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MPhil in Conservation Leadership

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Biographical Sketches for the MPhil in Conservation Leadership students 2011-12

Lenke Balint



I earned a BSc in Agricultural Economics, with a focus on rural development, at the University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine in Cluj-Napoca, Romania in 2007. Since then, I have worked for a Romanian nature conservation NGO called Fundatia ADEPT Transilvania for 3 years. ADEPT is based in one of the most stunning rural areas of Southern Transylvania. This important natural and cultural landscape is remarkably rich in wildflowers and wild animals, which is why ADEPT's main objective is to protect the biodiversity of the 85,000 ha Natura 2000 site. My role included tourism and local food product development as well as communications. ADEPT's community-based, integrated conservation and rural development approach gained much support not only at a local and national level but also from Prince Charles, who has visited the area and the project many times in the past few years. During the MPhil I aim to develop my knowledge and skills to bring practical and sustainable solutions to the issues facing the rural areas of Romania that I care so much about. I plan to return to community-based conservation work in Romania, and hope to bring what I have learned at Cambridge to inspire everyone I work with, from farmers, schoolchildren, young people and policy-makers, to become active in conservation within their communities and more widely nationally. I believe the MPhil will help me achieve this and will provide me with the leadership skills and confidence I need to develop ideas and activities that will have a positive impact on Romanian rural landscapes and their local communities.

Inna Birchenko



I am from Ukraine, where I received an undergrad degree in Biology and Chemistry and did a research project on the status of native orchid populations. At the Environmental Studies Program at Ohio University I studied genetic diversity in a threatened US orchid species, Platanthera integrilabia, using DNA markers. For my PhD at the University of Notre Dame I decided to investigate how genetic diversity in a perennial plant species are affected by various events, from natural, on a long-term scale (glaciations and colonisation of newly open areas) to human-induced, such as extirpation of a large number of individuals. I again used molecular markers to take a "snapshot" of genetic diversity of a temperate tree, the northern red oak, at approximately 500 generations from the last glacial event. As a Chicago Botanic Garden CLM intern at the BLM in Oregon, I worked on a number of in-the-field natural resources management and botany projects. I come to the MPhil in Conservation Leadership with a goal of further building on my career in conservation, using my science background to develop and publicise effective methods for plant population and community restoration.

Thomas Churchyard



I graduated from the University of Wales, Bangor in 2007 with a joint honours degree in Marine Biology/Zoology. From 2008 to 2010 I worked for the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. Initially I was a senior staff member for the Pink Pigeon Project where I monitored a sub-population of the endangered Pink Pigeon; recording all nesting attempts, collecting feeding and behavioural data as-well as control of exotic predators and providing supplementary food. In 2009 I became one of two Round Island Wardens, where I co-coordinated all the monitoring and restoration projects on this Mauritian islet. Projects included monitoring the internationally important seabird colonies and endemic reptile populations; propagating and planting native flora as part of the restoration project, and control of invasive plant species, including strict quarantine measures. I also assisted external organisations with their projects including the Durrell Initiative Reptile Translocation team and two British Universities, whilst writing reports for both government and non-government personnel. I have just completed a contract with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the UK on the Corncrake reintroduction project based at the Nene Washes, Cambridgeshire. In this role I was responsible for monitoring returning male Corncrakes, husbandry of this year's chicks prior to release and assisting with the catching of wild birds. I believe that evidence-based conservation should lead to strong and effective legislation, and I have a keen interest in seabirds and the problems associated with invasive species.

Martine Goder



I am a conservation biologist from the Island of Mauritius. I have a degree in Biology with Environmental Science from the University of Mauritius and did my research project on the effectiveness of the management techniques used to restore the upland forest of my country. When I finished my degree, I volunteered and ultimately worked for the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF), the only NGO in Mauritius which aims at saving endangered endemic species from extinction. At present, my work is focused on restoration of habitats on Round Island and Ile aux Aigrettes; propagation of critically endangered plants for a field gene bank project; invasive plant species management; vegetation monitoring and training of staff and volunteers. In the course of my work at the MWF, I also had the chance to follow various short courses in Mauritius and abroad such as the Endangered Species Recovery course at Durrell in UK in 2009 and a training course on Applied Environmental/Natural Resource Economics (UNDP/GEF-GoM) in 2007. Having the opportunity to follow this MPhil in Conservation Leadership is a dream come true and I intend to make the most of it hoping it will provide me with new insights in approaching and tackling conservation issues. I also look forward to gaining new skills and developing my leadership potential.

Ngawang Gyeltshen



The lives of my late grandparents who lived in a remote part of Bhutan got me close to nature and instilled the environmentalist in me since childhood. To pursue my desired career I travelled to India to acquire a professional degree in forestry. In 2002, I started working in my country as a forest management planner, where I was exposed to practical issues facing environmental conservation in the Himalayas. With a few years of work experience I travelled to Austria to pursue an MSc in Mountain Forestry at Boku University, with extensive learning interests in ecology and conservation in the mountains. I continued working back home; but with more focus on policy and planning. I initiated and led a few FAO and WWF projects in the country. Under a CEPF funded project, I recently led the first comprehensive zoning of a protected area in Bhutan. I was recently appointed as the Park Manager of Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, a unique protected area in the country. This offers me an opportunity to reconnect with the rural lives of my late grandparents. I also initiated a community-based ecotourism programme there. I am interested in designing sound conservation policies and more importantly translating them into the field practicalities. I am particularly interested in community participation in conservation, through integrated conservation and development projects.

Supriya Jhunjhunwala



I was bitten by the wildlife bug very young and rescued animals in distress even as a child. I was able to channel this passion for wildlife conservation into a BSC in life Sciences (1995) followed by an MSc in Ecology (1998) and International Diploma in Environment Education (1999). My formal career in wildlife conservation began as the Ornithology Officer for the BirdLife International Important Bird Areas (IBA) Programme in India from 1999 to 2002. Besides wildlife surveys, coordination, networking and advocacy I was involved in crafting India's National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan as author of a sub-thematic review note. I progressed gradually from pure research, to engaging communities, conflict resolution and policy intervention as initiator and coordinator of the Wildlife Cell at the Centre for Environment Education in India from 2002 to 2010. Here my work ranged from creating multi-media education tools to developing Natural History Museums to making Micro-plans for villagers around protected areas. My experiences have firmed my belief that well researched economic arguments need to be made in favour of conserving wildlife and habitat. This led to me pursuing the Chevening Gurukul Diploma in Leadership and Excellence at the London School of Economics in 2008, after which I returned to India to establish the ARK Foundation in 2010, a culmination of ten years experience and learning in wildlife conservation. I hope start a PhD and return to India and addresses gaps in wildlife conservation like conservation of threatened species who share habitat with human communities, and Economic Evaluation of Ecosystem Services. I would also like start capacity building programmes for organisations and individuals working in wildlife conservation.

Li Jia



I hold a Master of Environmental Management from the University of New South Wales, Australia, and have worked on various environmental and conservation projects for more than 6 years. I started my environmental career by working for a number of Australian local councils to raise awareness of environmental issues among communities. Since working on a conservation project in Jiangsu, China, trying to protect a Wetland of International Importance, my interests have largely focused on conservation and ecological restoration. My most recent responsibility is working for IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature), trying to build a new model of sustainable forest landscape restoration for an important drinking water supply watershed for the metropolitan Beijing (capital city of China). I have also worked on issues such as China's environmental impacts overseas through investment and trade, through supporting the development of one of the Chinese government's recent released guidelines which aims to encourage Chinese companies make responsible forestry investments overseas. My main interests are ecological restoration for social and environmental benefits and sustainable forest management.

Godfrey Mtare



The great zeal for sustainable conservation practices drove me to enrol for my first degree in Environmental Science (Honours) in Wildlife and Rangeland management at Bindura University of Science Education, Zimbabwe, and I completed the programme in 2005. In August 2006 l joined Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority as an ecologist and was deployed to the country's largest national park, Hwange National Park. Various research and management activities at the park exposed me to significant biodiversity conservation challenges including human-wildlife conflicts, trophy hunting impacts, population monitoring, land-use planning and transfrontier conservation. In 2009, I gained the opportunity to join Oxford University's WildCRU for the Post-Graduate Diploma in International Wildlife Conservation Practice. This gave me a platform to acquire critical skills and embrace potential solutions to these emerging biodiversity conservation challenges. The ever-growing quest to significantly contribute towards conservation in my country at the highest level continues to blossom. In December 2010 I was promoted to Senior Ecologist. I believe the MPhil in Conservation Leadership is an unique course that will instil in me the missing ingredient of being able to lead and act effectively in conservation.

Bienvenu Takem Mbi



I was born in the North West Region of Cameroon. After my first degree, I developed a keen interest in nature conservation. I subsequently opted for natural resources management as specialty for my postgraduate studies in the Department of Geography, University of Yaoundé I, Cameroon. Employed as a researcher in 2002 by the Cameroonian administration, I have been concerned with identifying protected areas created by the colonial administration, mapping them out and assessing their state of degradation, investigating the reasons for degradation and in partnership with existing local NGOs as well as the local communities seeking solutions to reverse the trend. Presently, I am involved with the mapping and classification of protected areas according to the different ecosystems in Cameroon and identifying the ecosystems services offered by these protected areas. My research interests lie in people's interaction with protected areas. The MPhil promises to be a means to acquire up-to date concepts, methods and techniques in conservation that could be applied in Cameroon so as to help align national policies with world-wide efforts to preserve biodiversity.

Sumin George Thomas



Having completed my Masters programme in Ecology and Environmental Sciences from the Salim Ali School of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Pondicherry University, I joined Keystone Foundation in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, where I have been working for the past five years as the Additional Programme Coordinator (Conservation). My role has been to conceptualize conservation practices and implement them across the region, and to develop rigour, knowledge and good science in the field of conservation. I co-founded and am the president of the Nilgiri Natural History Society, which envisages engaging civil society in the conservation of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. I have also been actively involved in setting up a nature interpretation centre for the State Wildlife Sanctuary and Tiger Reserve, apart from providing technical inputs to the eco-tourism project of the Forest Department. I have also been instrumental in setting up a unique Bee Museum in the Nilgiris District. Over these years, I have worked on various projects relating to the environment, indigenous communities, and conservation. I strongly believe that the benefits of conservation need to be portrayed in a simpler, more easily-identifiable manner, which will aid in increasing the level of conservation awareness amidst indigenous communities, decision makers and other stakeholders.

Samir Whitaker



My early exposure to conservation began as a volunteer on various research projects while I was in school in South India. Many of these were crocodilian-centric, and the field sites ranged from the rivers of northern Indian to the estuaries of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. After a B.Sc. in Biotechnology, I worked for a large civil engineering consultancy coordinating environmental impact assessments. We completed several large projects including natural gas pipelines, barrages and road networks. I also gained an MSc in Pollution Control in order to channel my academic exposure a little. Then, in 2008, I took a job with the Madras Crocodile Bank/Centre for Herpetology and have been with them since. After two years as an on-site administrator, I moved to north India to become more involved with the coordination of our field projects, particularly our Gharial radio-telemetry project and river conservation initiative, now in its third year. My personal interests include radio-telemetry, ecotoxicology and lotic ecosystems in general. I am a Trustee of the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station and a member of a Ministry of Environment constituted committee focused on gharial conservation. I join this MPhil with the aim of being able to cultivate my interest and skills in the field of landscape conservation, with a particular focus on facilitating the role of large industry in promoting and supporting conservation in India.

Tracy Wright



I hold a Bachelors degree in Political Science and Environmental Studies from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada. Following graduation, I took employment with the Canadian branch of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations agency mandated to save, protect and enhance the lives of children all over the world. As the Development and Gift-In-Kind Officer for UNICEF, I was responsible for internationally sourcing, ethically procuring and shipping donations of pharmaceutical and operational supplies for UNICEF's health, education, child survival and emergency response in-field development programmes. Liaising with UNICEF's foreign country offices, I was responsible for assembling, shipping and ensuring delivery of over $60 million worth of vaccines and supplies. My academic foundation and practical experiences have proven to me that international and humanitarian development is inescapably connected to our environment. My interest in this course lies in gaining the knowledge and expertise to participate more fully in sustainable and environmental approaches to human development. Outside of my professional life, I enjoy camping, hiking, painting and horseback riding.