Big picture thinking

Jean Paul Ntungane, May 2019

In 2011, Jean Paul Ntungane joined the Conservation Leadership Programme alumni network via his CLP internship with BirdLife International in Rwanda. Today he is project manager for the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) Regional Implementation Team in the Eastern Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot. Read how big picture thinking, a dedication to learning, and a profound commitment to conservation have fuelled his career so far. 

Why did you choose a career in conservation?

I have been fascinated and inspired by the natural world since my early childhood. I was born, and have spent the first ten years of my life, at the edge of Itombwe forest reserve, one of the biggest Key Biodiversity Areas in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This place is very remote and undeveloped, where there are no roads or other basic infrastructure; there had never been any conservation or development projects in the area, which is a very big challenge. The best thing here is that you are in direct contact with nature on a daily basis. It wasn’t possible for me to start school at an early age, as it possible for youth today, so I had some extra time to be out in the forests, grasslands, swamps, and rivers. My passion for nature has kept growing since then. My favourite subject in school was Biology.

What/who inspires you to keep working in conservation?

I always keep with me this big picture: I am part of a bigger team of conservationists from all over the world working to preserve biodiversity and keep this planet Earth functional. It is a huge task that requires a lot of devotion and hard work, and I have people to look up to for that. I have seen and heard of what dedicated conservationists like Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, and others have achieved. Many species have been saved from the brink of extinction thanks to conservation efforts, and that is very encouraging for me.

Describe your current work/role and the primary conservation threats in the Eastern Afromontane Hotspot.

I am project manager for the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) Regional Implementation Team in the Eastern Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot. I am responsible for supporting the day-to-day management of the programme, which includes managing calls for proposals, review of proposals, follow up on grantees’ projects, monitoring them and reviewing reports. I am also responsible to ensure that projects comply with social and environmental safeguards.

Like in many other places in Africa, habitat degradation and fragmentation, and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources are the most important threats to biodiversity in the Eastern Afromontane region.

In your career to date, what has been one of the biggest challenges you've faced?

The biggest challenge for me so far has been to upgrade my education while working. There is no time to do both. Nevertheless, I have made it my goal to learn as much as I can from my work, and it is working!

What has been one of your most rewarding successes?

I am very proud of what the CEPF's Eastern Afromontane Regional Implementation Team has achieved so far. I have contributed to the development of a consistent and coherent portfolio of about 160 grants over 13 countries. Some impacts of these grants include better management of Key Biodiversity Areas, improved capacity of civil society organisations and individuals, and improved livelihoods of people.

Is there an unusual/ exciting wildlife encounter that has stayed with you? What happened and why was it meaningful for you?

I saw for the first time a lion at a very close distance in 2011 when I was in Kenya. It was on the International Migratory Bird Day celebration that took place inside the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. When we were heading out of the conservancy in a van after the event, we saw two lions lying down next to the road less than five metres away. These lions didn’t budge at all at the sight of the vehicle. I was sitting by the window so I was able to see the them very clearly. It was so exciting.

Briefly describe the objectives of your CLP internship.

The objective of my CLP internship was to improve my practical skills in conservation of birds and other biodiversity. Specifically (1) to gain experience in some of the approaches applied in conserving single species, (2) to increase skills in bird identification and monitoring of Important Bird Areas, and (3) to increase my network and my understanding of how BirdLife International works.

How did CLP support make a difference to you - professionally and personally?

I had very limited practical experience of conservation work when I joined BirdLife in 2011 for the CLP-supported internship. It was like a door opened for me to start and develop my career in conservation. Since then I have had many opportunities to learn and to meet with people who have helped me grow professionally. My supervisor for the internship was very supportive, and I took advantage to learn as much as I could during that period.

What advice would you give to conservationists starting out in their career?

Use well the opportunities for capacity building that are available, and keep learning. The world is changing so fast, which means there are new challenges every day. There are also new technologies and best practices that you can apply in your work. The only way to keep up with new challenges is to keep learning. Talk to as many people in conservation as possible. Never give up.

What did you learn about yourself as a result of completing your CLP internship?

To be honest, what I achieved during the internship was bigger than I expected, so I was sort of surprised! At the time of completion of the CLP internship, I knew I was going to carry on with a career in conservation.