Meet the Team

Species Conservation Programme

Dr Linda van den Heever

Species Conservation Programme 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.


Cassie Carstens

Secretarybird Conservation Project Manager

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.


Justin Henry

Vulture Conservation Officer

Justin is the Vulture Conservation Officer. Growing up on a farm in Gauteng, Justin’s interest in the natural world was nurtured from a young age. After completing an Honours degree in Conservation Ecology from Stellenbosch University he worked in various conservation positions within South Africa. In his new position, Justin will be tasked with expanding the reach of the lead advocacy project and increasing the shift to lead-free bullets. He will also be involved with the Vulture Safe Zones by maintaining and expanding existing sites under BLSA’s management



Dr Lorinda Hart

Birds and Agrochemicals Project Manager 

Lorinda is the Birds and Agrochemicals Project Manager at BirdLife South Africa. She has extensive experience in avian research, with a special interest in the fields of ecotoxicology, ecophysiology, and urban and invasive ecology. Lorinda will oversee pioneering research on the impact of agrochemicals on South Africa’s agricultural bird species, which will inform effective and long-term mitigation strategies. The project, the first of its kind South Africa, will once again place BirdLife South Africa at the forefront of research with real-life conservation application.


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.



Cassie Carstens
Photo 13
Dr Lorinda Hart
Profile VP