Botswana Wild Bird Trust (BWBT) has named Tsaone Goikantswemang as the winner of their inaugural half-million Pula PhD scholarship in natural resource management offered at the University of Botswana's Okavango Research Institute (ORI).
Goikantswemang is a 34-year-old Motswana woman holding a Master of Science in Environmental Science, with experience in avifaunal surveys.
“Winning this scholarship really means a lot to me as it will give me an opportunity to attain my dream of pursuing advanced studies in natural resource management specifically in the field of ornithology or avian ecology,” Goikantswemang, who is currently a Research Assistant in the GIS Laboratory at ORI in Maun, said.
Her proposed PhD project is titled, 'Documenting present avifaunal systems in the Okavango Delta and associated knowledge and perceptions of local communities towards conservation of water birds'.
Goikantswemang delightedly said, “I am also honoured to be among the few women who are doing studies on birds in Botswana, as I believe the locals can contribute to the scientific understanding of our natural resources. I hope my studies will contribute to the information on the population status and dynamics of waterbirds in the Okavango delta for use by government, local communities, and the tourism industry.”
She said she was propelled to apply for the scholarship because of her love and passion for the conservation of birds.
“My volunteerism at Birdlife Botswana helped me to learn more about the birds of Botswana and for my master’s degree I had an opportunity to do a study on endangered Cape vultures breeding at Tswapong Hills (Goo-Moremi and Goo-Tau villages) with Kalahari Research and Conservation and Raptors Botswana,” she said.
It was during her Cape vulture project that she realised that there were few experts doing studies on birds despite the abundance of bird species in Botswana and that is how she decided to look for study opportunities on birds.
The National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project (NGOWP) who funds the scholarship, is a partnership between the National Geographic Society and the Wild Bird Trust that works in close collaboration with the governments of Angola, Namibia, and Botswana to address key targets of the National Action Plan for the Sustainable Management of the Cubango/Okavango River Basin.
The scholarship covers tuition, costs of field research including equipment, and a monthly stipend of P7,000 to cover living expenses including accommodation.
Speaking after the awarding of the scholarship this week, NGOWP Research director Rainer von Brandis said, “We are delighted that Tsaone is a young woman as BWBT is fully supportive of professional development. It is important to point out however that Tsaone’s proposal was selected on merit, her proposal was the strongest and she met all the eligibility requirements.”
Von Brandis further said the winners’ proposed research topic had to be novel and provide significant conservation outcomes.
“This is the first time we are offering PhD scholarships, the offer has also been extended to the other riparian states of the Okavango basin (Angola and Namibia). We would certainly like to offer more scholarships in the future but this will be dependent on funding,” he disclosed.
Responding to a question on why they decided to offer fully-funded scholarships, von Brandis said both BWBT and ORI recognise the importance of building local professional capacity, hence the collaboration.
“BWBT and UB-ORI have been working together for several years guided by a Memorandum of Understanding that recognises the need for enhanced conservation efforts in protecting the Okavango Basin that benefits both people and wildlife,” said von Brandis.
He further revealed that BWBT has also provided a study bursary to Charles Mpofu, from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks to study an MSc course in conservation biology at the University of Cape Town worth P197,000.