Meet the 2021 class of Russell E. Train Fellows

Veronarindra Ramananjato

The global pandemic has underscored a core WWF belief: the future of conservation lies in the hands of local experts and communities. While borders closed and travel stopped, it was local leaders and scientists that moved conservation work forward in national parks, marine reserves, and communities around the world. Now more than ever we need to invest in these dedicated, resilient individuals to expand local expertise and better meet our global conservation goals.

For 27 years, WWF’s Russell E. Train Education for Nature Program (EFN) has strived to do just that. Train Fellowships support Global South leaders to earn advanced degrees in conservation-related fields. Fellows attend universities around the world, seeking out academic programs that best meet their research needs. Upon completing their programs, these individuals return to their home countries to further build upon their research, establish in-country academic programs, mentor the next generation of conservationists, and more.

This year’s recipients include 15 outstanding conservationists from 13 countries who are working to protect species, fill research gaps, and conserve the world’s most critical ecosystems. Selected for their innovative proposals and merit-based history, this cohort will focus their research on key topics, from evaluating protected areas in Bhutan to measuring amphibian populations in Mozambique to assessing whale shark populations in Peru. These dedicated individuals join EFN’s growing network of over 2,700 alumni working to protect our planet.

Meet the 2021 Train Fellows

  • Veronarindra Ramananjato portrait © Camille DeSisto

    Veronarindra Ramananjato | Madagascar

    "With EFN support, I’m stepping up my career as a conservation biologist with a PhD in Integrative Biology from the University of California, Berkeley. I will investigate how the smallest primates—mouse lemurs—ensure forest integrity via their seed dispersal services as well as what would be the eventual consequences of their extirpation on biological communities. I believe that understanding and preserving vital interactions between living beings is an inclusive way to predict and reverse ecological changes and biodiversity loss in a changing world."

  • Nelson Belecuane Manjate portrait © Nelia Linda Francisco

    Nelson Belecuane Manjate | Mozambique

    "With EFN support, I will further my research of the threatened savanna African elephant with a PhD in Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation from the University Federal of Mato Grosso in Brazil. With satellite imagery and field data, I am estimating and mapping the home range of elephants and assessing how environmental variables affect elephant behavior. Understanding things like the elephant’s seasonal movement can help save their threatened populations from extinction due to poaching and habitat loss in Northeast Mozambique."

  • Minh Thi Anh Nguyen portrait © R. J. Timmins

    Minh Thi Anh Nguyen | Vietnam

    "This fellowship from EFN, supporting my PhD from Colorado State University, will greatly increase my credibility in implementing conservation and education projects within Vietnam. This PhD program is the foundation I need to develop long-term field-based conservation research programs for protected areas that I believe are central to tackling the threat of snaring. In addition, the knowledge and experience gained will be invaluable in developing future university conservation biology courses, mentoring and advising students, and supporting faculty."

  • Samuel Ayebare portrait © Peter Nsubuga

    Samuel Ayebare | Uganda

    "Support from EFN will enable me to continue my PhD program in the department of integrative biology at Michigan State University. I work at the interface of ecology and statistics to answer questions related to how conservation actions can sustain biodiversity in the face of environmental change. My proposed research program in the Albertine Rift will put me at the forefront of critical skills in quantitative ecology that I will be able to share via research projects, formal teaching, and research mentoring in Uganda."

  • Sara Fernández portrait © Hesler Esposito

    Sara Fernández | Guatemala

    "A year ago, I read a paper about "the bees of the sea"—crustaceans and annelids that contribute greatly to the pollination of the seagrass Thalassia testudinum. Seagrasses provide several ecosystem services, like carbon storage, habitat, prevention of erosion, and more. My research will build a model that relates the populations of these pollinators and the seagrasses. EFN support is helping me pursue a master's degree in ecology and evolutionary biology from the Queen Mary University of London."

  • Sara Bonilla Anariba © Karla Lara

    Sara Bonilla Anariba | Honduras

    "As a social scientist, I feel committed to understand and study the interactions between society and the environment in the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) region. Principally, I'm interested in the role of coastal communities within marine resource management, with a particular focus on groups historically underrepresented, including Indigenous communities and women. My EFN-funded doctoral studies at Penn State University will focus on gender and marine governance. My research proposal arises as a result of my concern about why women's roles and livelihoods have been ignored in the design, establishment, and management of marine protected areas in the MAR region."

  • Badjedjea Babangenge Gabriel portrait © Jean Fundi Kiparamoto

    Badjedjea Babangenge Gabriel | Democratic Republic of the Congo

    "My research interests are amphibians, one of the lesser studied groups of animals within my country. With EFN support for my PhD from the University of Kisangani in Democratic Republic of the Congo, I will further my research on the diversity and distribution of amphibians within the northeastern and central Congo Basin. This work will provide a strong baseline for amphibian diversity and occurrence of little known species, likely including the detection of undescribed taxa and new species. After the completion of my PhD, I aim to lead local research on the ecology of amphibians and related fields."

  • Thinley Choden portrait © Prabhat Kr. Mukhia

    Thinley Choden | Bhutan

    "Support from EFN for my PhD from Murdoch University in Australia is helping me to fulfill my dream of contributing to conservation in Bhutan. My research evaluating the effectiveness of the management of Bhutan’s protected areas will contribute to generating empirical evidence supporting strengthening good governance and effective management of these areas. Besides this, it is an opportunity to build capacity for emerging professionals like me, which will bridge the information gap in this area."

  • Mwale Chishaleshale Mumba portrait © Humphrey Kaoma

    Mwale Chishaleshale Mumba | Zambia

    "This fellowship will help me achieve my goal of becoming a forest ecology expert. I’m interested in understanding measures that promote forest conservation, climate change mitigation, and poverty alleviation, and believe carbon trading is one potential solution for all. My proposed PhD research focuses on understanding carbon dynamics, land use and land cover change activities, and the socio-economic factors driving this change in the forest. My findings will help close the existing knowledge gaps in carbon storage potential of our forests and will increase the chances of the forest to be considered for carbon trading under the UN-REDD+ programme."

  • Risper Oteke portrait © Michal Opembi

    Risper Oteke | Kenya

    "As Kenya embraces blue economy, inclusion of gender perspectives is necessary. I am thankful to EFN for supporting my PhD research from the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. I’m working to answer the outstanding question of how mangroves systems are key in the resilience of peri urban livelihoods dependent on blue economy in coastal Kenya. A better understanding of varied gender positions, contributions, and how their role within an ecosystem-based management approach will inform future fisheries and conservation policy strategies."

  • Fefy Niaina portrait © Ravahatra Kiady

    Fefy Niaina | Madagascar

    "EFN support has given me the opportunity to pursue a PhD in ecology and biodiversity from the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar and further my university career. My PhD research will focus on the ecology of the gray headed brown lemur. This species is one of the most endangered species of lemurs with just three remaining narrow habitats and fewer than 1000 individuals."

  • Ando Rabearisoa portrait © Ando Rabearisoa

    Ando Rabearisoa | Madagascar

    "As a Malagasy woman, my ability to serve in a leadership role was hampered by an inequitable consideration of women in conservation business. Thanks to this fellowship, I will be able to leverage my experience, exposure to new ideas, and formal status to serve as an upper-level woman leader in blue economy initiatives in Africa. As a leader, I plan to promote gender equity in marine conservation studies so that female students from coastal, remote communities can study their neighboring environments."

  • Angela Alviz portrait © Isabella Beltran

    Angela Alviz | Colombia

    "EFN funding is fundamental in the development of my PhD from Texas Tech in the United States. My research in Colombia is focused on the conservation of the Lowland Tapir in the Orinoquia region. I am dedicated to understanding the ecological dynamics of tapirs through the study and understanding of metapopulations. Additionally, I am identifying key areas for tapirs' conservation, prioritizing areas to be restored, and generating biological corridors and a connectivity network that will allow me to make predictions about the future of the species not only in Colombia but also in South America."

  • Alejandra Mendoza Pfennig portrait © Markus Goettlich

    Alejandra Mendoza Pfennig | Peru

    "I’ve been researching whale sharks for 7 years, working closely with fishing communities, and collaborating with the government to improve the management of this vulnerable species. Now, I’m eager to keep learning and contributing to the scientific community to fill the gaps in whale shark life history. This fellowship will help me complete my master's degree in marine biological resources, in the Erasmus program, IMBRSea. I’m eager to improve my education and hope my future research can help us understand the interactions whale sharks have with different types of fishing and ultimately, give the government a better conservation approach."

  • Manuel Morales Mite portrait © Manuel Morales Mite

    Manuel Morales Mite | Ecuador

    "EFN is supporting my PhD in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation from the University of Florida in the United States. My planned research aims to update the existing information about the Galapagos grouper fishery and to seek innovative sources of income for the small local fishers there. These economic alternatives will promote men's and women's participation in the local market as key actors of the Galapagos conservation under a participatory, ecosystem-based fisheries management scheme."