We are a small team and are locally known as Nkuli (honey badger) - tenacious, hardworking, resourceful, and endlessly busy with a great attitude. We all live in a simple field camp in tents. No-one has regular work hours and everyone frequently works at night to collar lions. Aside from the project leaders, Keith and Colleen Begg, everyone on our small team is Mozambican and 80% come from villages within Niassa. We hire predominantly on personality alone and for most of our staff this is their first job. Several on the team used to be poachers and have incredible bush skills. All our staff are given ongoing on-the-job training in everything from how to systematically collect data, use binoculars and a camera, to how to use a GPS, radio track lions and radio protocol.
Joaquim, Euzebio and Oscar learning to use a computer
Several on the team have learned to drive and obtained driver’s licenses and learned how to use computers. Trips to other conservation projects are arranged to broaden horizons and learn from others. We believe strongly in staying small but developing partners at all levels, local, district, national, and international. In October 2012 we hope to hire a Mozambican Program Manager to assist us.
The team continues to grow and those who come seldom leave. Four of our staff have been with us for more than five years and two, Alberto Mussoma and Oscar Muemedi have been with us since the start of the project in 2003:.
Alberto (Aka Jomba, which means Uncle) is our cook, camp guard, and takes care of rations and supplies. In 2003, we wanted to see how people followed the honey-guide bird to find honey. He spent two weeks with us in the field showing us his bush skills and refused to leave although we had almost no money to pay him. He comes from Guebuza village inside Niassa Reserve and has lived in the reserve all his life. He has worked on all facets of the project but has moved from field work to camp duties as he has got older. He is also the bush grandfather to our children and has opinions on everything. We test all our questionnaire surveys on Jomba to make sure they work. He doesn’t know when he was born but has seen Niassa through the war years when he was in the voluntary Frelimo militia. He is illiterate but values education highly and the majority of his 17 children have had some schooling with several going to secondary school, which is a remarkable achievement in Niassa Reserve.
Oscar Muemedi was our first field assistant in 2003. He has 4 years of schooling, a wonderful belly laugh and is incredibly strong. He never loses heart. We call him a Mecula yuppie (Mecula is the biggest village in Niassa Reserve) as he has few traditional bush skills even though he has grown up in Niassa Reserve. He was the first of our staff to get a driver’s license, has become a capable mechanic, radio tracker and data collector. He works primarily with Joaquim as the extension and outreach team visiting all villages across Niassa to help with building goat corrals, safe shelters and living fences. The first years on the project were very tough as we didn’t have a base camp and constantly moved around. Oscar supported us through it all.
Euzebio Waiti is our research assistant extraordinaire. He is from Mbamba village and used to be a highly skilled poacher. As a result he has incredible bush skills and is responsible for monitoring all the lions and radio-collared leopards in the intensive study area. He calls them “his family”. Euzebio also assists us with questionnaire surveys, call up surveys and radio collaring. He has four years of schooling and recently got his driver’s license. Like all of our team Euzebio is a great actor and excellent at engaging children in educational activities. Euzebio frequently leads our children’s bush visits as a local mentor. He has become concerned about the number of lions dying in snares and an increasingly vocal local advocate for conservation.
Pedro Sandali is one of the youngest members of the team and is in charge of daily radio communication with reserve headquarters, visitors and camp maintenance. He is also Colleen’s right hand man as he looks after the children when she is busy in the field. He comes from Mbamba village and has 5 years of schooling. Recently he got his driver’s license, and learned to input data into the computer in his spare time. Pedro monitors the experimental living fences in Mbamba village in the wet season and monitors the use of safe shelters.
The team leaders, Dr. Colleen Begg and Keith Begg are independent South African conservation biologists that have been working in conservation all their professional lives. At present their focus is the African lion, however they are concerned about all carnivores and have worked on cheetah, mink, marten and for many years, the honey badger. They remain advocates for all the species they have studied. They are known for their practical application of research knowledge to find simple solutions and for living in the field. They believe in using all the tools at their disposable to affect conservation, including - documentary film, photography, and journalism. See some of their Fine art images and films at www.beggnature.co.za
They have lived in Niassa for nine months a year since 2003 and are raising and homeschooling their two children, Ella and Finn, there. They are members of the African Lion Working group and IUCN Cat Specialist Group and regularly collaborate with other carnivore conservationists. They also consult and cooperate with the Mozambican government to ensure their activities fit into national and regional conservation strategies for lion, cheetah, and wild dog.
Niassa Carnivore Project
Postnet Suite 230, Private Bag X18, Rondebosch, 7701, South Africa