January 29, 2015
From student to mentor, role of capacity building
As a new group of students from the National University of Rwanda (NUR) prepare to come to the Karisoke Research Center for a field research methods course, the Fossey Fund reflects on the role of young conservationists and capacity building within our own staff.
Ten years ago, Biodiversity Research and Program Manager Deogratias Tuyisingize came to Karisoke as a biology student from NUR. In Jan. 2006, Tuyisingize was hired as a research assistant for the Fossey Fund’s biodiversity program at Karisoke. He then went on to earn a master’s degree in conservation biology from the University of Cape Town, won a grant to study at the Chicago Field Museum and was appointed to his current position, for which he leads NUR students during the field research methods class. We asked Tuyisingize what the journey from student to mentor has been like, what he’s learned about biodiversity along the way and why it’s important for us to commit to conservation:
When you began as a student, did you ever think your work in biodiversity would take you this far?
I have always been ambitious in my work, and I was impressed by the gorilla conservation work of the Fossey Fund and by the dedication Dr. Fossey showed to save the critically endangered mountain gorilla and their habitat. It was then that I started thinking about the unstudied part of the habitat, such as the golden monkey, which is also an endangered species. I thought I could contribute to their conservation, and I did my undergraduate project on the behavioral ecology of the golden monkey. I habituated two groups of golden monkeys that now are used both for research and tourism, contributing to the national revenue through tourist activities coordinated by the Rwandan Development Board.
Why is studying biodiversity so important to gorilla conservation?
The ecological interaction, between wildlife and the environment, is an important component of the conservation of nature, in particular with regard to endangered species. With the current global climate and habitat changes, it is important to understand the adaptations in a dynamic environment, especially ones surrounding fragile species, like the mountain gorillas. It is crucial to document keystones species, endemic species and charismatic species—and more generally—their status and threats. For example, some species, like the amphibians, provide key information on the effects of environmental changes; by studying them, we can provide recommendations for gorilla conservation.
What are your hopes for conservation in Rwanda?
The Rwanda government is really supportive of conservation, and this is uniquely encouraging for field biologists. Today, unlike the previous decades, more young people are interested in biology and conservation. There is not much research occurring in biodiversity apart from research targeting mountain gorillas, though. Some organizations, like the Fossey Fund, have pioneered biodiversity studies in Rwanda, and continue to train and encourage university students to engage in biodiversity research. This effort gives me hope for more interesting findings on the rare inhabitants within the habitat of mountain gorillas.
What is your advice for NUR students coming to Karisoke?
I say that whoever they are and whatever they are interested in, we as human being need to commit to include conservation as part of our daily life. As a biologist, you need to be an example in your own life and to your friends and family. You have to act first. Secondly, I tell them that biological research requires patience and everybody’s contribution. Even a few months in the field can be used to develop influential research, and they can be the ones to do that, if they want.
We wish to thank the Turner Foundation, Craghoppers, Corning® Gorilla Glass, and Vacations to Go for their continued support for our programs in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their contributions allow our field staff to maintain a daily presence in the forest, protecting and studying critically endangered gorillas and their habitat.