ALUMNUS HITS THE JACKPOT

Dr Bernard Coetzee, TBA Kenya field course alumnus and renowned conservation scientist recently scooped a grant of $ 150,000 (R 2.5 million).

Bernard always says “The TBA course was instrumental in helping me get where I am now”.

Bernard’s research career began a few years ago when he attended a TBA Field Course in Mpala/Naivasha, Kenya in 2006, as an MSc student at the University of Pretoria. During the one-month long field course, Bernard thrived amongst the diverse cohort of students and teachers. Working with two other alumni – Zelalem Wodu (Ethiopia) and Lucrezia Tincani (UK) – they designed their own research project looking at overgrazing and bush encroachment. They were fascinated by the way that some plants encroach savannah habitats and identified certain species that required crucial long-term monitoring. This was the starting block and following up on their research they examined how the savannah grazing carrying capacity is reduced and the dire consequences to both wildlife and pastoralists who are dependent on this habitat. This was published in the African Journal of Ecology “Overgrazing and bush encroachment by Tarchonanthus camphoratus in a semi-arid savanna. A really inspiring achievement considering much of this data was collected during the 2 week project phase of the field course.

A step back in time to where it all began – The TBA Kenya field course in 2006

Fourteen years later, Bernard’s dedication has paid-off by winning this award for his ground-breaking research into understanding how artificial light (in Africa) may increase disease transmission such as malaria, zika virus and dengue fever. These diseases affect millions of people in Africa, not mention the worldwide impact. “Light pollution: the dark side of keeping the lights on” is a fascinating article that details Bernard’s research and is well worth a read.

The Jennifer Ward Oppenheimer Grant was established to support an African-led research programme that has the potential to significantly contribute to the advancement of environmental and allied sciences ‒ specifically to identify and address real-world issues that affect Africa and Bernard is a very worthy winner.

While announcing the winner, Bridget Fury – the head of Oppenheimer Generations Philanthropies said Dr Coetzee came up with a superb proposal and congratulated him on the award. “We are delighted with what his research will tell us about this important and little studied topic”.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity I have been given to undertake this important research. I look forward to expanding the network across Africa and working together to bring the proposed solutions to the benefit not only for development and growth on the continent, but also for the good health and well-being of our people”, said Bernard

Bernard is currently an Honorary Research Associate at the Global Change Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand. He also lectures in Conservation and Ecology with the Organization for Tropical Studies, based in the Kruger National Park, Skukuza, South Africa.

Top photo: Jonathan Oppenheimer, executive chairperson of Oppenheimer Generations, congratulates the winner of the R2.5 million Jennifer Ward Oppenheimer Grant, Dr Bernard WT Coetzee (left), from Wits University’s Global Change Institute. Photo credit: Connall Oosterbroek