Fauna & Flora International’s ‘Uncle Elephant’ meets President Obama

Fauna & Flora International’s Tuy Sereivathana, known as Vathana and recent winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, has become the first non-diplomatic Cambodian to meet President Obama in Washington, DC.

In a brief meeting, organised by the Goldman Environmental Prize, Vathana thanked President Obama for the support of the United States Government for species and habitat conservation in Cambodia.

Mr Obama spoke with Vathana and the other Goldman Environmental Prize winners, congratulating them and calling on them to act as role models.

“I am very honoured by this attention and it makes me committed to continue to conserve Cambodia’s unique environment.” said Vathana after his history-making meeting.

“I plan to work closely with the Cambodian Government and my colleagues at Fauna & Flora International to do the best we can. I hope this award can raise the importance of Cambodia’s biodiversity in the United States and across the World”.

The Cambodian Ambassador to the US, Mr. Hem Heng, accompanied Vathana to a second Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony in Washington, DC, and spent time discussing the Cambodian environment and the role of the US administration in supporting these issues.

Last month Vathana was awarded the 2010 Goldman Environmental Prize for his work on developing innovative low-cost solutions to mitigate human-elephant conflict in Cambodia, empowering local communities to co-operatively participate in endangered Asian elephant conservation.

Vathana joined FFI as a seconded government officer from the Ministry of Environment in 2003 to work on elephant conservation as part of a multiple agency team that included the Cambodian Forestry Administration, Ministry of Environment and FFI.

In 2006, he left his government position to join the FFI Cambodia team and became the manager of the Cambodian Elephant Conservation Group.

Photo credits: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza, Roger Ingle / Fauna & Flora International