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MPhil in Conservation Leadership

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Biographical Sketches for the MPhil in Conservation Leadership students 2017-2018

Where do they come from?

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Gilbert Adum (Ghana)


I grew up in an oasis of wildlife in the middle of northern Ghana's dry savannas. By default, my first love for wildlife was for meat! But this "passion" also influenced my choice of wildlife studies as an undergraduate. In 2011, in response to alarming amphibian declines in Ghana and globally, I set up SAVE THE FROGS! Ghana, with the mission to protect declining amphibian populations. I have received several honours and awards for consistent efforts in championing amphibian conservation and commitment to improving the health, education and livelihoods of local people who are dependent on critical frog habitats. Some of these include becoming Ghana's first traditional (honourary) Chief for Frogs and Environment, 2016 Green Oscars (Whitley Awards), 2015 Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship, and 2011 Cambridge SCCS Prize for Best Report. I have also been involved with multiple research projects with international collaborators that have resulted in several scientific publications. Some of these findings cut across discovery of new amphibian species; establishment of absence of the deadly amphibian chytrid fungus in West Africa; and enhancement of knowledge about natural history of Ghanaian amphibians. My goal now is to translate my scientific research experience into more effective conservation actions.

Hilma Angula (Namibia)


Hailing from a small village in Namibia, I grew up listening to elders narrating stories of their time, when wildlife roamed closer to our homes. These stories made me passionate about wildlife and led me to study Natural Resource Management, earning a Diploma from the Polytechnic of Namibia and then a Bachelor's Degree from Nelson Mandela University in South Africa. In 2011, I worked for Integrated Environmental Consultants Namibia to implement the Africa Adaptation Programme of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. Following this programme, I volunteered as a grants Adviser under the Next Generation Climate Board of Global Green-grants Fund, securing small grants to support youth groups addressing climate change issues in southern Africa. In 2014, I joined a two-years Conservation Leadership Programme offered by WWF and partner organisations in Namibia, gaining skills in community outreach and wildlife monitoring. Thereafter, I became a Liaison Officer for the Namibian Association of Community Based Natural Resource Management Support Organisation, assisting communities to mitigate human-wildlife conflict, combat poaching and allocate conservation benefits such as scholarships for rural youth to attain tertiary education. Through this Masters programme, I hope to find new and innovative ways of unlocking wildlife potential for the benefit of conservation and community empowerment efforts in my country.

Charity Apale (Philippines)


I completed a BSc in Marine Biology at Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology in the Philippines. I started my career in conservation as an executive director within the corporate social responsibility arm of a tourism-related company, with environmental conservation and social entrepreneurship as the main thrusts. After three years, I joined United States Peace Corps-Philippines as a Coastal Resource Management (CRM) Technical/Cross-Cultural Facilitator. My work focused on equipping American volunteers with skills and knowledge to effectively work with local government units and communities in developing and implementing CRM plans. Starting as a project coordinator in 2013, I later became a project manager at Zoological Society of London (ZSL)-Philippines. I implemented Project Seahorse's iSeahorse, a citizen science initiative with components of policy advocacy relating to CITES and community-based marine protected area establishment. This position has given me the opportunity to engage with the national government agency to lobby for seahorse conservation, sustainable fisheries, and trade reforms. As a result, the national government invited me to become a member of the Philippine Aquatic Red List Committee. In 2016, I started managing another project at ZSL-Philippines and was responsible for leading a team to establish the second seahorse sanctuary in the country.

Damian Aubrey (UK)


After graduating from the University of Aberdeen in 1997 with a M.Sc. in Rural Environmental Management, I worked for Scottish Natural Heritage as part of a team which worked to establish the Cairngorms National Park. I then spent a year managing a nature reserve in western Uganda before returning to Scotland where I worked for ten years as a development manager for a wind farm development company in Edinburgh, focusing on Environmental Impact Assessments and obtaining planning permission for future wind farms. I then worked as Director of Development for the same company in Australia, before taking a career break to travel internationally. Over the past few years, I have completed 'thru hikes' of the Pacific Crest Trail (2,660 miles) and the Appalachian Trail (2,190 miles), as well as three trans-American road trips, visiting along the way as many of the US National Parks as possible. These experiences have left me with a love of wild places and a desire to work to conserve such places for future generations.

Maria Azhunova (Russia)


Amar mende! Greetings! My people, the Buryat-Mongols, are indigenous to the Lake Baikal region just north of the Russian-Mongolian border. I come from the Ekhirit tribe, Buura clan on my father's side, and Sagaan/Khongoodor clan on my mother's. Both clans connect their origin to Lake Baikal. In 2016 I received my Bachelor's degree in Liberal Arts in Extension Studies from Harvard University. Since 2015 I have been serving as the Executive Director for the Baikal Buryat Center for Indigenous Cultures (BBCIC), based in the Republic of Buryatia, Russia. Our mission is to preserve traditional Buryat culture and ecological knowledge through digital story telling and immersive workshops for Buryat youth. We organized a nomadic culture camp for Buryat and Russian children in 2017 that took place in Buryatia and Mongolia. The children learned about traditional Buryat and Mongolian cultural and environmental practices. BBCIC is actively involved with the Snow Leopard Conservancy, where a network has been created connecting cultural practitioners and scientists in the countries of the snow leopard habitat. My goal is to continue BBCIC's work promoting understanding of Altan khelhii (khun-baigal-soyol)—the golden interweave of "human-nature-culture". I believe Altan khelhii should be a foundation for sophisticated, holistic approaches to conservation that balance new economic development for native communities with powerful and effective policies that conserve their environment.

Vaibhav Chaturvedi (India)


For as long as I can remember, my ambitions in life always revolved around wild animals and wilderness. After a master's degree in Environment Management, I worked in a project that aimed to study the ecology of elusive snow leopards in Indian Trans Himalayas using noninvasive DNA. Two years later, with an urge to do more hands on conservation work, I moved to the central Indian highlands and worked with WWF India's Satpura Maikal Landscape Program. My work at SML was largely about protection and anti poaching. At the same time, I also worked with a team for the mainstreaming and livelihood improvement of a traditional hunting tribe called "Pardhi". In 2014, I move back to my home town and co founded Wildlife and Forestry Services. This was first of its kind business startup meant to provide specialized services and equipment to the wildlife and forestry sector. In coming years, I want to work for conservation in Central India through liaising with multiple stakeholders including the government, scientists and local communities.

Pei Rong Cheo (Singapore)


I grew up in Singapore, a City in a Garden, where I obtained my BSc in Life Sciences, specialising in Environmental Biology from the National University of Singapore (NUS). At NUS, I studied sea cucumbers at the Marine Biology Laboratory, dolphin behaviour at the Acoustic Research Laboratory, and camouflage in ghost crabs at the Experimental Marine Ecology Laboratory. After I graduated, I worked as an educator at the S.E.A. Aquarium before joining the National Parks Board, Singapore (NParks). As a Manager of Biodiversity at the Coastal and Marine Branch of NParks' National Biodiversity Centre, I focused on the management and conservation of Singapore's marine biodiversity. I reviewed Environment Impact Assessment reports, formalised the Marine Turtle Working Group and developed 'Intertidal Watch', a marine citizen science and education programme. Just as Sir David Attenborough aptly said, "no one will protect what they don't care about and no one will care about what they have never experienced", I hope to engage not just the public, but researchers, industry players and decision-makers in nature conservation. I am also interested in improving conservation science-policy-practice interfaces by better understanding science communication and interdisciplinary approaches that could address conservation problems.

Nisha Dsouza (India)


My passion for conservation began as a child when I started scuba diving in Indonesia. I graduated from the University of Sydney with a BSc in Marine Science and an MSc in Wildlife Health and Population Management. For the last six years I have been working with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in India. As part of the Asia-regional Mangroves for the Future (MFF) initiative I managed and coordinated over 25 projects towards building coastal community resilience and strengthening marine biodiversity conservation at the ground and policy levels. Recently my work has focused on strengthening community response networks for cetacean conservation, in support of the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. In addition, I have been working on valuing seagrass-supported fisheries in Palk Bay, India. A keen wildlife photographer and writer, I document my work through various social and print media channels.

Isabella Gambill (USA/Finland)


For the past four years, I worked as the Program Coordinator for Land Conservation at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Boston, Massachusetts. During my time with Lincoln, my work focused on conservation policy and the power of conservation networks at both regional and international scales. In my role as a founding team member of the International Land Conservation Network (ILCN), I helped to connect and support practitioners and experts in private land conservation around the world. With the formation and growth of the ILCN, I helped conservation experts discover how to share best practices, case studies, and private land conservation tools across continents, governmental codes, language barriers, and more. I was also involved in the creation and management of a more local network, Academics for Land Protection in New England (ALPINE), a project that grew out of a partnership between the Harvard Forest, Harvard University, the Highstead Foundation, and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Through ALPINE, I also examined the various ways that students, faculty, and academic institutions can engage in large landscape conservation efforts and act as conservation catalysts throughout New England. As a relatively recent Environmental Studies graduate of Wellesley College, I am especially drawn to the role that young conservation professionals and students can play in cross-boundary, cross-sectoral, and interdisciplinary conservation efforts. I hope that with networks like ALPINE and the ILCN, innovative large landscape conservation projects will continue to populate and transfer to new jurisdictions, and become as inclusive and diverse as possible.

Alastair Jones (Australia)


I grew up in Geelong, Victoria, Australia with access to a wide range of natural places including beaches, rainforests and grasslands. My passion for conservation was developed whilst exploring these areas and I have always been fascinated by the uniqueness of Australia's flora and fauna. I completed a Masters of Environmental Science in 2011 at the University of Melbourne, which focused on environmental monitoring, modelling and risk assessment. It was through this program that I developed a keen interest in decision theory and became fascinated by the types of evidence decision-makers use and the consequences of poor uptake of science by management. After completing my studies, I worked as an environmental consultant and was responsible for completing environmental risk assessments and developing marine monitoring plans. Since 2014, I have worked at Landcare Australia where I have managed projects focused on the ecological restoration of native vegetation in collaboration with community groups, government and corporations. In this role, I developed a strong understanding that conservation acts within a social context with decisions deeply influenced by people's' values and beliefs. I would like to use the knowledge gained in the course to support people to make better decisions about conservation projects they invest in and implement.

Bensolo Ken (Papua New Guinea)


I completed my Honours Degree in biology from the University of Papua New Guinea in 2008. Prior to joining the MPhil in Conservation Leadership program, I worked as Policy Officer for the Wildlife Conservation Society Papua New Guinea from October 2010- August 2017, focusing on issues surrounding REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, including activities that enhance forest carbon stocks) and its framework development in PNG as it applies to community forestry, how REDD+ projects can be integrated with conservation and community forestry participation, and WCS policy input on REDD+ and Extractive Industries on forested lands in PNG. I am also keen on studying birds and have occasionally participated in ornithological field surveys. Prior to joining WCS, I worked for the government of Papua New Guinea in their Office of Climate Change for a year from 2009-2010.

Minseon Kim (South Korea)


A few years after completing my BSc in Animal Science at Konkuk University, I began working in an increasingly responsible role for East Asian – Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP) that brings together governments and non-governmental organisations across 22 countries to save migratory waterbirds and conserve their habitats. Over the last five years, as a programme officer, I've provided coordination, strategic planning and capacity building training to all levels of governments, site managers and NGOs to promote effective conservation actions in the Flyway. More recently, I have been involved in promoting the Yellow Sea conservation initiative together with leading partners, BirdLife International, IUCN and Korean and Chinese governments, for protection of declining species of migratory shorebirds that heavily rely on a rapidly narrowing bottleneck in the Flyway. I have also been called upon to help mediate and advise on issues in Korea relating to pressures on conservation, such as wind farm construction at a major shorebird roosting site and development of a modern sewage facility at a breeding site for an endangered species, Black-faced Spoonbill. In addition, I had the privilege of joining the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) for Global Wildlife Conservation in 2015, a professional exchange program run by the U.S. Department of State. I am excited to gain wider technical knowledge and learn how to translate science into policy and conservation actions through this Masters programme.

Brian Lainoff (Italy/USA)


After graduating from Rhodes College, in Memphis, Tennessee, with a B.A., double majoring in English Literature and Environmental Studies in 2012, I have spent the past five years working at the Crop Trust. The Crop Trust is an international organization tasked with establishing and maintaining a global system for the conservation of crop diversity. The Crop Trust also co-funds and manages the Svalbard Global Seed Vault located in the Svalbard Archipelago, Norway. During my tenure at the Crop Trust, I managed communications and partnerships related to the Seed Vault and the Crop Trust's mission to conserve crop diversity. I led the press campaigns announcing the first withdrawal of seeds from the Seed Vault to save a collection of seeds from Syria. I also coordinated and co-authored the development of the Global Conservation Strategy for Coffee Genetic Resources. I urged members of the coffee community as a whole to work together to protect coffee for generations to come. Crop diversity cannot be saved by one global player and we must bring people together from all backgrounds. The MPhil in Conservation Leadership will help me towards my goal of uniting conservation initiatives to protect the natural world from seeds to animals to entire ecosystems.

Heejoo Lee (South Korea)


I chose to study environmental engineering in college believing that it would enable being out in nature. I then studied environmental policies and planning in graduate school, focusing on international development support and impact for mobilizing clean environmental technologies. My work experience consists of consulting in international organizations, first to support multilateral environmental cooperation among North-East Asian countries, including the two Koreas. The consulting also led to work with a national government (Lao PDR) and municipal governments across the world to better integrate environmental analysis and priorities into national development policy and urban planning. My work in Lao PDR supporting the country's environment fund led to exposure to protected area management, since a main financing priority was in protected areas to improve community livelihoods and biodiversity. Based on this exposure and interest, I recently volunteered with a non-profit organization managing a Zambian national park to strengthen its monitoring and evaluation framework. My aspiration is to promote cooperation and shared stewardship for conservation among countries and among communities.

Julius Lekenit (Kenya)


I have a great passion and love for the natural environment which has intrigued me ever since I was young. This drove me to pursue a BSc degree in Environmental Science at Kenyatta University. I gained experience in participatory forest conservation between 2011 and 2012 working with a local NGO in Northern Kenya. I helped one local community to form Kirisa Conservation Forest Associations (KCFAs), which is now active and has greatly helped conserve Kirisia Forest as the locals now sparingly utilize their natural resources.

I joined Grevy's zebra Trust in 2012, to work as a Regional Coordinator, and was subsequently promoted to Conservation Program Officer and currently to Field Operation manager. My work in the Trust involves working as community liaison person to link the organization with the local community, oversee and effectively manage operations in the field involving three regions, train and constantly build capacity of regional coordinators and a diverse field team and help engage and create harmony among neibhouring communities to create peaceful conditions for conservation to thrive. Building the capacity of the local community members has been a great achievement; 29 Grevy's zebra Trust scouts who were illiterate can now perfectly write and read. The Women scouts feel empowered and trusted within their communities, they feel they now have a voice, thanks to Grevy's zebra conservation.

Berry Mulligan (UK)


After completing a BSc in Ecology at the University of East Anglia, UK, I began work in 2006 with Fauna & Flora International (FFI), in their Americas & Caribbean Programme, working predominantly with small NGOs on species and landscape scale conservation projects. Having previously co-organised a three-month research expedition to Cambodia to study large waterbirds and the Manchurian reed-warbler, I jumped at the chance to return to live and work there as part of FFI's Cambodia Programme, first as Operations Manager and then as Country Manager. Motivated by a passion for the sea and the exciting potential gains for marine conservation, I shifted focus in 2012 and managed a Darwin funded project that led to the designation of Cambodia's first large-scale MPA, and have since continued to specialise in marine conservation. Most recently, I have been working for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds on policy and advocacy to reduce albatross bycatch in High Seas fisheries. In joining the MPhil, I am looking forward to learning from students and practitioners from around the world, particularly to consider some of the complex and human-centred challenges at the heart of conservation, both on land and at sea.

Matthew Perry (South Africa)


I grew up in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa and formalized my passion for conservation with a Diploma in Nature Conservation from the Tshwane University of Technology. My conservation career began in the iconic Kruger National Park, instilling in me a very strong conservation foundation and understanding of the complex management in protecting wildlife. From Kruger, I went on to consult on various conservation projects in Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Namibia. In 2008, I joined the Singita Grumeti Fund in the Serengeti, Tanzania. As a Section Manager, I could apply myself to the field-based conservation and law enforcement aspects of this inspiring conservation project. In 2016, with the implementation of a new management structure, I was promoted to the role of Conservation Manager. My position focuses on important and exciting initiatives, such as the black rhino range expansion program, invasive alien plant eradication, fire management and numerous other conservation-related projects. As global human populations continue to increase, the associated social pressures on protected areas and natural resources have become more complex and challenging and so I felt compelled to build on my operational experience with the MPhil in Conservation Leadership, providing me with the necessary capacity to provide innovative solutions to conservation challenges.

Alejandra Pizarro (Peru)


My interest in the natural sciences was always present, but it was during a school field trip to the Tambopata National Reserve that I decided to study Biology for my undergraduate degree. I was amazed by the complex biodiversity of the Amazon and wanted to be help maintain it, so later I got my BSc in Biology from the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, focusing on ecology and conservation. During those years, I also began volunteering at the NGO Techo. Through this, I discovered my passion for education, activism, and development projects. Afterwards, I worked at CIMA – Cordillera Azul, the institution that manages the Cordillera Azul National Park. There, I was in charge of the monitoring data for the project, as well as developing a monitoring project for large mammals using occupancy models. I have also taught methods for field ecology at my university. I am interested in conservation initiatives that will tackle conservation problems while reducing inequality, and hope that the MPhil in Conservation Leadership at Cambridge will provide me with the knowledge and tools to devote my efforts to help create a society that is more inclusive, equal and conscious.

Japheth Roberts (Ghana)


I was expecting to study Medicine at university but my first Zoology lecture was the turning point for me. I completed my BSc. and MPhil. in Zoology from the University of Ghana. While studying I volunteered with Ghana Wildlife Society (GWS) the Birdlife International Partner for Ghana on several projects, which deepened my interest in conservation and its complexities. I joined GWS after my masters and rose to head the Research Unit in 2015. I have worked extensively on studies on Palearctic migrants in West Africa focusing on the Wood warbler with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and other research on endangered species. I have been involved in conservation education and collaborations with businesses to implement conservation projects. My interest in the declining vulture population in West Africa led me to obtain training in raptor conservation from Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. The MPhil in Conservation Leadership provides me with the opportunity to apply knowledge from the business world, communications, social science and conservation biology to be an agent of change. I look forward to addressing the issues related to the vulture crisis and other endangered species while transferring knowledge to future conservationists and the general public.

Akosita Rokomate (Fiji)


I am from the Fiji Islands - over 300 scattered isles in the hub of the South Pacific. Our people have long coexisted with nature for her ability to provide; yet in modern times, this vital relationship has become strained as resource users transition between traditional and western societies. Tertiary training in Marine Studies and Geography from the University of the South Pacific afforded me the opportunity to contribute to biodiversity conservation projects and community based marine resource management initiatives in Fiji, working to improve the quality of life of grassroots communities whilst inspiring environmental sustainability at this level. As a former Conservation International- Indigenous Conservation Leadership Fellow and Conservation Leadership Programme alumni, I hope to learn, share, strengthen skills and build on career experiences throughout this Masters course. Of the belief that a holistic combination of conservation research, science, cultural values and traditional knowledge is the way to steer us forward in this new conservation era, I aspire to contribute to resourceful, innovative and meaningful environmental solutions to challenges facing indigenous peoples and island communities at large.

Susan Sekirime (Uganda)


Unlike many conservationists, I didn't always know I had the passion for nature conservation. This changed in 2009 when I interned and later joined a conservation project funded by USAID in Uganda. Here, I witnessed firsthand the challenges facing biodiversity, and realized the magnitude of the work ahead for conservation. It is here that my conservation career began – doing research on monitoring and measuring conservation impact. I later assumed leadership for all aspects of Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) within the project, including designing an M&E framework and data collection tools, and leading data collection, analysis, reporting, and learning efforts.

In 2012, I joined the African Wildlife Foundation, where I led M&E for several conservation projects across East Africa, funded by various donors. In 2016, I was entrusted to lead the process of refining and augmenting M&E efforts across the organization. This included developing and operationalizing an organization-wide M&E framework, guiding M&E efforts for all active grants across the African continent, and supporting funding proposal development. I have an MSc in Development Evaluation and Management from the University of Antwerp, a Bachelor's Degree in Education from Makerere University, and several certificates in Impact Evaluation. I am excited to pursue training in Conservation Leadership, to ready myself to join the cadre of conservation leaders working to ensure biodiversity conservation remains relevant in policies for economic development.