Meet the Team

Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme

Left to right (Top) Robin Colyn; Samantha Ralston-Paton; Dr Melissa Howes-Whitecross; Elelwani Makhuvha; Nolumanyano Camagu; (Bottom) Carina Coetzer and Linda van den Heever

Dr Melissa Whitecross

Acting Programme Manager: Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme/Threatened Species Project Manager: Raptors & Large Terrestrial Birds

Melissa completed her PhD in savanna ecology at Wits in 2017 and joined the Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme team on a one-year internship during 2017. In January 2018 she joined the team permanently as the Threatened Species Project Manager focusing on the conservation of raptors and large terrestrial birds. Melissa is responsible for projects supporting the conservation of the Secretarybird, Black Stork, Black Harrier, Taita Falcon, and Southern Banded Snake Eagle. Melissa is also the lead researcher on the ACSA Grey-headed Gull tracking project. Melissa took on the role of Acting Programme Manager in June 2019. Melissa is a knowledgeable birdwatcher who has seen over 750 bird species across southern Africa and assists with the stream of bird identification requests that are sent to BirdLife South Africa. Melissa is a capable public speaker and enjoys presenting talks about birds, birding and conservation to clubs and schools around South Africa.

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.

Robin Colyn

KEM-JV Fellow of Conservation 

Robin is responsible for providing scientific input into a range of threatened bird species projects within the Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme. Core functions include spatial, climatic and ecological modelling; development of survey methodology for rare and range-restricted species; conservation network design; and supporting research and monitoring within focal projects. Robin is currently the lead researcher on the Conservation Modelling, White-winged Flufftail, Highland Grassland and Arid Species projects. Research interests include landscape ecology, remote monitoring and sensing methodology, climate change and its impacts on biodiversity and the conservation ecology of highly threatened species.

Sam Ralston-Paton

Birds and Renewable Energy Project Manager

Samantha works with government, the renewable energy industry, environmental assessment practitioners, consulting bird specialists and academics to help renewable energy develop in harmony with nature. She has her MSc in Conservation Biology and over 13 years’ experience in environmental management. She is passionate about environmental sustainability, and enjoys challenging herself, and other people, to have a more positive impact on the planet.

Carina Coetzer

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.

Nolumanyano Sesona Camagu

Birds and Renewable Energy Intern

Nolumanyano Camagu, originally from Port Elizabeth, came to the Western Cape in 2014 to pursue her honours degree in Conservation Ecology at Stellenbosch University. Nolu assists with the development and mainstreaming of sensitivity maps for bird species that are vulnerable to the impacts of renewable energy and drivers of large-scale habitat change. She also provides administrative and technical assistance with the overarching goal of ensuring that species at risk are considered during strategic planning, site screening and impact assessment.

Elelwani Makhuvha

Conservation Administrative Intern

Elelwani joins the BirdLife team, this time as the Conservation Administrative Intern. She is responsible for assisting the Conservation Division manager and the (acting) Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme manager with administrative tasks, media and website content. Elelwani job-shadowed the Policy & Advocacy Programme manager (Candice Stevens) as their first Vacation-work candidate in 2018. She recently graduated her BSc Honours degree in Environmental Science from Wits University and spent the last six months volunteering at Nature’s Valley Trust, where she was involved with their various Conservation projects.

Carina Coetzer
Elelwani Makhuvha 1