Meet the Team

Landscape Conservation Programme

Dr Melissa Whitecross

Landscape Conservation Programme Manager
Melissa completed her PhD in savanna ecology at Wits in 2017 and subsequently joined the Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme (TBCP) on a one-year internship. In January 2018 she joined the team permanently as the Threatened Species Project Manager where she coordinated projects on South Africa’s threatened raptors and large terrestrial bird species including the Secretarybird, Black Stork and Southern Banded Snake Eagle. Melissa became the acting programme manager for the TBCP for the latter half of 2019 and started as the new manager for the Landscape Conservation Programme in January 2020. Melissa oversees a dedicated team of conservationists working to protect and preserve South Africa’s key bird species and ecosystems. Melissa oversees the organisation, coordination and running of the biennial Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference as well as the Kruger Bird & Wildlife Challenge. She also assists with the stream of bird identification requests that are sent to BirdLife South Africa. Melissa is also the host and producer of the weekly webinar series Conservation Conversations with BirdLife South Africa. Melissa is a keen birdwatcher with a southern African life list of over 770 birds.


Protecting Ecosystems

Dr Giselle Murison

Western Cape Estuaries Conservation Project Manager
As the Project Manager for BirdLife South Africa’s Western Cape Estuaries Conservation Project, Giselle is responsible for facilitating improved protection and appropriate management of priority estuaries within IBAs in the Western Cape, in partnership with government organisations, other NPOs and local stakeholders. This includes relevant policy input and support, and the initiation, implementation and support of conservation initiatives to benefit estuarine ecosystem health, including habitat management and rehabilitation projects, such as alien clearing, saltmarsh restoration and fynbos management, environmental awareness and education, and scientific research and monitoring in key estuarine IBAs.

Carina Pienaar 

Ingula Project Manager 

As Ingula Project Manager, Carina is primarily tasked with monitoring the avian populations on the newly declared Ingula Nature Reserve. This includes habitat management for three habitat types on-site (grasslands, escarpment forests, and wetlands), monitoring breeding populations of several threatened species, monthly avifaunal surveys, implementing and updating Species Action Plans, and managing the national Southern Bald Ibis database. She is also assisting in the Wilge Stewardship Initiative, aimed at declaring the Greater Wilge catchment surrounding the upper site of Ingula as a Protected Environment. In doing so, this will add value to the protection of South Africa’s highly threatened grasslands.

Steve McKean

Director of Conservation Outcomes

Steve McKean is a director of Conservation Outcomes, implementing incentive-based mechanisms for conservation. He has over 28 years’ experience as an ecologist specialising mainly in sustainable resource use, natural resource management, vegetation ecology, protected area management, resource economics and in developing and implementing market-based solutions to conservation challenges. He was one of the initiators of the innovative and successful KZN Biodiversity Stewardship Programme in 2005/6. Steve’s work has involved working with a variety of people in developing sustainable solutions to complex conservation issues.  He has focused more recently on developing and facilitating mechanisms for rural people to benefit from sustainable natural resource management. Steve is currently leading processes to secure 9 new Protected Areas in KwaZulu-Natal and coordinates post declaration support to over 20 areas already secured. He has written over 58 scientific reports, policy documents, papers, book chapters and articles and presented more than 39 papers at national and international conferences on various aspects of conservation, sustainable natural resource use and management. Steve has an MSc in Ecology from the University of the Witwatersrand and is a registered professional natural scientist.

Through the partnership between BirdLife SA and Conservation Outcomes, Steve is responsible for expanding the work of the Landscape Conservation Programme in KwaZulu-Natal. Steve is working with private and communal land holders to conserve critical bird habitat outside formal Protected Areas, primarily through the KZN Biodiversity Stewardship Programme. Steve, together with partners such as Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife is also coordinating the Blue Swallow monitoring programme in KwaZulu-Natal.


Protecting Species

Linda van den Heever

Vulture Project Manager 

Linda has conducted extensive research on the unusually high levels of lead poisoning in South Africa’s vulture species, with current research focusing on the use of lead isotopes to determine the source of the lead poisoning, as well as an investigation into the physiological impacts of lead poisoning on White-backed Vulture chicks at Dronfield Nature Reserve (Kimberley, NC). Linda represents BirdLife South Africa on the national Lead Task Team (with the aim to minimise the threat of lead poisoning to South Africa’s wildlife), the National Wildlife Poisoning Prevention Working Group, the National Vulture Task Force and the Bearded Vulture Recovery Programme. Linda actively engages with farmers, game ranch managers and hunters to highlight the hazards lead poisoning poses, not only to vultures and other wildlife, but also to humans themselves. Linda is also responsible for the implementation of Vulture Safe Zones in South Africa, a new conservation measure recommended by the Multi-Species Action Plan to Conserve African-Eurasian Vultures, where owners of large tracts of land in key areas of vulture occurrence are approached and convinced to manage their properties in ways that are conducive to vulture survival. Linda is also secretary to the BirdLife South Africa Animal Ethics Committee.

Dr Christiaan Brink

Raptor & Large Terrestrial Bird Project Manager

Christiaan manages the conservation projects for various threatened raptor and large terrestrial bird species, with the Secretarybird and Southern Banded Snake Eagle being current priorities. His responsibilities include all aspects of the conservation of these birds, including research, threat mitigation and stakeholder engagement. Christiaan holds an MSc in Conservation Biology from the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology and is currently completing his PhD, which investigates the role of supplementary feeding sites for vulture conservation.

Cassie Carstens

Secretarybird Conservation Officer

Cassie joined BirdLife South Africa in January 2023 as Secretarybird Conservation Officer. He will be responsible for monitoring nesting behaviour and distribution of these endangered grassland birds and will engage extensively with farmers and other stakeholders. He has been involved with bird research and conservation work for almost a decade, having previously worked with Southern Ground Hornbills and Cape Parrots. A highly qualified bird, field, and cultural guide with more than 20 years’ experience, Cassie also holds an BA Honours in Heritage and Cultural Tourism and a BSc Honours in Geography.

Dr Kyle Lloyd

Rockjumper Fellow of White-winged Flufftail Conservation

Kyle oversees the research and conservation of the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail (WwF). The WwF serves as a flagship species for safeguarding South Africa’s peat-based wetlands that are inhabited by a diversity of unique animals and plants. Kyle’s responsibilities are broadly divided into (1) conducting research on WwF population dynamics, breeding biology and movement patterns; and (2) protecting WwF habitat by engaging with local landowners, improving habitat quality and identifying potential threats which can be mitigated through effective conservation measures.



Programme Interns

Valery Phakoago

Landscape Conservation Intern

Valery Phakoago holds an MSc in Environmental Sciences from the University of Venda, where she studied geophagic practices (consumption of earthly materials) in Sekhukhune area. Currently, Valery is in her final stages of submitting her PhD in Wildlife Conservation Physiology, at the University of the Witwatersrand, working on the ecology of aardvarks and Temminck’s pangolins in the Kalahari. Valery joined BirdLife South Africa as the 2023-2024 Landscape Conservation Intern and is responsible for assisting the Landscape Conservation Programme Manager with administrative duties including report writing, taking minutes, social media and website updates. At some point during her internship, she will assist in fieldwork and also be involved in coordinating upcoming events such a the Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference.

Marlize Muller

Conservation Biology Intern

Marlize Muller is the Conservation Biology intern under the leadership of Dr Kyle Lloyd. This internship forms part of SANBI’s Groen Sebenza Phase II Programme aiming to develop the competence and confidence of graduates in the management of biodiversity. Marlize will be primarily assisting Dr Lloyd with data processing and analysis, which forms part of a larger project to conserve the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail and its wetlands. Marlize is also finalising her PhD in grassland ecology which stemmed from a love of nature growing up on nature reserves.

Christiaan Brink
Cassie Carstens
Kyle Lloyd
Profile VP
Marlize Muller