Leventis African Biodiversity Fellow 2024

Eva Johnson Ayaro


My conservation interested started while I was in high school where we went to the well-known and famous national park in my country, Serengeti NP for school adventure trip, I was amused by how wild animals were roaming freely and how staffs were working in such peacefully environment. I approached one staff and asked him.

"What course should I study at University that will allow me to work with wildlife” He smiled and explained some interesting things to me, then grabbed a piece of paper and wrote some wildlife related courses, from that day I didn’t stop imagining how wonderful it is to work with wildlife.

After high school, while applying for University entry I went straight to apply for wildlife related courses, and guess what!!! I was selected to one of the biggest universities in Tanzania, University of Dar es salaam. In 2020 I graduated with bachelor's degree in wildlife science and conservation with flying colours…………

Moreover, I have been in contact with several prominent herpetologists who have been working on herpetofauna in Tanzania, after declaring my conservation interest to them. I have had the opportunity to join some of these herpetologists in surveying some poorly explored forests in Tanzania especially the Eastern Arc Mountains. I also participated in different herpetological research projects as a research trainee, and while in the field I would feel excited and fulfilled. Up to date I am still on the same field of interest, hoping to be Tanzanian herpetologist in the future…

Research Interests

My research interest centers on biodiversity conservation, especially Reptile biology, ecology and trade and I envisage researching on reptiles due to one main reason; these groups (Reptilia together with Amphibia) are the least known of all vertebrate groups in Tanzania. Most of these animals are speciously considered by most people as of no importance and some are killed needlessly (e.g. most snakes and some lizards) due to lack of knowledge on their biology.

Also, Tanzania has one of the richest assemblages of endemic reptile species. About 13% (42 species) of Tanzanian’s reptiles are threatened and seven out of the 42 species are on the 2023 EDGE list. However, in comparison to other taxonomic groups, expertise in herpetofauna conservation is still very limited in Tanzania.  I have a strong commitment and interest in developing my career working for the conservation of these species.  This has been catalysed through my herpetological work done so far with different organizations.

Since Tanzania has only a small number of resident herpetologists so it is important for future conservation efforts that this limited capacity is enhanced by training interested young biologists. Knowing the biology of these ecologically important animals and having experts is very important in ensuring their conservation. It is my ambition to improve the conservation of reptiles in Tanzania by conducting proper biodiversity surveys, and providing conservation education to people.

Current Research

I am currently leading a scientific project focusing on conserving the Nguru Spiny Pygmy Chameleon (Rhampholeon acuminatus). R. acuminatus is among the Critically Endangered reptiles in East Africa and endemic to Mkingu Nature Forest Reserve in Morogoro region, Tanzania. Illegal pet trade and habitat loss are the biggest threat to the species survival.

The research is focused on improving the conservation of R. acuminatus through: (1) surveying R. acuminatus  in the Mkingu Nature Forest Reserve and surrounding farmland;(2) modelling of habitat characteristics associated with the abundance and distribution of the R. acuminatus; (3) assessing the current collection status of the species from the wild;(4) raising awareness to both local people and duty staffs in the Morogoro region on the importance of conserving R. acuminatus; and (5) developing a user-friendly manual and action plan for conserving R. acuminatus.

This research will develop a better management plan (including education to local communities) which is crucial in the regulation and maintenance of the species and its habitat. The project will also improve the current understanding of R. acuminatus habitat, e.g. favourable temperature, ultraviolet light, humidity, canopy cover, understory cover, distance from the ground and distance from the forest edge.

R. acuminatus has been highly threatened by collection for live animal trade (pet trade) especially through intentional mislabelling or mixing with other Pygmy Chameleons (Rhampholeon) species. Since the Tanzanian government released a temporal ban of the live animal trade (2016), it is necessary to understand the current population status of R. acuminatus and current trade operations involving collecting individuals from the wild (if any) in order to inform policy makers and to develop long-term conservation and management measures. This study is going to develop a user-friendly manual for people who are involved in addressing animal trade. Lastly, a strategic conservation plan for the species will be developed jointly with multiple stakeholders.

Brief CV

I hold a Bachelor degree of Science in Wildlife Science and Conservation with honors (as one among the three department best students of 2020) from the University of Dar es Salaam. I am an EDGE fellow 2023-2025, Leventis African Biodiversity fellow 2024 and Berlin World Wild Conservation fellow 2023-2024. I led a project of conserving endemic and critically endangered (CR) pygmy chameleon species in Tanzania under sponsoring from Zoological Society of London, Rufford small grant and Idea Wild.

I have worked with Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute in collaboration with University of Dar es Salaam, conducting herpetological survey by updating Amphibians and Reptiles data from 2018 to 2020 at Mkomazi National Park. Also worked with Environment Conservation for Wildlife and Community Enterprise (ECOWICE) as Project Officer for two years leading both conservation and community-based projects, and I still work with them as a research consultant up to date. I am currently working as Program Manager at Women in Conservation organization.

Lastly, I am a potential MSc candidate who is expecting to benefit a lot through Leventis African Biodiversity Fellowship in terms of project design and development, data collection and analysis, scientific writing (manuscript and papers) and funding applications, all of which are useful during MSc study. That means with the acquired techniques, I will be able to generate technical documents and literature aimed at conserving species for long-term or indeterminably. The fellowship will enhance my scientific writing skills and hopefully I will be able to secure more opportunities beyond my current research project towards conservation and management of threatened reptiles (turtles, snakes, crocodiles, tortoises, chameleons, geckos etc) in Tanzania.