Postdoctoral researcher Fortunate Mafeta Phaka recently represented the North-West University (NWU) at the 10th Brazilian Herpetology Congress that took place in Porto Seguro.
This is the largest herpetology event in Brazil, bringing together researchers, students and professionals in the field to discuss the latest discoveries and trends. The event featured lectures, short courses, presentations, symposiums, exhibitions and much more.
Fortunate shared two presentations during the congress. The first presentation delved into the outcomes of utilising DNA barcoding to identify frogs and reptiles in South Africa's urban traditional medicine markets. The second presentation was in the form of a poster, illustrating the similarities between vernacular names and scientific names for frogs and reptiles. He proposed extending vernacular names to enhance communication during herpetology projects involving local communities.
“The significance of this research lies in demonstrating socially inclusive approaches to herpetology. This research takes into account cultural practices and perspectives as required by South African environmental law,” says Fortunate.
He says that his upbringing in a family rooted in traditional cultural norms shaped his profound connection with nature. He pursued his undergraduate education in Pretoria, and then moved to the NWU’s Potchefstroom Campus to continue his postgraduate studies. Here he completed his BSc Hons and MSc (cum laude) in environmental sciences, and his PhD in science with environmental sciences.
His PhD thesis was titled “Biocultural diversity of herpetofauna in South Africa: State and relevance as a science-based policy tool for conservation and social inclusion”.
Notably, Fortunate's work revolves around examining the relationship between South African cultural diversity and the country's frog and reptile species, aiming to inform conservation efforts.
“My journey in herpetology took off during my postgraduate studies. I was intrigued by the lesser-known and often misunderstood animals, specifically frogs and reptiles, and therefore decided to make them the focal point of my research. Concerned about the increasing threat of extinction and lack of extensive study, he decided to dedicate his efforts to this cause.
“My interest in frogs and reptiles stems from the knowledge passed down by my late grandfather regarding cultural norms and practices. Combining this interest with my passion for these creatures has allowed for greater social inclusion in herpetology and the broader environmental sector. This amalgamation fuels my motivation to persist. Presently, our research initiative, 'Wild in Vernacular,' has a community outreach programme to enhance its social inclusion impact,” he adds.
Fortunate says some of his research methods were pioneered in Brazil, presenting a unique opportunity for critique by the very researchers whose work he had studied.
“The 10th Brazilian Herpetology Congress conference therefore provided an excellent platform for potential collaborations and the chance to meet potential collaborators.
“In Brazil, fellow herpetologists associate the NWU with frog research and field guides, owing to the university's established reputation through its African Amphibian Conservation Research Group. Initiating conversations regarding potential collaborations became relatively straightforward,” he shares.
“Already, joint research utilising available data collected in South Africa and Brazil has commenced, while other collaborations await the availability of research funding.
"I am also excited about an opportunity for knowledge exchange with colleagues from two Brazilian universities and a zoo. These collaborations and knowledge-sharing endeavours aim to replicate herpetological research in both countries and compare outcomes, offering more robust evidence applicable to developing nations.”
Postdoctoral researcher Fortunate Mafeta Phaka recently attended the 10th Brazilian Herpetology Congress in Porto Seguro.