“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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tC4M-WfX8DI

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.

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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”

The value of a TBA course

Cynthia Mapendere, TBA alumna (Kirindy, 2014) shares on the value of participating in a TBA course.

 2014 was a very special year for me as this was when I officially became part of the TBA family. I had just graduated from the National University of Science and Technology (Zimbabwe) the previous year with a degree  in Forest Resources and Wildlife Management. Being accepted as a course participant was exciting news to me as it presented a good opportunity to build the right foundation for my career.  I could not wait to be in a community where my enthusiasm was shared between experts who had the knowledge and experience to help me flourish in this field.

Working on my research project

Continue reading “The value of a TBA course”

The 2015 Student Conference on Conservation Science in Bangalore, India

Noreen Mutoro, TBA alumna (Segera, 2013) shares her experience at this years’ SCCS conference in Bangalore

The 6th edition of the annual Student Conference on Conservation Science (SCCS) was held at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru also known as Bangalore – India, from 8 to 11 September 2015. The four-day event attracted over 1000 of Africa and Asia’s brightest conservation researchers and featured participants mainly from the South & South East Asia and Africa. Continue reading “The 2015 Student Conference on Conservation Science in Bangalore, India”

Vacancy for a new dodo

IMG_4009By Fabiola Monty, TBA Alumna – Kibale 2010

While the dodo is famous around the world as the symbol of extinction, the country it once used to inhabit may be less known. That country is my home island, Mauritius, that little speck in the South Western part of the Indian Ocean.

As my mentor has explained to me once, Mauritius despite its size is a very interesting case study for conservationists. It is one of the last country to be colonized and yet it has shown one of the fastest and greatest biodiversity loss. As an island, it also has high endemicity among its native species, meaning many species lost here are completely gone. 30 unique plant species, 2 unique bat species, 8 unique bird species, 5 unique reptile species and so many more invertebrate species, ALL robbed from us.

Paradoxically, Mauritius has also been an international  model of conservation success in the past decades with its successful bird recovery programmes. With species like the Mauritian Kestrel being brought back from the brink of extinction, when there was only 4 individuals left in the 1970s.

But today, Mauritius is a model of another kind. It is showing the world how facts and scientific-based arguments can be completely ignored during decision making, despite these being communicated to policy makers. It is showing the world how international agreements like the Convention on Biological Diversity, of which Mauritius is a signatory, can be easily disregarded by decision-makers in favor of questionable decisions. Continue reading “Vacancy for a new dodo”