THE founder of a project to protect African elephants from poachers who has been awarded an MBE has paid tribute to the courage of colleagues who have died battling the ivory trade.

The Uganda Conservation Foundation said it was delighted that Michael Keigwin, of Masham, North Yorkshire, had been named in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List, for his contribution to wildlife conservation.

The award for Mr Keigwin, whose father was the chief executive of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society in the 1990s, comes 19 years after he helped create the Elephants, Crops and People project in the southern Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda, to boost the region’s wildlife after five decades of war and rebel activity.

The scheme focused on improving understanding the ecology of the surviving elephants and their movement patterns, and stopping, as best as possible, what was Africa’s most intense elephant crop raiding.

To bankroll the project, the former Durham University student raised funds by staging events ranging from eating the hottest curry in the world in Newcastle, to running half marathons in gorilla suits, to selling Christmas cards and hosting talks, parties and a ball in Harrogate.

As a result of the project with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, elephant crop raiding was reduced by 90 per cent.

To further this work, Mr Keigwin, set up the Uganda Conservation Foundation in 2001 to provide umbrella support and services to help the Uganda Wildlife Authority improve its conservation work.

In 2011, he resigned from his job as a consultant at financial firm Deloitte to help recover Murchison Falls National Park, which was under siege from poachers.

A foundation spokesman said: “Today, the park is back to a full recovery; wildlife numbers are growing exponentially and tourism is flourishing.

“His support has included the creation, equipping and training of UWA Veterinary Response, Marine Ranger and Mobile Anti-Poaching Units, as well as the Veterinary and Analytics Lab in Murchison Falls.

“Michael also supported Dr Sam Wasser, of Washington University, profile the DNA of elephants throughout the region, providing authorities with concrete evidence of where any captured ivory originated from and if, when found, it proved to be from the park it showed the areas poachers were targeting and where smuggling routes were active.”

The foundation said Mr Keigwin had also helped develop a law enforcement and intelligence tool, which has resulted in poacher prosecution rates of over 95 per cent being achieved - the highest in Africa.

A foundation spokesman said: “The award is well deserved, and we are all extremely proud of his achievements.”

Speaking about the honour, Mr Keigwin, a Masham Cricket Club supporter, said he had had the privilege of working with “some of the most kind, remarkable and brave people”.

He said: “Some have died or been killed in the line of duty, including 107 rangers in the Virunga National Park. I can’t thank enough those who have helped me support the men and women on the frontline of conservation and development, and create the Uganda Conservation Foundation.

“It is exciting to know we have a wonderful organisation that can attract and help manage support to vital and exciting projects, helping others projects that would otherwise simply not have a chance. UCF is about helping others – and enabling expeditions, research and projects to happen.”