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Fossey Fund Africa staff pursue doctoral degrees

One of our main goals at the Fossey Fund is to help create the next generation of conservationists in Africa. Multiple members of our own staff in Rwanda and Congo are leading the way by working on graduate degrees in a variety of topics related to gorillas and conservation, ranging from relationships between humans and other primates, to how various animals and plants in the gorilla forest are faring. Here is a look at those pursuing the highest of degrees – the Ph.D.

Our first African staff member to complete a Ph.D. was Deogratias Tuyisingize, who focuses on studying endangered golden monkeys and has led our research in this area since 2004. Dr. Deo, who serves as our biodiversity research program manager in Rwanda, finished his doctoral degree last year and now mentors other up-and-coming students as well.

Following in Dr. Deo’s footsteps right now is Eric Ndayishimiye, who is embarking on a Ph.D. program in the U.K., where his research will focus on how the gorillas respond physiologically to various social stressors. He is especially interested in investigating differences in health consequences based on gender and rank differences among the gorillas. This important work aims to provide insights into the gorillas’ physical wellbeing and thus their conservation status and needs.

Eric’s journey with the Fossey Fund began in 2010 when he arrived at the Fossey Fund as an undergraduate student to further his scientific studies. As his dedication and passion for gorilla conservation developed, he joined our staff as a research assistant and was recently promoted to the role of gorilla data and research officer, helping to train field staff and research assistants in monitoring and long-term data collection techniques.

As he heads now to Nottingham Trent University in the U.K., with scholarship support from both the Fossey Fund and the university, Eric says he believes his studies benefit both his professional growth as a scientist as well as gorilla conservation. “Passing on the skills and knowledge that I will gain will also increase the capacity of local and regional future conservationists,” he says.

Nearing the finish line on his Ph.D., is Fossey Fund Congo Programs Director Urbain Ngobobo, who has led our work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo creating community-based conservation areas for the critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas since 2011. 

Urbain is now completing his Ph.D. from the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar. His studies and research focus on natural resources management and development, with a specialty in ethnoprimatology – how humans and non-human primates interact. In particular, Urbain is studying strategies, such as those used by the Fossey Fund, to protect Grauer’s gorillas in community-managed forests and how conservation can help promote the well-being of communities.

Stay tuned for more stories on our Fossey Fund staff scholars, including research assistant Laban Kayitete, who was the first of our mentorship students to publish his senior thesis work, which focused on a key tree species in the gorilla habitat – Hagenia abyssinica. Laban is now embarking on a master’s degree in environmental monitoring, modeling and reconstructions at the University of Manchester.