UNESWA PhD student awarded Eswatini Environment Fund grant for OWLS-ROCK project

20 September 2023, Kwaluseni – The Eswatini Environment Fund has awarded PhD student Ms. Siphesihle Magagula from the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Eswatini, a E228K grant for the On the Wing Long-Term Sustainable Rodent Control to Keep Communities Food Secure (OWLS -ROCK) project.

The project aims to conserve owls in the community by understanding their pest suppression services. The project will track the movement of Barn Owls to find out more about where they find their food. Crucially, Ms Magagula will be engaging with local communities to demystify owls and discussing with them the benefits of owls in improving agricultural yields for better food security. The project will be implemented in partnership with All Out Africa Foundation and UNESWA. Ms. Magagula’s team include Prof. Ara Monadjem, Prof. Themb’a Mahlaba, Dr. Sara Padidar, Dr. Machawe Maphalala and Mr. Mnqobi Mamba.

“Owls are such an important part of our ecosystem. The particular owl we are looking at is the small white Barn Owl (sikhova). These owls are very efficient predators of rats and can eat as many as 3000 rats a year,” said Ms. Magagula, the recipient of the grant, “they provide an ecofriendly way of suppressing rodents in our agricultural fields without the need of harmful chemicals.”

Ms. Magagula is currently working in collaboration with Royal Eswatini Sugar Corporation (RES) testing methods to encourage Barn Owls to return to agricultural fields. “This project adds an exciting dimension to the ecological work we are doing with Ms. Magagula, and will be so important in the protection of our biodiversity,” said Nick Jackson, Managing Director of RES. The OWLS-ROCK Project also highlights Eswatini’s growing community of women in STEM.  Ms. Magagula graduated from UNESWA with a BSc and later a MSc in Ecology and Conservation. She was part of the team that described the new bat species found in Eswatini, led by Prof Ara Monadjem. She worked with Dr Sara Padidar to better understand snake venoms during her undergraduate project. “Ms. Magagula is a good role model for aspiring female EmaSwati pupils who might enjoy science at school but have not yet considered it as a career. I’m very proud of her today and that her ideas have been recognized by the EEF proposal review committee,” said Dr Sara Padidar, who is Ms. Magagula’s PhD supervisor. The OWLS-ROCK Project will begin later this month and will end in March 2024.