Life below water: How TBA has influenced my work in marine conservation

by Vanessa Didon

The TBA training has grown not only to influence the careers of many young scientists but also for many mid-career scientists and conservation managers working across several hotspots.   In increasing it’s far-reaching impact in capacity building, TBA is currently delivering its CEPF-funded project aimed at strengthening the capacity of civil society organizations for conservation in the Madagascar and Indian Ocean islands (MADIO) hotspot . Vanessa Didon is one of the many conservation managers  working across the MADIO hotspot who has received TBA training through this project. Today, she shares with us the impact of these trainings in her work in marine conservation 

Sea turtles are just one member of the ecosystem, but in an ecosystem, inter-dependence exists so each organism has its special role. As a sea turtle conservationist, amongst the many tasks I undertake at Marine Conservation Society Seychelles, my work principally entails leading the projects through routine monitoring on nesting beaches to collect sea turtle activities; tracks, encounters, marking of nests, and excavating hatched nests to check survival rates. I train colleagues as well as interns and volunteers within my organization to ensure that qualitative data is collected.


During off-peak season (nesting season), I mostly engage in educational awareness with people in the community especially the youth; visiting schools for presentations and short workshops to educate about the necessity for sea turtle conservation. The main aim of my project is to create Seasonal Protected Areas to ensure that nesting female turtles as well as their off springs are protected during these crucial stages in their life cycle.


By conserving sea turtles, we are trying to ensure that the marine ecosystem is preserved in general to maintain biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem. If sea turtles are eliminated, this can have a huge impact for example on corals: Hawksbill turtles feed on sponges that grow in between corals, thus maintaining the reef and ensuring healthy coral growth.

I have attended a master class and two site visit and learning exchanges delivered by TBA which have had positive impact on my work, exactly as intended.

vanThrough the TBA site exchanges, I have developed a greater understanding on corals and the role they play in the marine environment. This has also helped me to better create    the link between all the different species in the ecosystem, understand more about the function of interdependence and the effects of symbiosis. I have developed into a more proactive member within my organization, continuously passing on knowledge gathered to my peers.

The TBA Master class training remains the highlight of my career and it has made me even more appreciative of my work and more open-minded about the different opportunities to continue growing as an environmental conservationist and the possibilities of continued learning of a higher level in marine conservation.

The networking platform enabled through TBA has helped to broaden my ability to interact with members of the community and design and implement activities which involves their participation. This has really brought meaning to the community-based projects I’m working with.


An opportunity you can’t miss!

Swedish ecologist Arvid Lindh shares his experience on the TBA Field Course at Danum Valley in 2017.


I’ve always tried to grab chances when I see them. I do not exactly have the “I make my own luck”- mindset but I try to grab on to opportunities that come my way. When I spotted a poster for TBA’s month-long field course in the tropics I immediately recognized an opportunity I couldn’t miss.

It’s not easy finding high quality courses in the tropics that don’t cost a fortune. TBA isn’t for free but compared to many alternatives, it’s price is very reasonable. Furthermore, I’m saying this as a white male from Europe that has lived a very privileged life. For the people less economically fortunate than me, for whom the TBA courses are the most important for, the course actually is free!

Both from a personal and academic standpoint the course was amazing. The teachers on the course, especially the ones that stayed with us the entire course, deserve all the praise I can give. There was a huge variety in what we learned, but still room to dive deep into what you were extra interested in. Almost every day we met new researchers who were eager to teach us about their research. To see all these incredible people in the field, where they truly are in their right element, was incredible. Among all these there was a mutual respect between all people involved, both teachers and students. Everyone was doing their damnedest to make the course an enjoyable and rewarding experience as possible.


Not even half a year after the course, I found an advertisement for a PhD-position in tropical forest ecology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. I wasn’t even finished with my master’s degree but once again I thought this was an opportunity I couldn’t miss. What I believe set my application apart was that I could in confidence declare that I had experience with all the different skills the position required, and almost all of this was because of the TBA course. I had experience measuring functional traits on trees, seedling recruitment, estimating carbon budgets, and analyzing forest structures. Additionally, I had proof that I’m able to do all of this in a tropical forest under challenging conditions. I can’t think of anywhere else where I could have acquired such a broad skill-set in such a short time. I was very lucky and got the position. I’m incredibly excited to be able to continue my academic career and in my dream field no less. In my thesis I will work on grouping native Bornean tree species into “functional suites” based on easily measured functional traits. I will then explore the economic values, ecosystem services and biodiversity that are associated with these functional suites. My goal is to identify candidate species that can be used in a sustainable bio-based economy by providing both high economic and ecologic values.

I’m certain that this position would have been out of my reach were it not for TBA. I’m incredibly grateful for everything that I learned during the course and all the memories and friends I made. I’m only getting started in my career, but I hope to one day be able to repay my dept by going full circle and teach on the course.


I encourage all young students with even the slightest kindle of a passion for conservation and the tropics, to not be afraid, or to doubt themselves. Instead grab on to the opportunity and send your application to the TBA. Our planet needs your help, the tropics especially, and the course will be a good start on your conservation journey, and a true adventure.

TBA trains global leaders

by Tapiwa S. Lewis

Congratulations to TBA alumna, Zimbabwean Kudzai Mafuwe (Amani 2013), who has been chosen to participate in the prestigious 2018 Cornell Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellows Programme at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. We wish her well on her fellowship.

The Alliance for Science is a communications and training initiative to build a global network of science champions dedicated to promoting access to agricultural innovation. The Alliance is motivated by a passion for achieving justice for the poor. They are committed to defending evidence-based decision-making and they are also driven by the urgency of resolving social and environmental problems.

Let’s take a look at Kudzai’s path to her latest achievement.

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Kudzai attended the TBA field course in Amani in 2013 and then joined 13 other Zimbabwean conservationists who had been trained by the TBA.  Determined to increase the capacity of upcoming young Zimbabwean scientists to engage effectively in conservation work in their motherland, Kudzai – along with two other members of this group, Joshua Tsamba and Edwin Tambara – received a TBA small grant to run a networking event.  This event – which also served to launch the Zimbabwe TBA Alumni Group – was the subject of a blog post in 2015:

The following year the team received another TBA small grant to research the use of insects such as dragonflies as biological indicators for assessing water quality in the Matobo World Heritage Site in Zimbabwe.

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Kudzai went on to receive an international grant from The Critical Ecosystem Partnership (CEPF) to conduct similar research in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. “The experience, connections and recommendations which I made through my experiences with TBA encouraged me to apply for the CEPF grant,” she said. She described the experience and her biggest take away from it:“It was such an exhilarating experience to be able to explore the hidden gems of Zimbabwe and to be able use some of the most sensitive inhabitants of this region’s wetlands to reveal their qualitative status.”

However, Kudzai went on to expound on how disheartening it was to note that habitat destruction, vegetation loss and alluvial mining in the rivers and streams presented the greatest threats to these once pristine environments. She explained how wetlands are an integral part of the ecosystem and their destruction also presented a greater threat, not only to the fish and clean water sources, but also to the people of the communities that rely on these wetlands for their livelihoods.

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For a little more background on Kudzai Mafuwe’s career thus far, she is an Entomologist and Ecologist by profession and has worked as a curator and Entomologist for the Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe for the past 6 years.

After the TBA field course, Kudzai went on to complete her M.Sc in Tropical Entomology from the University of Zimbabwe and has received numerous other certificates in Ecology and Conservation, Biodiversity Informatics, and Insect Taxonomy and Systematics. Her research includes the use of biodiversity informatics tools to develop models such as risk maps of invasive pests and synthesizing them into decision tools and information that can be used practically in sustainable agriculture and conservation in Africa.

“When there is an outbreak of invasive pest or an infectious disease spread by insects, there is the need to understand how far and how fast the disease or the pest will spread. This helps us not only to calculate what the current distributions are, but also identify places where these pests or disease vectors might flourish, where they don’t currently exist, and attempt to identify if this maybe as a result of climate change,” says Kudzai.

Kudzai is now recognized on international platforms such as The Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), an international body which seeks to make Biodiversity Information easily available for conservation, sustainable development and policy decision making around the globe.

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She has also won numerous travel awards to represent Zimbabwe at regional and international workshops and conferences, such as The Biodiversity Standards (TDWG) 2015 and 2017 conferences where she presented some of her work in Zimbabwe.

Kudzai has since become the coordinator for two projects funded by The European Union and GBIF in Africa, in collaboration with museums in South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Madagascar and Kenya with an aim to unleash the potential of insects in conservation and sustainability research on a regional level. She also acts as a mentor for other GBIF funded projects in Zimbabwe where she guides the teams in cleaning, publishing and analyzing datasets for use in policy decision-making and sustainable development.

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Kudzai explains why the opportunity to be part of The Global Leadership Fellows Programme at Cornell University is so important. “Scientists are often accused of writing a lot of jargon that is not always understandable or interesting to read. We do conduct a lot of research and collect a lot of data in our institution, but the most affected people barely understand the work.”  She gave an example of how farmers can definitely benefit from some of the studies she has done and will do in the future. She talked about how during her research she collects specimens that farmers can use to identify the pests attacking their crops, and also to seek assistance before an outbreak occurs. “So, it is not just about conducting research and collecting lots of data but there is the need to synthesize this information into packages and tools that even a non-scientist can understand and comprehend.”

Upon completion of the programme, Kudzai will be a Fellow and a member of an international cohort of forward-looking communicators, uniquely equipped to promote the evidence-based decision-making around global issues such as food security, productive agricultural systems, climate change and environmental sustainability and agricultural growth.

Kudzai is excited about her new learning opportunities:”It is interesting to learn about the various bio-techniques that are now being implemented in regards to integrated pest management, such as producing pest resistant crops and sterilizing insects pests and releasing them into the wild to control pest populations,” she said.

“Some of the things I have learnt here have only ever been in theory up to this point, so it is quite an eye-opening experience to be getting such a first-hand experience and finally seeing how the processes actually work.” She also emphasized how it is one thing to learn about it, but there is also a need to take back the skills that she we will pick up from her studies and use them to spearhead changes within her community.

“I am surrounded by a team of motivated and driven individuals who are ready to ensure global access to life-improving agricultural innovations, with such great people in my network, the sky is indeed the limit,” she said.

We have no doubt that Kudzai, will represent Zimbabwe and Africa with passion and dedication, her previous work has shown that she is committed to promoting the sustainability concept through various environmental ways.

“It helped me find myself and grow my passion”

How a TBA field course helped to launch Chaona’s conservation career with birds

Chaona Phiri, Amani 2013


After attending a TBA course in Amani, Tanzania in July of 2013, I started my masters with the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. I actually received feedback on my application for the masters course during the TBA course.  I enrolled for the Biodiversity Wildlife and Ecosystem Health Programme – distance learning in September of 2013.

During the programme I was working for the BirdLife partner in Zambia (where am still working to date), conducting research on birds. The subject of my thesis was ‘Assessing factors influencing the distribution of the Zambian Barbet (Lybius chaplini) within its range in South-central Zambia’. The TBA course prepared me for this type of survey as I got to learn field survey techniques and statistical analysis which I used in my research. I completed my masters in November of 2017, by which time I was already working on several different bird species including piloting an initiative with farm owners to improve the conservation status of Vultures in Zambia. I am now just getting started with my PhD which is focused on an endemic parrot in Zambia.

Besides academic progress, TBA gave me the right boots to handle research using the ecosystem-based approach; it helped me find myself and grow my passion. Using birds as indicators, I have successfully managed at least 12 projects for my organisation.  And that success has not gone unnoticed: in 2017 I received two awards; one from National Geographic Society and another from British BirdFair through the Conservation Leadership Program (CLP).

I was then sponsored to attend the international training course where I met 23 amazing people within my age bracket, managing projects for conservation in their countries. I appreciated the CLP training course because it provided a very rare opportunity to be with people within my age group, with the same passion I have for biodiversity conservation and facing the same challenges that I face.

Of course, raising funds for conservation is the biggest challenge but it’s worse when you are a young woman being asked to take charge of a team with so many males who are older than you. Your decisions are second-guessed all the time and you have to keep proving yourself. I enjoying seeing the shock on their faces when I do something they all thought I would fail to do!

Influencing voices for birds


At TBA, we give people the skills and knowledge they need to make a positive impact in tropical conservation. Our training forms the foundation for successful careers with a wide range of organizations, from government agencies, to NGOs.

As a young graduate, Ken Mwathe, crossed the border from his home country Kenya to spend a month exploring the sights, sounds and science of Kibale forest on a TBA field course in Uganda.

That was fourteen years ago, but the experience shaped his future as a conservationist.

Ken went on to gain an MSc in Tropical and International Forestry and also worked for the Kenya Wildlife Service as a research scientist. Like many TBA alumni, as he gained experience, he was glad to share his knowledge by coming back to teach for us on a Specialist Training Course on Measuring Ecosystem Services in 2013  .

Today, he is a Policy and Advocacy Manager for Birdlife Africa Partnership Secretariat, where he is having an impact on decisions that determine the future, not just of birds, but biodiversity more generally in his home country.

“The knowledge and skills I gained during the TBA course I attended have been very instrumental in my policy and advocacy work in bird conservation. The course exposed me to different aspects of conservation allowing me to engage and respond to the political, social and ecological issues affecting birds. I urge young conservationists to take up the TBA course as it is an important foundation for their future work.”  – Ken Mwathe

Africa’s rapid development poses a growing challenge for conservation, especially where  our feathered friends are concerned. Birds don’t even feature among the “big five”. Governments from Kenya to Ethiopia, Madagascar to South Africa are progressively training their focus on big infrastructural projects, often with detrimental impacts on birds and their habitats. Things don’t have to go this way though! In fact, from economic and social as well as moral and aesthetic viewpoints, the need to conserve the natural environment, to which birds add much value, is clear. But to achieve this, we need to ensure the conservation agenda is properly articulated in the development agenda of every African government.

At, Birdlife Africa Partnership, our strategy is to use birds to achieve the wider conservation agenda. Through our policy and advocacy programme, we are bridging the gap by ensuring development is undertaken with fitting consideration of conservation of birds and biodiversity.

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Celebrating World Bird Migratory Day 2014 in Tanzania

Through our policy work, we are influencing how policy and national laws that address the most important threats to birdlife are formulated and implemented. This work is enabling us to be at the forefront of national and regional development discussions giving us a chance to push forward the agenda of bird conservation.

On the advocacy front, we have had good success through both proactive and reactive approaches. The proactive approach is dependent on us putting in place safeguards and strategies that encourage protection of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) before they become endangered. This approach is essential in alleviating threats to bird habitats and reversing their population declines. The reactive approach focuses on responding to threats which usually cause severe damage to IBAs. This approach is strategized by our site case works through which we work with various partners to counter the threats faced. An example of such a case work in Kenya is in the Dakatcha woodland, an IBA , where the Kenya Jatropha Energy Limited intended to clear some 50,000 ha of forest to grow Jatropha curcasa crop whose seeds produce oil used to make bio-diesel. Destruction of this forest would result in the near extinction of the Clarke’s Weaver that is known to exist in the area. We adopted a campaign strategy led by Nature Kenya that included reaching out to the international community for support, and elevating the conservation status of the Dakatcha woodland IBA. The campaign led to the rejection of the company’s proposal to convert 10,000 ha of Dakatcha Woodland IBA for bio-fuel farming by Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority. This was a major win for us, and for birds.

Through Birdlife International, we also led a global campaign to help save Lake Natron in Tanzania from the establishment of a soda ash project. The lake is one of the few known breeding sites for the Lesser Flamingoes. The intensive campaign stimulated a lot of publicity on the negative outcomes on these iconic birds, and this, ultimately influenced the withdrawal of the soda ash project.

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Speaking on Bird Conservation at the African Union 

Despite such important successes, the policy and advocacy program is not devoid of challenges. Key among them is the lack of prioritization of bird conservation by governments. This is brought about by the lack of awareness of the importance of birds among both governments and local communities. Under Birdlife Africa Partnership, I have been involved in several awareness raising campaigns especially on vulture conservation, as a means of bringing to light the important role that birds play in our ecosystems.



New insights on forests islands in the desert

By Dr. Aida Cuní Sanchez – TBA alumna, Kirindy 2005


Northern Kenya conjures up images of deserts, nomadic camel pastoralists and, unfortunately, the devastating effects of recurrent droughts. However, there are a few forest islands located on top of high hills and mountains. These forests survive because of the mist they trap from the clouds, which is why they are called cloud forests.

Cloud forests are of particular interest, for their species richness and endemism. For example, three chameleons are endemic to three of these forests in northern Kenya: Trioceros marsabitensis, T. narraioca and Kinyongia asheorum, which inhabit Mt Marsabit, Mt Kulal and Mt Nyiro forests respectively. These cloud forests also provide a habitat for several endangered species of plants and animals, such as the tree Prunus africana, Grevy’s zebra and elephants.

Filming in the forest of Mt. Kulal

Most importantly, cloud forests are vital because of their high water yield. In the African drylands, this water yield is crucial to surrounding communities, particularly during droughts. In spite of their important role, little is known about how these forests function, and how sensitive they might be to overexploitation and climate change. So, for the past two years, I have made these fascinating ecosystems the focus of my research.

Continue reading “New insights on forests islands in the desert”

My journey as a conservationist

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My journey as a conservationist started when I was accepted to take part in a TBA course in 2004. It was my first time to be away from my home country, Sudan, and I can still remember the feeling of excitement during the journey from Entebbe airport to Africa Hall in Kampala.  My TBA course was an unforgettable event that made me the person I am today. It was not just an academic course that lasted for a month; it was an introductory experience to a new world of deep knowledge of how to appreciate the natural heritage and biodiversity, besides learning the basic skills of taking care of Mother Nature.

Continue reading “My journey as a conservationist”

Not guilty! Study shows that Madagascan bats are unfairly persecuted for eating forbidden fruit

By Dr Radosoa A. Andrianaivoarivelo – Kibale 2004


Two of the three bats of Madagascar are categorized as endangered according to the IUCN red list, but all of them are heavily threatened by habitat loss and severe hunting. In some areas of Madagascar, they are considered as a threat to fruits of economic importance such as the lychee (Litchi chinensis) and the Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) and are therefore persecuted in the trees where they feed at night (Andrianaivoarivelo et al. 2007). For these reasons, I led a research project on the dietary behaviors of the fruit bats to investigate whether they prefer food from natural habitats over alien, economically Important fruit species or vice versa (Andrianaivoarivelo et al. 2012).

Continue reading “Not guilty! Study shows that Madagascan bats are unfairly persecuted for eating forbidden fruit”

Why gender matters in conservation roles

In October 2015, TBA organised a first of its kind training course which brought together conservation professionals from seven African countries. Commonly referred to as INTRINSIC (Integrating Rights and Social Issues in Conservation), the course provided crucial training on how to work with local communities for  conservation and the feedback from participants was very positive. One such participant was Claudine Tuyishime who works with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Rwanda Program to implement a project in Nyungwe forest.  The project is supplementing law enforcement efforts to reduce threats to Nyungwe National Park. Through educational outreach and working with communities, the project aims to curb illegal activities and build a more sustainable appreciation for the region’s biodiversity. This, however, is not without its challenges as the region is inhabited by a large and diverse community with very little awareness of the importance of protecting their ecosystem, or lacking the proper training to do so.

Continue reading “Why gender matters in conservation roles”

Securing drinking water in the face of urbanisation

By Kizito Masinde, Programmes  Officer, International Water Association – TBA Alumnus

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Many governments are faced with the challenge of providing safe and reliable drinking water to their citizens.This is especially caused by issues such as rapid urbanisation, increasing population and climate change. Many cities around the world currently rely on water supplies sourced from many kilometres away as the basins in which they lie cannot be relied upon to provide them with sufficient raw water supplies. At the International Water Association (IWA), we have taken note of this fact and have embarked on a series of programmes that support the mitigation of these risks, and also inspire a change in water use and management by turning this water crisis into a fundamental opportunity for a transformation towards more sustainable societies.

Continue reading “Securing drinking water in the face of urbanisation”