Fauna & Flora International (FFI) intern Bradley Knight presents some of the inspiring stories and surprising insights emerging from the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) Internship Scheme.
The CLP Internship Scheme places early-career conservationists within regional host organisations of one of the CLP partners (FFI, BirdLife international, and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to provide them with on-the-job training and skills development.
Below we hear directly from previous CLP interns and now established conservation leaders, Mariana da Silva (Bolivia, WCS), Thiri Dae We Aung (Myanmar, BirdLife) and Emmanuel Kutiote (South Sudan, FFI).
As you’ll discover, their remarkable achievements show just how valuable internships can be to both emerging conservationists and the biodiversity they are striving to protect.
Tackling complex conservation issues
During her CLP internship with WCS in Bolivia, Mariana da Silva documented the extent of the international wildlife trade (IWT) of jaguar teeth, claws, and paws across the country. She worked with local law enforcement to create an updated, reliable summary of legal cases, police seizures, and media relating to IWT of jaguars.
Interestingly, Mariana said that when she started her internship in 2018, there was no interest or funding for IWT in Bolivia, remarking: “What I did with the CLP internship was the basis for everything that happened after.”
The database that Mariana developed during her CLP internship became key evidence showing the scale of the IWT conservation problem in Bolivia, and served as a foundation for WCS to build upon and tackle IWT across Latin America.
Along with these accomplishments, Mariana explained that she used the grant proposal writing skills she developed during her internship to successfully secure funding to tackle IWT in Bolivia – which is still ongoing today.
After her internship, WCS Bolivia hired Mariana to continue her work and oversee other aspects of WCS Bolivia’s IWT programme. She was later promoted to Chief of Research to combat IWT across Bolivia and Latin America in 2019.
Commenting on her recent promotion to Coordinator of the Wildlife Trade programme at WCS Bolivia, she spoke fondly about her CLP internship as “really opening the doors for me for my career by providing me with the opportunity to highlight IWT in Bolivia and develop myself as a leader.”
Uncovering new data on threatened species
Baer’s pochard, a species of duck categorised as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, winters in Myanmar but had not been surveyed in the country for ten years when Thiri Dae We Aung’s CLP internship started in 2014.
Placed as an intern with BirdLife International, Thiri surveyed 25 wetland areas across central Myanmar and used the data to develop an updated understanding of Baer’s pochard distribution across the country. She also shared her findings with the Asian waterbird census to further inform knowledge about Baer’s pochard across the eastern Asian region.
Thiri explained that her CLP internship helped her learn various skills, including project management, report writing, communications, and community and government stakeholder engagement. “These skills contributed to two of my main achievements: improving conservation in Myanmar, and building the capacity of staff in the region,” she said.
As well as helping her attain remarkable conservation impacts, Thiri also revealed that her CLP internship had been the foundation on which she had built her career as a leading ornithologist and conservation leader for the region.
In particular, Thiri credits the writing skills she developed during her internship to the nine research papers she has published in just five years, which all relate to biodiversity conservation and endangered bird species in Myanmar.
What’s more, after receiving technical support from BirdLife International, Thiri went on to successfully apply for five project grants to continue her work with Baer’s pochard in central Myanmar.
Thiri continues to study birds, including the Baer’s pochard, and develops conservation infrastructure in Myanmar in her current role as Executive Director for the Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA).
From intern to Programme Officer
Speaking about his CLP internship, Emmanuel Kutiote described it as a unique opportunity to work on all aspects of FFI’s South Sudan programme, from training rangers on GPS use and camera deployment to engaging with stakeholders and government officials: “The internship allowed me to develop key skills, gain experience to start my career, but also gave me the means to build my own home and start my life independently,” he said.
As a CLP intern, Emmanuel was heavily involved in all areas of applied conservation and area management work for three protected areas in South Sudan: Bire Kapatuo game reserve, Bangangai game reserve, and Southern National Park. All three protected areas host globally important populations of threatened species such as African elephant, chimpanzee, pangolin, and African wild dog.
Among his many responsibilities, Emmanuel acted as a focal point between FFI in South Sudan and the chiefs of the local communities close to the protected areas. “Engaging with government, chiefs, and local communities was hard at first – but this internship really nurtured me and helped me get used to that,” he said.
During his internship, Emmanuel also helped set up three new ranger posts and deployed cameras in the Southern National Park. As few surveys had been conducted in the area due to the recent civil war conflict, it was a proud moment for him when the new cameras discovered key species in the area like African wild dog, pangolin and African golden cat: “We got to confirm the sightings to the IUCN, telling them that these species are in the area!“
After his internship finished in 2020, FFI were so impressed that they employed Emmanuel permanently. Commenting on this achievement, Emmanuel said: “I really gave my internship my all, and right now, as we’re speaking, I’m the Programme Officer for the biomonitoring department, which I’m really enjoying.”
To this day, Emmanuel continues supporting FFI in administration, biomonitoring and engaging with stakeholders as a South Sudan Programme Officer by employing skills learned from his time as a CLP intern.
Leading on the front lines of conservation
These first-hand insights from previous CLP interns reveal how their internships have benefited both their careers and their impact on conservation. From these conversations, it’s clear that internships can be a valuable springboard for emerging conservationists who are looking for opportunities to work on the ground and develop skills essential for their future careers. CLP plans to continue to provide grants and capacity support for conservation leaders like Mariana, Thiri and Emmanuel who are spearheading efforts to protect threatened biodiversity around the world.
CLP is grateful to Fondation Segré for funding all three internships featured in this article. We’d also like to extend our thanks to Emmanuel, Thiri, and Mariana for taking the time to talk with Bradley about their internships.