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Combined ESSA/ZSSA Congress: Feedback

The biennial ZSSA Congress has always been the perfect opportunity for students to showcase their research while getting a feel for what it means to be a zoologist in southern Africa, and the joint ESSA-ZSSA 2017 Congress did not disappoint! The ZSSA student body was well-represented with many students presenting their work alongside those of internationally-recognised researchers. The wide variety of presentations neatly introduced us to leading zoological topics, with the four parallel sessions ensuring we could constantly choose to attend talks we found interesting. The Congress also gave us the chance to network with fellow researchers, ranging from students to experts at the forefront of our field, allowing us to rub shoulders with future colleagues and potential supervisors alike. Feedback from student members has been incredibly positive and if you are a student considering a career in zoology, I strongly suggest you join us at the next Congress in 2019. See you there!

Matt Noakes

Gold medal award winner 2017 – Prof Colleen Downs

The ZSSA usually awards the Gold medal in recognition of outstanding contributions to the Zoology over an individual’s lifetime during their biennial congress. This year the award was presented to Prof Colleen Downs during the Gala Dinner of the joint ESSA- ZSSA Congress held in Pretoria.

Prof Downs has dedicated much of her research career to understanding how land-use change ecosystems, and how species respond under such conditions (responses may be ecological, physiological etc.). Prof Downs is arguably the most productive female natural scientist in South Africa. She obtained her PhD in 1990 and has published more than 200 peer-reviewed papers since then. She currently averages more than 15 publications per year with more than 20 publications for 2015 alone.

Prof Downs focuses much of her work in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. These areas house some of the most threatened vegetation types in South Africa, and include a variety of species from birds to mammals. Her research, when taken together, provide vital information on how to manage threats and ensure the survival of species, not necessarily to prevent change (including land use), but ensure synergy and survival. One of the strongest aspects of her work is how to manage, and not prevent, change since this is inevitable.

Prof Downs has an exceptionally good record in student training and mentorship and there are very few academics in South Africa that have successfully trained and mentored more young researchers. Importantly, her lab presents a nurturing environment where students, postdoctoral fellows and academics interact in a friendly yet learning manner.

Although much of Prof Down’s work is locally focussed, she has a good international standing. She is associated with the DST / NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology is an Elected Fellow of the International Ornithologists’ Union and has recently been awarded a prestigious DST/NRF South African Research Chair (SARChi). Her incredible contribution to conservation in South Africa was recognized by being nominated for the Mail and Guardian Green Trust Award (1999), and the number of international reviews that she performs. She has co-hosted / organized international meetings. She also routinely review for international journals.

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