My experience at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science (ICCS), Oxford University

Eva Johnson Ayaro
5 minutes read

Hello everyone! I’m Eva Johnson, a wildlife researcher at Women in Conservation Organization (, Tanzania, and I’m excited to share here my transformative experience at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science (ICCS) at Oxford University. I visited Oxford in Spring 2024. I am filled with a deep sense of gratitude and accomplishment. The three-month stay with ICCS offered me unparalleled opportunities for academic growth, professional development, and personal enrichment. Here, I would like to share some highlights of my experience that made my time at ICCS intellectually stimulating, challenging, and truly memorable.

Embracing Interdisciplinary Learning

One of the most striking aspects of my experience at ICCS is the emphasis on interdisciplinary learning. Coming from a background focused on biodiversity conservation in Tanzania, I found exposure to diverse global conservation strategies and methodologies. The academic environment at ICCS encouraged me to look beyond traditional boundaries and integrate various scientific, social, and economic perspectives into my research. I took several courses including on Public Speaking and Research Involving Human Participants. These courses not only enhanced my technical skills but also boosted my confidence in presenting complex information and data and ensuring ethical standards in my research.

Pioneering Research Project

Under the invaluable guidance of my ICCS supervisor, Dr Dan Challender, I embarked on a research project aimed at understanding the illegal collection and trade of pygmy chameleons in Tanzania. This project, which focuses on a case study site comprising the Mkingu Nature Forest Reserve since the ban on wildlife collection and trade in 2016, has been a significant milestone in my research journey. Together with Dr Challender, we designed the project, developed clear research objectives, and formulated a robust methodology for data collection and analysis. As part of this, I prepared interview question templates and consent forms and submitted the research plan for ethical approval from the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH), a local ethical review committee. This experience has equipped me with essential skills in project design and ethical research practices.

Professional Growth and Networking

My time at Oxford was also marked by numerous networking opportunities that have broadened my professional horizons. Attending events such as the Oxford Biodiversity Network meetings, talks at the Oxford Martin School, events at WildCRU, and the Nature Seminar Series at the School of Geography and Environment allowed me to meet and interact with leading conservation experts and practitioners. These interactions were not only intellectually stimulating but also opened doors for potential collaborations. Engaging with peers and mentors in these settings provided fresh perspectives on conservation challenges and solutions, enriching my understanding and approach to biodiversity conservation.

Moreover, ICCS provided an unparalleled environment for professional growth. Access to state-of-the-art research facilities, comprehensive academic resources at Oxford, and a supportive community of researchers facilitated a conducive learning atmosphere.

Presentations and Academic Engagements

During my fellowship, I had the privilege of presenting my research and experiences to various audiences (at ICCS, Oxford Martin School, and the Oxford Biodiversity Network), contributing to discussions on biodiversity conservation and chameleon trade in Tanzania:

At ICCS, I introduced my research on pygmy chameleons, which initiated collaborative discussions and provided valuable feedback on research design, methodology, and ethical considerations. This input was crucial in refining my project and ensuring its scientific rigor.

My presentation at the Oxford Martin School allowed me to share insights from my research, fostering meaningful discussions on chameleon conservation challenges in Tanzania with faculty members and students.

At the Oxford Biodiversity Network, I highlighted the significance of pygmy chameleons in biodiversity conservation and discussed the trend of chameleon trade internationally. This platform deepened collaborations and facilitated knowledge exchange with conservation professionals and academics.

Cultural and Social Enrichment

Beyond academia, my time at Oxford was filled with enriching cultural and social experiences. I explored the city of London, visiting iconic landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and the Natural History Museum. In Oxford, I enjoyed leisurely walks around various colleges, experiencing the rich history and architecture. I also visited the Knepp Rewilding Project, where I had the incredible experience of seeing deer in their natural environment for the first time. This moment was particularly memorable, highlighting the success of rewilding efforts and the beauty of wildlife conservation in practice.

Additionally, I participated in horse riding at Checkendon Equestrian Centre, bird watching at Otmoor Nature Reserve, and explored Oxford’s botanical gardens and natural history museums. Each of these experiences provided unique insights into the natural world and conservation efforts. Evenings were often spent at local pubs, engaging in lively discussions with colleagues and friends, fostering a sense of community and belonging. A memorable meal at Merton College provided insights into British culture and fostered lasting friendships with fellow researchers from diverse backgrounds. These experiences not only contributed to my personal growth but also strengthened my sense of belonging within the ICCS community.

Impact and Future Endeavours

Reflecting on my journey at ICCS, I am deeply grateful for the transformative impact it has had on my career and personal development. The knowledge, skills, and networks gained during my fellowship have positioned me to contribute meaningfully to biodiversity conservation efforts in Tanzania and beyond. Moreover, the full impact of my research project will unfold as I continue with data collection and analysis, scheduled for the second half of 2024. In collaboration with the ICCS team I look forward to publishing at least one paper addressing pygmy chameleon collection and trade in Tanzania.

In summary, my experience at ICCS has been a pivotal chapter in my career as a wildlife researcher. I extend my heartfelt thanks to ICCS, my mentors, colleagues, and the entire Oxford University community for their unwavering support and guidance. As I continue my journey, I carry with me the lessons learned and the inspiration gained from ICCS. Together, let’s work towards a future where biodiversity thrives, and our conservation efforts leave a lasting legacy.


Eva Johnson Ayaro | Leventis African Biodiversity Fellow 2024
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…