This September, the EDGE of Existence team are looking forward to hosting 8 EDGE Fellows from our 2016-2018 cohort. They will attend a two week Conservation Leadership course at ZSL to provide them with the skills necessary to scale up their projects following the end of their fellowship. They will learn conflict resolution, communication, fundraising and project leadership skills, as well as have the opportunity to network and collaborate with ZSL’s conservation experts.
Meet the fellows!
Poh Leem Choo, Malaysia – Lithophyllon ranjithi & Heliofungia actiniformis coral
The mushroom coral Lithophyllon ranjithi is found in northeast Borneo (Malaysia and Indonesia) and has a highly restricted range. It is classified as Endangered on the Red List, though there is a severe lack of species-specific information for this coral. However, it is believed to be subject to a number of local threats including fish-bombing, as well as global climate change and coral bleaching. Heliofungia actiniformis, also a mushroom coral, is widespread and locally common throughout its Indo-Pacific range, though it is under threat from aquarium trade harvesting, fish bombing, bleaching and habitat loss. The last 30 years has seen a 36% reduction of its coral reef habitat, leading it to be listed as Vulnerable on the Red List.
After completing a marine biology Masters degree, Poh Leem went on to work as a curator at the University of Malaysia’s Zoological Museum. Currently, she works on projects within the Semporna Priority Conservation Area for WWF-Malaysia. Poh Leem hopes to raise awareness amongst dive operators, government agencies and local communities of coral reef conservation. As a Fellow she is conducting Green Fin Certification training workshops for dive operators to promote a more sustainable way of diving, as well as mapping the abundance and distribution of these two poorly understood mushroom coral species.
Ahmed Basheer, Maldives – Pearl Bubble coral and Elephant Skin coral
Pearl bubble coral (Physogyra lichtensteini) is widespread and common on most shallow reefs in the Indo-Pacific, but is heavily harvested for the aquarium trade and has suffered from extensive reduction of coral reef habitat. Elephant Skin coral (Pachyseries rugosa) is also common throughout its range, but is particularly vulnerable to coral bleaching and exploitation for the aquarium trade. Both species are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, and the corals’ susceptibility to threats has led to a 36% and 37% population reduction in the past 30 years for P.rugosa and P.lichtensteini respectively.
Basheer is dedicated to marine conservation in the Maldives and works for IUCN Maldives conducting marine science expeditions investigating coral diversity, abundance and bleaching on Maldivian reefs. As an EDGE Fellow Basheer is establishing how different management regimes affect the abundance and distribution of these coral species, as well as highlighting the importance of coral diversity to the Maldivian people.
Bernard Amakobe, Kenya – Secretarybird
The distinctive-looking Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius) is a very large bird with an eagle-like body on crane-like legs which is predominately terrestrial. The species has a huge range across the African continent, from as far north as Mali to South Africa, but populations are believed to be in decline. Because of this, the species was upgraded from Least Concern to Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List as recently as 2011.
Bernard is an experienced researcher with a degree in Conservation Biology, currently undertaking a masters degree whilst working for conservation NGO, Wildlife Works Ltd. He has worked on various projects concerning bird conservation for almost 20 years and specialises in bird ringing techniques for conservation monitoring. The EDGE Fellowship has enabled Bernard to bring back enhanced skills to his role at Wildlife Works and gain a better understanding of the ecological and anthropological dynamics affecting the Secretarybird.
Alejandro Calzada, Mexico – Granular salamander
The Granular salamander (Ambystoma granulosum), like many of its close relatives, is a metamorphosing species of mole salamander. It inhabits the grasslands located in a small area on the north-western periphery of Toluca city in the central State of Mexico at 3,000m above sea level. The small number of species that represent the Ambystoma are highly evolutionarily distinct members of both the salamanders and the amphibians as a whole. Found only in Toluca city, Mexico, the Granular salamander is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN and is under major threat from introduced predatory fish and from urban and agricultural expansion.
Alejandro is currently based at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). He has worked on a variety of projects, including the captive breeding of the granular salamander, and the evolutionary relationships of Sceloporus lizards. Alejandro’s Fellowship has enabled him to undertake an urgently needed assessment of the granular salamander population in order to determine what habitat traits are associated with the species’ presence, which will inform conservation efforts.
Ezgi Saydam, Turkey – Mediterranean Monk seal
The elusive Mediterranean Monk seal (Monachus monachus) is believed to be the world’s most endangered seal species, with an estimated population of fewer than 700 individuals. Monk seals are so-named because their uniform brown or greyish coats supposedly resemble a monk’s robes. Once widely distributed in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, commercial seal hunting and human persecution has reduced the Mediterranean Monk seal to 3–4 isolated subpopulations.
Ezgi is a marine biologist and conservationist who has worked with the Mediterranean Conservation Society (MCS) for the past two years, aiming to improve the effectiveness of the No Fishing Zones in the Gokova protected areas. As an EDGE Fellow, Ezgi has promoted awareness for the protection of this species, strengthening the no fishing zone and establishing a network of protected sites for the Mediterranean Monk seal. Ezgi is now undertaking a PhD on this species in parallel with her Fellowship project.
Withoon Sodsai, Thailand – Sunda pangolin
Pangolins are a group of unusual mammals with tough, protective keratin scales. Specialised for feeding on ants and termites, they occupy a niche equivalent to that of the American anteaters. The Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) possesses long, powerful claws, for ripping open ant and termite nests, and a long, thin, sticky tongue which can measure up to 40 cm in length, for scooping up its prey. They are found in primary and secondary forest as well as cultivated areas including gardens and oil palm and rubber plantations. The species is heavily hunted both within China and its other range states, for its meat, which is considered a delicacy, as well as for its skin and scales which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Withoon is a dedicated conservationist who currently works with ZSL Thailand as a part of their tiger conservation project. Before this, he worked as an officer in a Thailand National Park, and studied for a degree in Forestry at Kasetsart University. The EDGE Fellowship has provided Withoon with a wealth of conservation skills, connections and experience, which has helped him contribute to the conservation of Thailand’s endangered species. As a Fellow Withoon aims to improve the conservation status of the Sunda pangolin through the development of an effective survey and monitoring protocol, collection of baseline data and improvement of law enforcement efficiency in the protection of the species.
Daniel Okena, Papua New Guinea – Eastern long-beaked echidna
Long-beaked echidnas belong to an ancient clade of egg-laying mammals that includes the platypus of Australia. The Eastern long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bartoni) has the widest distribution of the three long-beaked echidna species. However, while relatively common in the recent fossil record, this species is in decline in areas accessible to humans, leading to highly fragmented populations. It has lost much of its forest habitat to logging, mining and farming and is regarded as a highly prized game animal by local people, who hunt it with specially trained dogs. Listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List, it has already been driven to extinction in parts of its range.
Daniel is an early-career conservationist working with the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program in Papua New Guinea. The EDGE fellowship has equipped him with the resources he needs to continue his work on long-beaked echidna conservation. It will also allow Daniel to develop of a monitoring framework for the YUS Conservation Area (YUS CA) Ecological Monitoring Plan.
Jyotendra Thakuri, Nepal – Bengal florican
The reclusive Bengal florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis) is best known for its elaborate courtship display where the male’s black and white plumage is shown off to good effect in short arching display flights to attract females. Two thirds of the global population breed in the floodplain of the Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia, but thousands of kilometers away in Nepal and India there exists another population of the same species which occupies the duars and terai grasslands along the base of the Himalayas. Both populations are in decline and threatened by habitat loss and illegal hunting. The total global population of Bengal florican’s has been estimated at fewer than 1,000 adults, with some studies suggesting as few as 500.
Jyotendra is an established conservationist in Nepal, with an active research profile and global recognition through his work with the Darwin Initiative, the Field Studies Council and Bird Life International, through partnership with Bird Conservation Nepal, for whom he works. Jyotendra’s Darwin Initiative-funded project discovered that the Bengal Florican winters in agricultural land outside the National Park. They achieved this by fitting individuals with satellite tags to track their movements. The reason for this movement, and threats to these birds outside the park, is unknown and forms the basis of his EDGE Fellowship project. Jyotendra has been using the skills and technical knowledge acquired from his EDGE Fellowship to implement and lead conservation projects in his region.