Grant Recipients Conference, Namibia 2017
Main objectives of the Namibian RSG Conference?
The Namibian RSG Conference had three primary objectives:
1. the conference offered a rare opportunity for the grantees working across southern Africa to come together to present the findings of their research and/or conservation projects;
2. the conference served as a platform to facilitate discussions (e.g. data mobilisation and developing education programmes) and networking between the grantees, Josh Cole from The Rufford Foundation and experienced conservationist from across the region; and
3. support early career (often new grantees), provide grantees with an opportunity to meet each other to promote a future support network and best case scenario partnership development.
What was the impact of the Namibian RSG Conference?
Thanks to the dedicated funding by The Rufford Foundation to invite a plenary speaker, we were incredibly lucky to have Martin Taylor of BirdLife South Africa open the conference programme and attend all conference talks and workshops. BirdLife South Africa strives to conserve birds, their habitats and biodiversity through scientifically-based programmes.
Across southern Africa Birdlife South Africa is held in high regard for their research, capacity building and outreach work. Martin is responsible for managing the Special Projects Programme, primarily building capacity within and assisting conservation efforts of BirdLife partners and bird orientated conservation organisations across southern Africa. As well as grantees benefiting from his inspirational talk on ‘Conservation in a modern world – staying relevant’, attendees were also given a better understanding of the key elements of a holistic approach taken by a large and internationally renowned conservation organisation.
The conference support enabled grantees, government bodies and NGO delegates to come together to share knowledge, discuss challenges and successes, disseminate information but also develop capacity (presenting in front of peers), network and in some cases attendees discussed ways of collaborating in the future or even provide support to others. Throughout the conference it was clear what a large role The Rufford Foundation has contributed, and continues to contribute, towards supporting applied research and conservation projects at a local, national and international level. In most cases The Rufford Foundation provided the vast majority of funding for fieldwork and in-country support costs for attendees, including early careers but also ongoing support for others as part of their ongoing professional development.
The Rufford Foundation’s role was particularly evident for people working in difficult to fund topics. For example, out of the talks we had three bat presentations; bats are a very understudied and misunderstood group, despite there being over 120 bat species in southern Africa funding can be extremely difficult to get, particularly in Africa. On the bat team we had Angela Curtis, an invited speaker who benefited from intensive bat training through AfricanBats, a project run by Ernest Seamark that has received ongoing supported by The Rufford Foundation. AfricanBats provides much needed, in-depth training in bat identification and handing techniques to delegates at a training facility in South Africa as well as providing an open access report called the African Chiroptera Report, which lists species distributions, provides GIS data and taxonomic updates – an important resource for bat researchers and conservationists across Africa. Rachael Cooper-Bohannon works across southern Africa and The Rufford Foundation were the main funder for her fieldwork throughout her PhD working in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana on cave-dwelling bats.
Throughout Rachael’s PhD she realised how many bats were being killed and together with her PhD supervisor Kirsty Park they registered a Scottish registered NGO (Bats without Borders) dedicated to conserving bat populations across southern Africa. Rachael now lives in Malawi and works on projects in Namibia, Zambia, Malawi and Rwanda. Her PhD would not have been possible without The Rufford Foundation funding and as a result of her PhD and ongoing work she now sits on the IUCN Bat Specialist Group and Bat Conservation Africa steering committee. Lina Mushabati is an early career Namibian Masters student and The Rufford Foundation are funding her fieldwork on bats. Other grantees who also face funding challenges for their target species were Kerri Wolter, who works on vultures and runs VulPro an NGO dedicated to saving southern Africa’s vulture populations through an integrated, multidisciplinary approach – research, rehabilitation, breeding and education.
Tadenda Dalu also presented his work on crabs and sustainable livelihoods, crabs have also been incredibly understudied and with little knowledge on even distributions it is impossible to assess the conservation of little known species. Albert Chakona gave us insights into hidden diversity of understudied stream fishes.
There was also evidence during conference of The Rufford Foundation grantees developing pioneering techniques in South Africa that could be used across the region. Juan Scheun, who recently completed his PhD has been developing methods for new less-invasive hormone monitoring to assist amphibian conservation globally. Antoine Marchal presented his PhD research developing software inspired by the incredible tracking skills of the San people and set up Wildlife 3D Tracking. As well as being non-invasive and cost effective this technology can be utilised for citizen science projects providing vital distribution data on species that could then be used by researchers and conservation practitioners.
Morris Gosling presented an overview of the important teamwork carried out in order to assess IUCN/SSC status of Hartmann’s mountain zebra. We also heard from a number of speakers about the role of communities in conservation and wildlife protection: Felemont Banda (indigenous knowledge in wetland conservation), Steven Matema (community-based conservation) and Basilia Shivute (attitudes and perceptions) working in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Namibia. Jess Comley (working on complex interactions of multi-carnivore communities) and Emma Stone (working on African wild dogs) presented work on carnivore research and conservation in South Africa and Malawi.
In summary, there was clear evidence that The Rufford Foundation funding have significantly contributed towards the delivery of large and tangible conservation impacts, while at the same time providing vital support to grantees (from early career to more experienced people) that have all benefited from this support to further their careers whatever stage career they were currently at. In some cases, such as in the case of VulPro and Bats without Borders, funding has gone as far as to provide much needed support for small organisations working on species that undergo constant persecuted where government, conservation bodies and other stakeholders. Through this support, The Rufford Foundation is having a very tangible and direct impact on helping to inform and support on the ground, grassroots conservation in southern Africa.
Issues raised and any recommendations made
As part of the conference programme there was a workshop on education and outreach, with a particular focus on communicating science and outreach focused on human-wildlife conflict. This topic was highlighted as an area many researchers do not feel they have the adequate skills to develop and disseminate resources and activities. The workshop was an opportunity for any attendees who take part in education activities to share their experience of working to young learners or community group and for all attendees to ask questions and ideas. Before the workshop all delegates were invited to provide samples of educational materials and during the workshop attendees discussed challenges and shared experiences/ideas, including different ways of engaging people (e.g. talks, activities or displays) and the importance of monitoring and evaluation to better understand the impact of any education project. This session was kindly led by Angela Curtis, Kerri Wolter, Emma Stone and Rachael Cooper-Bohannon.
During the conference there was also some talks dedicated to sharing (mobilising) biodiversity information and research outcomes. Speakers discussed different citizen science platforms, where researchers can share their distribution data and also verify records sent in by the general public. The group discussed issues with publishing data and it was explained that these platforms only want distribution, which would not necessarily affect getting published depending on the paper topic but also there is an option to delay the release of records to the general public. We had invited speakers from Namibian Environment and Tourism and other members of the Namibian team taking part in the GBIF big data challenge, where four African countries are competing to mobilise the largest amount of biodiversity data within one year. As well as government officials the team also includes from JARCO Consultancy and the Namibian Biodiversity Database. We’d like to thank the team members for giving talks and facilitating discussions on open access biodiversity data.
List of participants, conference schedule and abstracts
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