From tragedy to triumph - a Rwandan biologist’s dream
William Apollinaire was born at the foot of the volcanoes of northern Rwanda, close to one of the last remaining homes of the mountain gorilla. William began studying a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences at the National University of Rwanda but with the eruption of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, William was forced to abandon his studies and flee with his family and few possessions.
After finally returning in 2004, he successfully completed his undergraduate degree and two years later went on to complete his thesis in primate research in Nyungwe National Park. In July 2007, the Society for Conservation Biology selected William as an ambassador for Rwanda.
With the help of Earthwatch and colleagues and friends worldwide, a fundraising effort was set up to allow William to travel to North Queensland and participate on Earthwatch’s Rainforests of Northern Australia project to work alongside eminent CSIRO researchers and Earthwatch PIs Drs David Westcott and Dan Metcalfe.
Understanding the origins and maintenance of rainforest diversity and the functioning of tropical forests, remain among the big questions of modern ecology and evolutionary biology. The primary focus of this project is to track the habits of seed-dispersing animals to predict the ecological impact of forest fragmentation.
For William, the long journey getting to this point has been worth it. He plans to apply the knowledge he has gained from his Australian experience to his home country of Rwanda:
“I learnt how to use mosquito traps to investigate the altitudinal abundance and distribution of mosquitoes, a key tool in understanding how climate change can impact the spread of avian malaria among endemic birds.”
“My expedition in Australia has enriched my knowledge of primary tropical forest sites, investigating the regeneration process using vegetation sampling techniques, focal tree techniques and using radio telemetry.”
“I would like to express my profound gratitude to Beth A. Kaplin and Sandy Eames for investing their energy and commitment in organising my expedition. I also owe a great debt of gratitude to Earthwatch and David Westcott and Daniel Metcalfe and their field assistants whose experience, patience and attention were my inspiration,” he said.
William’s Earthwatch experience is a step forward not only for him, but also for East Africa, extending the use of new techniques and knowledge in tropical conservation. Before the outbreak of war, gorilla-based tourism was Rwanda’s third largest source of revenue, behind coffee and tea exportation, so William’s new found expertise and continued dedication to rainforest conservation will directly impact the economic renewal of his homeland.
If you would like more information on William’s story or would like to support Earthwatch’s capacity building programs please contact us on 03 9682 6828 or at firstname.lastname@example.org