Biodiversity Monitoring Project

DWT launched the Schools Biodiversity Monitoring project component of the CAB programme in February 2012. This is a multi-year programme that aims to equip the local youth with the skills to monitor, and ultimately manage, the natural resources in their environs.

Conservation clubs were set up or revitalised at 5 secondary schools that are situated within a 10 km radius of the Matopos National Park. Field Officer Cedric Maforimbo undertakes the training of students in Forms two and three and their teachers, in various monitoring techniques, in order to acquire baseline data on taxa within the school and local community area. Approximately 200 children enrol in the programme each year. Over the school year, they learn a variety of sampling techniques and set up transects, quadrats and pitfall traps at their schools. The children are issued with data sheets onto which they can record sightings of fauna and flora during their daily activities, such as when collecting water and firewood, herding livestock and walking to and from school. As the data are accumulated, the children are taught to carry out simple analysis and prepare reports for their schools, communities and project supporters. DWT carry out further analysis and maintain an electronic database that logs natural resource trends across seasons and years. This information will be of use to local communities, and will assist them with the management of their natural resources.

Each term the conservation clubs receive sets of laminated ID cards to help club members accurately identify species that will be seen at that time of the year. The first term (wet season) is all about vegetation types, the second term (dry season) is about birds and the third term (early wet season) covers insects and amphibians.

In conjunction with the Bulawayo Natural History Museum (naturalhistorymuseumzimbabwe.com) samples of invertebrates and other fauna and flora collected are identified and feedback given to the schools. The schools compile charts for the classrooms to show the species and frequency of encounters over the seasons.

Annual national or global environmental days are celebrated with the conservation clubs and DWT produces a commemorative poster for display at each of the five schools.

Rainfall and ambient temperature records are useful adjuncts to the data collected on the biodiversity of an area and DWT has helped the schools develop their weather monitoring capacity by providing rain gauges and minimum and maximum thermometers.

Undergraduate student programme

Central to Dambari Wildlife Trust’s (DWT) objective to build local capacity is our undergraduate student attachment programme. Each year, we host two or three students from Zimbabwean universities for the duration of their 10-month work-related learning module. As of the 2015 / 16 intake, DWT has hosted 36 students.

The aim of the attachment programme is to provide students with practical experience in the research and conservation arena. To achieve this, they carry out novel research projects (which they generally take forward as their fourth-year university dissertation; project titles are listed on the publications page), rotate around the organisation’s departments, accompany researchers on field trips to learn about field research and community work, and assist with data entry. We encourage their attendance at talks in Bulawayo to broaden their knowledge about locally relevant science- and conservation-related topics. Importantly, students also give at least two seminars per year on their projects, one at the proposal stage and one when they’ve completed data collection and analysis, in order to hone their verbal scientific skills. The audience for these seminars is drawn from the universities and conservation sectors in Bulawayo.

Being undergraduates, many of the students are inexperienced in practical scientific skills, particularly scientific writing and statistics, so we run a tutorial course in the first fortnight of the attachment period that covers fifteen topics. These include scientific writing style, how to critically evaluate the scientific literature, the pitfalls of plagiarism, tips on editing and proofreading, experimental design and statistics and some “quick tips” for data management and document formatting. In addition, a module on compiling a CV and how to apply for jobs is included, so that students can begin to think about how to enhance their professional careers.

Many of our past students have pursued higher degrees, become teachers, or entered academia; and some have returned to DWT as contract field officers.

Postgraduate studies in association with DWT

Although DWT does not have a formal postgraduate programme, seven students have carried out research towards higher degrees, either at Dambari Field Station or under one of DWT’s umbrella projects. The two doctoral studies were undertaken by DWT staff members; the five Masters projects were visiting international students, three of whom made use of the antelope collection and two of whom carried out field research in the Matobo Hills. Thesis titles are listed on the publications page.