The sky’s the limit

Tiwonge Mzumara is the first female bird ringer in Malawi. She is also her country’s representative in the African Bird Club. Tiwonge first encountered ornithology on the TBA field course in Kibale, Uganda in 2005, and when she returned home, she discovered there were very few specialised ornithologists in her country. That spurred her on to teach herself about the birds of Malawi.

Her skills and knowledge developed on a specialist training course — ‘Fundamentals of Ornithology’ —  jointly run by TBA with the National Museums of Kenya. She has since been involved in bird monitoring projects with local hunters; volunteers with the local wildlife society, and carries out research on Malawian birds of interest.

The TBA supported Tiwonge to complete her MSc at the University of Cape Town, which focussed on altitudinal migration of the Yellow-throated Apalis (Malawi’s only endemic bird). She writes regularly for the Wildlife and Environmental Society’s monthly newsletter, keeping Malawians up to date on bird conservation issues.

It seems that the sky is the limit for Tiwonge: she combines a role as ornithologist at the Museum of Malawi , with working towards her PhD at the University of KwaZulu Natal. She is also working to set up ‘Birds of Malawi’ – a conservation initiative in her motherland.

Not surprisingly, Tiwonge has received many national and international awards and prizes, including the 2014 International Young Conservationist Award. She is most proud, however, of her impact on raising awareness and interest in birds.

Tiwonge 2

“What I most appreciate is that people in my country now respect what I do. Being asked to come and talk about birds, especially in the conservation community and in government and NGO circles. It is something that they recognise now; they realise that birds too are important.”

“I have started to change opinions.” she says. “I was asked to write the section on birds for the 2014 National Biodiversity Review for Malawi. The previous national review had been based on information from the 1980s and was so poor.”

Tiwonge is also making a difference in research and knowledge transfer. “At the National Museums of Malawi, where I work, my responsibility is research. It is really all about improving the data base. I do a lot of government reviews and when the University of Malawi has students who are interested in doing a project on birds, they are put in touch with me. So I am passing my knowledge to the next generation.”

I am eternally grateful to TBA for its support that has helped put me in touch with the best in the field of ornithology and these will be a priceless resource to me for the rest of my career.