involved in opening the first program office of WWF in Russia. WWF-Russia was legally recognized as a national organization in 2004.

Laura spent the next few years implementing numerous conservation projects, including the Bryansk Forest Nature Reserve Project and contributed to establishing a number of nature reserves and national parks. She pioneered the brown bear conservation project, which included developing the methodology of monitoring the species, and promoted awareness-building programs for the local adults and children.

In 2006 Laura moved to Kamchatka where she founded a local WWF-Russia office and later led a Wild Salmon Center program.

Having left the WWF, Laura continued her wildlife protection efforts. Her last project focused on therapeutic horseback riding and equine therapy for children. She died in a tragic accident in 2018.

The prize fund is created from private donations from around the world – donations made by people who knew Laura Williams or wanted to support her cause.


The Laura Williams Award Committee has announced the young winners in wildlife conservation leadership. The award was presented to four environmentalists and researchers from different parts of Russia.

First prize

Elena Shnayder, expert biologist, Siberian Environmental Center (Sibecocenter).

Elena Shnayder, an ornithologist with a PhD in Biology, is an expert on raptors. Elena leads the program for restoring the genetic diversity of saker falcon in the Altai-Sayan region. Saker falcon chicks that had been bred in the nursery are placed in the nests of wild birds, which are built on very high rocks or trees. In the three years of the project, 50 saker falcons have been released into the wild. In addition, thanks to Elena's vigorous effort, the steppe eagle has finally been added to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Elena has also actively contributed to establishing the Novosibirsk Raptor Rehabilitation Center and coordinating its operations.

Second prize

Alexey Kuzhlekov, researcher, Department for Science, Tourism and Recreation, Sailyugem National Park (Russia’s Altai Republic).

Alexey Kuzhlekov is a leading expert on snow leopard and Altai argali studies and conservation in the Altai Republic. The research data collected by Alexey during his expeditions laid the groundwork for the Strategy for Snow Leopard Conservation in Russia and the Program for Snow Leopard Monitoring in Russia and Central Asia. In 2018 Alexey played a major role in the development and pilot testing of a specialty mobile app for tracking the snow leopard population dynamics. As part of the Sailyugem National Park team, Alexey contributed to improving the situation for the snow leopard in the Argut river basin which has recently restored its status as a natural habitat of the largest group of snow leopards in Russia. Most recently, Alexey has become the first person to make a close-up video of this secretive cat in Russia.

Third prize

The Third Prize will be awarded to two nominees who scored an equal number of points.

Alexey Levashkin, ornithologist.

Alexey Levashkin is an ornithologist, a talented wildlife photographer and a popular blogger. Thanks to his efforts, rare species of birds, such as the Ural owl, the great grey owl, the tawny owl, the osprey, the red-footed falcon, and even the azure tit and the European roller, still nest in the Volga region: Alexey has built over a thousand nests for them since 2008. Basing on the findings of the research that Alexey has been conducting for 15 years, over 300 previously unknown habitats of rare animals and plants have been added to the National Inventory, which means these sites will now be protected from destruction. Alexey plays a major role in promoting wildlife conservation. He runs a popular blog, and his photos were shortlisted for the Golden Turtle International Wildlife Photography Competition in 2011 and 2014.

Alexandra Khlopotova, Deputy Director for Research and Environmental Education, Visim Nature Reserve.

Alexandra Khlopotova has studied the red-listed peregrine falcon with a focus on the conservation of this species. It was through her efforts that the rocks towering over the Chusovaya river where peregrine falcons have been nesting for years were given the status of an important natural landscape. Alexandra has been providing artificial nests for peregrine falcons. She has participated in multiple raids to prevent poachers from stealing peregrine falcon nestlings. She has also been involved in research and awareness-raising projects.