Prominent UKZN Scientist and Researcher Elected to Academy of Science of SALaw and Management Studies

Professor Colleen Downs.Professor Colleen Downs.

Professor Colleen Downs, South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Ecosystem Health and Biodiversity in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, has been elected to the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf).

‘I am very grateful to my peers and colleagues for nominating me, as well as their support over the years,’ said Downs.

Downs, who was awarded the SARChI Chair last year, has been part of the School of Life Sciences at UKZN in Pietermaritzburg since 1994, and is known for her expertise and contributions to terrestrial vertebrate ecology which have played an important role in many conservation activities around Africa.

Animals which she has conducted interdisciplinary physiological, behavioural and ecological research on range from Nile crocodiles to hadedas.

With nearly 200 publications to her name, Downs’ research has reached a wide audience, and in addition to appearing in numerous prestigious journals, has also been featured on popular platforms such as BBC Earth.

She has consistently been named the top-published woman academic at UKZN, and has supervised more than 60 postgraduate students, many of whom have gone on to achieve notable accolades in their fields.

She was also recently named Honorary President of BirdLife South Africa, and her international recognition includes Fellowship of the International Ornithologists’ Union (IOU).

Downs is interested in how changing land use affects biodiversity and ecosystem health, and has invested time exploring the urban ecology of various species and their persistence. Her research has had considerable impact, including the re-classification of the Cape parrot Poicephalus robustus as a distinct species, with implications for its conservation status.

Downs chairs the Cape Parrot Working Group and, going beyond her academic activities, has contributed to the annual Cape Parrot Big Birding Day for 19 years, using her expertise to rally support and generate important information and publicity for the endangered species. This is one of the many areas in which she prioritises science education.

Christine Cuénod