“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.

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”

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 success is worth the effort!

By Dr John Abraham, TBA Alumni – Kibale, 2004

From inception, to organisation to implementation; Ghanaian Alumni, Dr John Abraham, reflects on the experience of organising the latest TAAG African Students’ Conference which took place in June. Read on…

I remember sitting at my desk in my apartment in Italy writing e-mails as far back as October, 2013 asking members of the Ghana TBA Alumni Group whether they felt we should bid to host the 2015 TAAG African Students’ Conference on Conservation Science. At that moment, my individual interest did not matter because we are a group. Thankfully, every member said YES! Let’s go for it. The hard work began from then.

A small team put the bid together and in January 2014, the good news arrived “…we are happy to inform you that your group, the Ghana TBA Alumni Group won the bid.” I jumped with excitement from my desk in jubilation. I made a few telephone calls to the people who helped with the bid before writing e-mails to inform all members of the Ghana TBA Alumni Group. We were very proud to have won this bid.

Continue reading “The success is worth the effort!”

Our month in pictures #June 2015

Everyday, we share interesting news and information on various conservation issues, including what we are doing at TBA, what our alumni are doing to address conservation challenges in different parts of the world and, their experiences in our training courses. Here are a few of our favourite pictures shared in June! Share your pictures with us, and while you are at it, follow us on facebook and  twitter!

Participants at the 2015 TAAG conference
                                        Participants at the 2015 TAAG conference
Keynote speakers and H.E John Kufuor at TAAG 2015 conference
      Keynote speakers and H.E John Kufuor at TAAG 2015 conference
Dr. Rosie Trevelyan at the TAAG 2015 conference
                    Dr. Rosie Trevelyan at the TAAG 2015 conference
Delegates at the TAAG 2015 conference
                      Delegates at the TAAG 2015 conference
TAAG conference article published in the Ghanaian times
              TAAG conference article published in the Ghanaian times
TAAG leaders discussing way forward at the TAAG conference
               Discussions on way forward at the TAAG conference
Delegates at the TAAG Maiden Conference in 2013
             Delegates at the TAAG Maiden Conference in 2013
Dr. Rosie Trevelyan with the 2013 conference LoC
               Dr. Rosie Trevelyan with the 2013 conference LoC
Keynote speakers and LoC at the TAAG Maiden Conference in 2013
       Keynote speakers and LoC at the TAAG Maiden Conference in 2013
Poster presentation at the 2013 TAAG  conference
               Poster presentation at the 2013 TAAG conference
Amani 2014 course participants learning
                         Amani 2014 course participants learning
Amani 2014 course participants having fun
                       Amani 2014 course participants having fun
Amani 2006 group photo
                              Amani 2006 group photo

TBA’s Conservation Journey: 20 years of creating conservation champions!!!

For the last 20 years the Tropical Biology Association (TBA) has been working in partnership with various institutions to build expertise in biodiversity conservation and research through training, providing information and resources and creating links.

In the 2014 Newsletter, TBA is celebrating 20 years of running courses and building the capacity of committed conservationists. TBA is proud of the alumni from various fields of biology, conservation and ecology who are serving as a growing voice for conservation around the world and are providing real solutions to the challenges facing conservation. Continue reading “TBA’s Conservation Journey: 20 years of creating conservation champions!!!”

TAAG inaugural African Students’ Conference

Hello Africa! You must have already heard about this, but allow me to re-introduce you to a very exciting forth-coming event organized by the TBA family- the maiden TAAG student conference in the land of Africa.

My name is Badru Mugerwa, a Ugandan conservationist and forest ecologist. I am privileged to be among the thousands who have received TBA’s generous and prestigious training in biology and conservation. I am currently serving as the secretary for the Local Organizing Committee for the TAAG’s maiden student’s conference, Nairobi, 2013. Continue reading “TAAG inaugural African Students’ Conference”