Ukie Resende is a quiet hero whose journey into conservation is an inspiring story of personal transformation. In 2010, impressed by his guiding skills, the owner of a German ecotour company for whom he was working, suggested he help Fundação Tartaruga during the loggerhead turtle nesting season.
“I went to help with the volunteer beach camps on Boavista for one summer but it changed me forever. The first time I saw a turtle laying eggs, I was overcome by its beauty and by a sense of peace.”
Just call me Turtle
Two years later, Ukie went full-time with Fundação Tartaruga. Together with colleagues, his mission is tackling the illegal poaching of loggerhead turtles in Cape Verde – something that threatens the world’s third largest nesting population of this endangered species with a high risk of extinction in the wild. Fulfilling it requires protecting nesting sites, training rangers, running beach camps and involving local communities, ensuring turtles are worth more alive than dead.
“Children recognise the logo on the truck and call out, ‘Fundação!’, and lots of local people call me ‘Tartaruga’! More and more people here are learning about and supporting turtle conservation.”
From conservationist to businessman
Managing finances and logistics at the Foundation’s office in Boavista, Ukie admits that these days he feels more like a businessman than a conservationist but his experience and connections mean he gets things done. Whether speaking to government officials or dealing with poachers, his skills have proved invaluable, particularly in rebuilding beach camps in the wake of $30’000 worth of damage caused by Hurricane Fred.
In recent years, turtle mortality has fallen dramatically, much of which is due to Ukie and the rest of the Foundation team reaching out to and involving the community, and youngsters regularly come into the office asking to volunteer.
“My life has changed – my way of looking at nature – and I’ve grown more and more passionate about turtles. As a Cape Verdean I’m proud to be contributing to my country.”
“When I returned from my first field trip, my mother cried when she saw me! My skin was sunburnt, my hair was a mess … she said I would be better off going back to university! My friends didn’t understand either, wondering why I wanted to get muddy with warthogs when I could be making a decent living back home!”
But that is just how Zeine El Abidine Ould Sidatt, manager of the Diawling National Park and Mauritanian coordinator of the cross-border Biosphere Reserve of the Senegal River Delta, is – and he can’t help it.
An eye-opening experience
While still a geography professor at the University of Nouakchott, a field training course in Diawling changed Zeine’s life. He saw how the Diama Dam on the Senegal River had disrupted seasonal floods and left the area barren. At the same time, he met the director of the restoration programme, Olivier Hamerlynck, who took him on a flight over the reserve for a bird count, and triggered a lasting passion for ornithology.
Later, after completing a Master’s degree in Burkina Faso, Sidatt was hired by the Ministry of the Environment. In charge of biodiversity, the position enabled him to pursue further training in Europe, including a course in bird-banding in France supported by the former Fondation Internationale du Banc d’Arguin (FIBA).
A deliberate choice
Although Zeine El Abidine Ould Sidatt could have settled for a comfortable life in the Nouakchott administration, he chose to follow his passion for fieldwork, accepting a position as manager of the Diawling National Park. Today, he spends nearly 80% of his time there. As manager, he is responsible for renewed life returning to the Park thanks to a transformational artificial flooding programme. Continuously monitoring its effectiveness and impacts with farmers, fishermen and weavers, he has also taken part in international research projects, co-authored a book on the birds of Mauritania, and assisted in the establishment of the cross-border Biosphere Reserve, connecting communities on both sides of the Senegal river and promoting the spirit of ‘Peace Parks’. This is already a legacy of which he can be justly proud.