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Women leading the way: Female trackers pursue conservation goals

Claudine Niyigena and Jacqueline Ntakirutimana are among the four women who have recently joined the Fossey Fund’s tracker teams in Rwanda. Daily tracking in the forest has traditionally been a male-dominated field, so the Fossey Fund is excited to help promote gender equity in this way. (Read about gorilla trackers Aline and Pelorine in last month’s story here).

Claudine and Jacqueline both have diplomas in wildlife tourism management from the Integrated Polytechnic Regional College (IPRC) Kitabi and say they had always dreamed of working in the conservation field. Both have been assigned to our biodiversity team and are currently responsible for monitoring the golden monkeys that we follow in Volcanoes National Park.

“Growing up, I liked hiking and was always fascinated by nature and animals. I knew that I wanted to do something to help protect them,” says Claudine. “This is the career I aspired to, having been passionate about working in conservation since childhood.”

“I used to always plant trees around the household and attend events where we were planting trees in the community,” says Jacqueline, who adds that her older brother was a role model for her, since he was studying conservation. “It is a joy to commence my journey at a reputable and research-driven organization like the Fossey Fund.”

Observing the golden monkeys

Both Claudine and Jacqueline have spent their first months in the field learning how to identify individual golden monkeys, which can be quite challenging, and collecting data on their daily behaviors and status. And they’ve already chosen favorites.

“So far, I adore the golden monkey named ‘Shami,’” says Claudine. “This monkey is unique because of the huge red patch on his forehead, so big that you can recognize him even from a distance. He also seems quite courageous!”

Jacqueline has taken a liking to a friendly monkey named “Ubuasha,” who looks quite different from the others because he has less hair on his face. “This makes him seem especially cute,” she says.

These trackers have also learned many aspects of how to navigate the often-rainy forest while hiking long distances, how to collaborate with their fellow trackers, and how to have patience when it takes a lot of time to locate the monkeys. And they now also have a deeper understanding about how important it is to preserve the forest habitat and protect these endangered animals, adds Claudine.

Proud to break gender barriers

“I feel proud to be part of a team that is breaking down gender barriers in conservation,” says Claudine. “I hope that by working alongside my male colleagues I can inspire other girls to pursue their dreams, no matter what obstacles they may face.”

Jacqueline says she feels empowered by helping to change the perception of what women can do in conservation. “I hope that my presence on the team will encourage other women to pursue careers in conservation. I feel so proud and happy to tell others that I am a female tracker!”