APLORI - teaching Ornithology students in Ghana

When working in other countries, one of the BTO International Team’s aims has always been to support local Ornithology and develop capacity. In our migrant bird research program BTO and RSPB worked together in Ghana with the local BirdLife partners, the Ghana Wildlife Societe and Naturama. Both partners said that the one of the main limitations they faced was finding suitable trained staff to work on their projects.

We worked with the University of Cape Coast (UCC) on another project and, being very outward looking and keen for international collaborations, they suggested that one way to help would be by supporting a new Ornithology course and also developing promising students to Master’s degree level.

We discussed this with the A P Leventis Ornithological Institute (APLORI) in Nigeria, the only institute in West Africa focusing on Ornithology. A three-way collaboration was formed. BTO was kindly supported by the A G Leventis Foundation to help teach on the undergraduate module and to supervise two Master’s students each year. Each year two students are offered the opportunity to undertake the BSc in Applied Ecology and Ornithology at APLORI. After one year, they return to Cape Coast where they undertake a research project which BTO helps supervise.

Students from the University of Cape Coast course

An ongoing collaboration

The Masters programme is now entering its third year. 

Phil Atkinson, Head of Internationa Research at BTO met with one student, Abraham Yeboah, when he visited Cape Coast in November 2015 and they went out in the field together and focused on developing methodology. Phil continued supervising Abraham until he submitted his thesis, entitled ‘Effects of sacred grove size and isolation distance on avifaunal assemblages in a forest savannah transition zone in Ghana’ in October 2016.  Abraham graduated with his MPhil in summer 2017. We are extremely grateful to the A G Leventis Foundation’s hugely valuable support of this work because, without an MPhil, students cannot go on to become teachers in Ghana.

A further two students were recruited to the MSc in APLORI in 2015. They returned to Ghana in September 2016 to start planning their year-long research projects. BTO supervisors have offered guidance, alongside APLORI and UCC. One of them, Adam Seidu, is working on his thesis: ‘Bird strike risk factors at airports in different ecological zones in Ghana’. The other MSc student, Opoku Agyemang, is working on a project looking at developing methods to measure ‘bird food’ in tropical forests.  Understanding food resources in tropical forests is surprisingly difficult so this project should prove really useful. He will be undertaking his fieldwork in the Amurun Forest Reserve in Nigeria but will be writing up his thesis in Ghana. Phil meets regularly with students at APLORI to offer support and guidance. 

Teaching on the undergraduate course is great fun. The students are extremely keen to learn and having Kakum National Park on the doorstep is a great opportunity for them to learn new fieldwork skills. Dr Justus Deikumah from UCC leads the 14 week module and BTO staff (either Phil Atkinson or BTO’s Training Manager, Nick Moran) teach for one week and staff from APLORI tend to do an adjoining week with a small overlap.

If you would like to discuss a similar partnership project with BTO's international team, email phil.atkinson [at] bto.org.

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