Sudan is a country rich in natural diversity. The blogger Abubakr Mohammad has dedicated his free time to educating the public about this diversity. Mohammad created and manages the Facebook page Naturalist from Sudan which has more than 8,000 followers.
WikiTribune interviewed Mohammad via email:
Question: Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Answer: I am Abubakr Mohammad, 34, I am conservation biologist and a naturalist. My interests include: biodiversity, ecology, micro-habitat studies, ornithology, and conservation. Mainly interested in the studies of medical entomology, reptiles and amphibians, their evolution and systematics as well as scorpions.
Why were you interested in documenting biodiversity and wildlife in Sudan?
It’s always been a childhood passion since I was six or seven. I started with a childhood curiosity watching insects from a distance and started collecting locusts from our neighborhood and frogs, then scorpions.
I went to university and wanted to specialize in entomology. I applied for the plant protection department at the Faculty of Agricultural studies in Sudan University. That was where I started to read more academic references and realized that there was a serious lack of data and even preserved specimens in our entomology lab, so I started collecting for our own lab and then started to travel to different parts of Sudan.
I was mainly focusing on scorpions. I can say that I have been documenting my work in a systematic way since 2003, and been developing my documentary and now have preserved specimens of scorpions, reptiles and amphibians from all over Sudan.
I think they require DNA extraction in order to be scientifically identified. I have over 1,800 preserved specimens of scorpions and reptiles/amphibians. I have also been a member of a civil society that was based at the Sudan Natural History museum and have been helping the museum as a volunteer in identifying specimens. I am also helping students with their graduation thesis, MSc, and PhD students, as well as researchers working on their own projects if they contact me.
I am also a member of the executive committee of the Sudanese Wildlife Society since 2006 (as deputy of the scientific research and publishing), and have been selected as the country representative of the African Bird Club (ABC) since 2014
How do you fund your work?
I fund it from my personal savings. I work as a bioremediation supervisor with an oil company, and also part-time environmental consultant with NGOs (non-governmental organizations).
In your opinion what are the most pressing environmental issues in Sudan now?
The increase of gold mining activities, as well as excessive use of pesticides with very weak supervision and control from the responsible bodies at the Ministry of Agriculture, as well as the lack of communication between this sector and other related sectors (Ministry of Public Health and Higher Council of Environment and Physical Development)..There’s also a huge gap between research institutes (Wildlife, environmental studies, universities, as well as local NGOs and civil societies).
With my own eyes I have seen how the logging of trees affects the environment and wilderness, especially for mass production of firewood and coal. But in Sudan, the issues are becoming a very complicated situation when it comes to the environment.
What are your future plans for the project?
To launch a website with free access to students and researchers both inside and outside Sudan who are interested in the field of biodiversity and wildlife conservation. I will also publish two pictorial field guides on the birds of Sudan, and the other one will be on the reptiles and amphibians of Sudan. The website will be updated on a regular basis, and I am not going to stop my work unless I am satisfied with the database.
Tell us about an unusual situation you experienced in your travels?
Well, there are so many situations you go through if you’re travelling a lot, especially in a country like Sudan. I don’t know what might seem unusual to the majority of people but was travelling outside Sudan a few months ago and realized after I reached my destination that I had three live specimens of scorpions I had collected two days before my flight and put them by mistake in my bag. I was going to put them in a box until I came back to Sudan, and put them into my backpack by mistake. They were thankfully still alive, and I just ended up giving them to a colleague who is doing lots of research on scorpions and he never had specimens from Sudan.
I honestly didn’t mean to take them with me even though it has happened so many times people who know me are (hopefully) getting used to this habit.