Samuel Ivande, Ornithologist

Samuel Ivande, Ornithologist

Meet Samuel Ivande, a 2019 National Geographic Explorer, Conservation Ecologist, Bird Conservation Coordinator at the Indianapolis Zoo, and Lecturer at the University of Jos in Nigeria and the A.P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI) – West Africa’s foremost Ornithology and biodiversity conservation training Institute.


5 - 12


Conservation, Biology, Storytelling

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Samuel Ivande is a 2019 Grantee and National Geographic's featured Explorer for Black Birders Week 2024. Check out Samuel's 2019 documentary, Birdwatching in Nigeria: Connecting Nigerians with Nature.

Early Work

Besides a desire for a career with more outdoor time than office time that would still make my parents proud, I didn’t really have much clarity about what I wanted to do for a career. I thought that I could satisfy this desire with a career in construction and was considering an application to construction programs. My parents thought that I should study human medicine and become a doctor, but I was certain that I didn’t want that. A compromise option was for me to apply to study pharmacy, but the university offered me a place on the biology program instead. In Nigeria (and I guess around much of Africa), a degree in biology or other similar environmental or wildlife conservation programs aren’t first-choice or particularly popular programs. I only hesitantly accepted to study biology, but also planned to reapply and transfer to a more “prestigious” program that would make my parents proud. However, two of my undergraduate professors (both trained abroad–in the U.S. and U.K., and now back in Nigeria to build an ornithology program) introduced me to ornithology and opened my eyes to the joy of working with birds in their natural habitats. Thanks to these incredible mentors, I gained a new perspective and became aware of the vast opportunities that ornithology could offer in helping me realize my desire for a career with a lot of outdoors. Studying birds has turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life, especially as it has provided me the perfect platform to enjoy the outdoors, see the world, and to learn about the natural world. And while ornithology and other ecology programs remain unprioritized in Nigeria, this is changing. And I can also add that my parents are proud of the work that I now do!

Most Exciting Part of Your Work

Besides providing me with the opportunity to work outdoors, I think some of the most exciting aspects of my work come from the opportunities that studying birds affords me to travel and see the world, and the diverse people and cultures that I have been privileged to meet and experience because of my study of birds. Studying birds has taken me to over 15 countries! Also, birds are a big part of many cultures, and while my primary work often focuses on some aspects of bird ecology and conservation, it is always exciting to discuss the cultural connections that people have with birds.

Most Demanding Part of Your Work

Working as a field ornithologist may sometimes take you to some remote habitats with rugged and challenging terrains and landscapes. While it is often exciting to visit these nice natural environments, the physical demand of fieldwork isn’t always pleasant, and of course fieldwork sometimes also comes with its own hazards. In several parts of the world, fieldwork may come with security risks or safety concerns, especially when field sites include conflict areas.

What Being an Explorer Means to You

For quite a while in Nigeria, the birdwatching community was largely expat-dominated, with little participation by Indigenous communities. Birdwatching was largely also considered an elitist activity, and ornithology was largely an unprioritized academic endeavor. I always wanted to see this situation improve, especially because of my belief that birds and birdwatching represent one of the most potent gateways for people to gain an appreciation and engage in the conservation of nature. After several years of ornithological research, I had the opportunity between 2015 and 2021 to lead the efforts to establish the Nigerian Bird Atlas Project – the first and largest community science project in Nigeria. The goal with NiBAP was to use birdwatching as a platform to connect young Nigerians with nature, and to increase local participation in bird monitoring and conservation in Nigeria. This goal, I believe, is well aligned with the mission of National Geographic, who supported this work through an Explorer award in 2019. This award allowed me and my team to use the power of science and education to develop local capacity, increase inclusion, and broaden public participation in birdwatching, avian monitoring, and bird conservation by recruiting, training, and organizing over 800 young Nigerians from diverse backgrounds and disciplines in over 20 bird clubs in a society where birdwatching and community science was quite novel. This work is helping to foster a growing local community of birdwatchers and a new generation of environmentally conscious Nigerians.

Explorer Work Showcase

Besides helping to increase awareness and promote public engagement for bird monitoring and conservation, I am immensely proud of my work with the Nigerian Bird Atlas Project, which is also helping to generate one of the largest biodiversity datasets in Nigeria that continues to be used to address ecological questions. Building on the successes of this work, I was again fortunate in 2021 to work with colleagues in Kenya and Southern Africa (Namibia and South Africa) to mobilize and strengthen collaborative data management across all our ongoing national projects to establish an up-to-date distributional database for Africa's birds under The African Bird Atlas Project ( By working together, we have further increased and deepened engagement across the continent and helped to generate millions of biodiversity observation records, which are all submitted to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility’s open access database and available for use to inform biodiversity policy.

So, You Want To Be an…Ornithologist

Firstly, if there is any uncertainty about a career pathway, try to remain true to your interests and passions because this can guide you and help you find a way through all the uncertainty. For me, my interest and desire for a career involving lots of outdoor activity helped me find my way through all the uncertainty to a career in ornithology and bird conservation. And for anyone interested in a career in ornithology, I would say that a love for the outdoors, a healthy level of curiosity about the natural world, great observation skills, a positive mindset, and a little bit of resilience are all useful characteristics to develop. I will also add that while you may be looking to study birds professionally as an ornithologist, try to find or create opportunities to also have fun while doing it.

Get Involved

One great thing about birds is that they are ubiquitous and are found on all continents and across most habitats – underwater, in the air, and on land. Most birds are also quite conspicuous and relatively easy to find, so you can basically begin by observing birds around your home. Birds have been a part of people’s cultures, and many people love birds and like to watch and observe them. Birdwatching is therefore an excellent way to get started. A natural next step in that process often then includes joining or participating in the many available bird-focused citizen science programs that allow you to make tangible and impactful contributions to bird conservation when you share the data and information that you learn from watching birds.

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Last Updated

May 28, 2024

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