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Meet the Team

Picture of Okavango team

Photograph by James Kydd

Picture of Adjany Costa

Photograph by James Kydd

Assistant Director

Adjany Costa

Adjany Costa is a local Angolan scientist with a master’s degree in environmental science. She is the assistant director of the project, an expert on the fish survey team, and the local liaison with the Angolan Ministry of Environment around the science and expeditions of the Okavango Wilderness Project.

Picture of scientist Bill Branch
Photo by Alex Paullin

Lead Herpetologist, Reptiles and Amphibians

Professor Bill Branch

Author of several books and field guides on the reptiles of Africa, and especially southern Africa, Bill Branch is professor emeritus and honorary curator emeritus of African herpetology at the Port Elizabeth Museum. He has been working in Angola for 35 years, but had not had the opportunity to survey the upper reaches of the Okavango River Basin until now. Bill leads the herpetological team for the Okavango Wilderness Project and writes the technical reports for submission to government.

Picture of Chris Boyes

Photograph by Luke Manson

Expeditions Leader

Chris Boyes

Chris Boyes has been leading expeditions across remote wilderness areas in Africa for the last 10 years and has worked on a wide variety of marine and terrestrial research projects. Before joining the project team, he worked as a research manager on D’Arros Island in the Seychelles.

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Co-Lead Mammologist, Small Mammals

Professor Dan Parker

Professor Dan Parker’s research focuses on mammalian terrestrial ecology. He is an associate professor at the University of Mpumalanga also active with the Rhodes University Department of Zoology and Entomology. On the Okavango Wilderness Project, Dan is leading up the surveys into the little-known bat populations of the upper catchments in the Angola highlands.

Picture of David Goyder
Photograph by Kostadin Luchansky/Angola Image Bank

Co-Lead Botanist, Botanical Research Director

Dr. David Goyder

Dr. David Goyder has the entire Okavango Wilderness Project plant collection catalogued and housed at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London. David is director and research leader for Africa and Madagascar at Kew, which has been working in various parts of Angola to document the flora and fill the large gap in botanical knowledge of the area.

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Botanist

Francisco Maiato Pedro Gonçalves

Francisco Maiato Pedro Gonçalves is a biologist associated with the Herbarium of Lubango at ISCED-Huíla, Angola. His previous experience includes working with renowned botanists in the field and assessing the impact of forest fragmentation on the endemic birds of the Angolan escarpment. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in plant ecology  at the University of Hamburg, Germany. His personal interests include plant diversity, tree population dynamics of the Angolan miombo woodlands, and conservation of biodiversity, all of which prepared him well for the Okavango Wilderness Project.

Picture of Gobonamang “GB” Kgetho

Photograph by Chris Boyes

Lead Poler and Guide

Gobonamang “GB” Kgetho

Lead poler and member of the Seronga Polers Trust, Gobonamang "GB" Kgetho has crossed the delta six times with expedition leader Steve Boyes and is an exemplary ambassador of the Okavango Delta and the ba’Yei community. He has a keen interest in the culture and history of indigenous communities and has appeared in several TV shows filmed during expeditions across the Okavango Delta.

Picture of Götz Neef

Photograph by Water Setlabosha

Research and Collections Manager

Götz Neef

Namibian-born Götz Neef coordinates all the research data and sample collections for the Okavango Wilderness Project. During expeditions he works with the various specialists and research assistants undertaking sampling, trapping, and recording via the various methodologies.

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Lead Entomologist, Aquatic Invertebrates

Dr. Helen Barber-James

Helen Barber-James is a freshwater biologist in the Department of Freshwater Invertebrates at the Albany Museum in South Africa, which houses a collection of more than 1.5 million specimens, including limited material from other African countries. She has over 25 years of research experience,  which has focused on the biodiversity, systematics, and biogeography of freshwater invertebrates, especially the Ephemeroptera (mayflies).

Picture of John Hilton

Photograph by Chris Boyes

Project Director

John Hilton

John Hilton has dedicated his life to spending time in the African wilderness and sharing his experiences. John oversees the administration, human resourcing, finances, and logistics of the Okavango Wilderness Project and networks with government officials from the three countries in the Okavango River’s watershed to encourage protection of this fragile ecosystem.

Picture of Kerllen Costa

Photograph by Chris Boyes

Research Assistant

Kerllen Costa

Kerllen Costa is a young Angolan scientist and works as a research assistant with the Okavango Wilderness Project’s science team. In 2015 he graduated with a B.Sc. in environmental sciences and biology from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and has worked in the scientific disciplines of zoology and botany.

Picture of Kgalalelo Mpetsang
Photograph by James Kydd

Translator and Poler

Kgalalelo Mpetsang

Kgalalelo Mpetsang speaks four local languages and enables communication during the team’s initial contact with local communities in the Angolan catchment. He has proved himself with superb navigational skills as well as his ability to find water when no one else can.

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Navigator

Khunowa “Chaps” Mathare

Khunowa “Chaps” Mathare has crossed the Okavango Delta six times with expedition leader Steve Boyes and has pioneered three routes across this remote wilderness. Chaps is a well-known protector of the traditional beliefs of the ba’Yei people.

Photograph by Rachel Sussman

Expeditions Manager

Kyle Gordon

Kyle Gordon works with expedition leader Steve Boyes at the Wild Bird Trust and was instrumental in getting the group’s research camp in Botswana up and running. Kyle accompanies the team on all expeditions, setting up the camps and implementing the on-site logistics and provisions needed for such endeavors. Originally from Zimbabwe, Kyle has worked on research projects across southern Africa and in the Seychelles, and runs a tight camp on expeditions. He is also an accomplished photographer.

Photograph by Kostadin Luchansky/Angola Image Bank

Poler

Leilamang “Schnapps” Kgetho

Brother to GB, Leilamang “Schnapps” Kgetho is a constant source of strength for the team. As a member of the Okavango Polers Trust, he can pilot his mokoro through the most treacherous terrain, always seeming to know which direction to take. The chief hippopotamus spotter and a keen birder, Schnapps is a unique asset to the team.

Photograph by Rachel Sussman

Film Director

Neil Gelinas

Neil Gelinas is a senior producer, cameraman, and editor for the National Geographic Society, producing a feature documentary about the Okavango Wilderness Project. For the past five years, he has also produced films for National Geographic Pristine Seas, a project that has helped protect over 1.7 million square miles of ocean through science, exploration, and media. His work has been screened for presidents of nations and environmental film festivals, and has aired on both National Geographic and Nat Geo WILD.

Picture of Nigel Barker
Photograph by Alex Paullin

Co-Lead Botanist and Habitat Specialist

Professor Nigel Barker

Head of the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Pretoria, Professor Nigel Barker is one of the top academics in South Africa. He is interested in plant and animal biodiversity, systematics, phylogeography and biogeography (including floristics and faunistics), and conservation.

Picture of Ninda Baptista
Photograph by Chris Boyes

Herpetologist

Ninda Baptista

Ninda Baptista has an M.Sc. in conservation biology from the University of Lisbon, Portugal. Her primary interest is effective conservation, and particularly conserving priority unprotected areas in Angola. She has experience in research, environmental education, and Environmental Impact Assessments. She is currently working at ISCED-Huíla in Angola conducting herpetological surveys, monitoring herpetofauna, and participating in a project for the conservation of the escarpment forest of Kumbira, Kwanza Sul. Ninda joined the Okavango Wilderness Project as an assistant herpetologist and has been involved in several of the surveys.

Photograph by Cory Richards

Science Director; Lead Ichthyologist, Fish and Aquatic Biodiversity

Professor Paul Skelton

Paul Skelton is emeritus professor and emeritus managing director of the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) at Rhodes University. Author of several books on the fish fauna of the southern African sub-region, Paul has chaired several International Union for Conservation of Nature committees and discovered many new fish species. Paul helps coordinate the specialist survey results and publications of the Okavango Wilderness Project.

Picture of Peter Taylor
Photograph by Chris Boyes

Co-Lead Mammologist, Small Mammals

Professor Peter Taylor

Professor and South African Research Chair on Biodiversity & Change at the University of Venda, Peter Taylor studies small mammals, such as bats and rodents, for the Okavango Wilderness Project. He is a core team member at the Centre for Invasion Biology in South Africa.

Picture of Steve Boyes

Photograph by Steve Boyes

Project Leader

Dr. Steve Boyes

South African conservation biologist and National Geographic Fellow Dr. Steve Boyes is the founder of The Wild Bird Trust and driving force behind the Okavango Wilderness Project. With a passion for wilderness and restoration, he works to protect Botswana’s pristine Okavango Delta from threats upstream.

Picture of Topho “Tom” Retiyo

Photograph by Alex Paullin

Poler, Guide, and Musician

Topho “Tom” Retiyo

Topho “Tom” Retiyo is a strong expedition poler and is involved in training the expedition team. He plays the traditional ba’Yei mouth bow or swororo. He is a wilderness guide at Seronga Polers Trust from their base at Mbiroba Camp in Seronga, Botswana.

Picture of Tumeletso “Water” Setlabosha

Photograph by Chris Boyes

Poler, Guide, and Driver

Tumeletso “Water” Setlabosha

Tumeletso “Water” Setlabosha has been a wilderness guide in the Okavango Delta for 14 years. Born in Jao in the middle of the Okavango Delta, Water understands the intricacies of this complex ecosystem better than anyone. Water drives one of the support vehicles, supports camp logistics, and poles one of the expedition mokoro.

Photograph by Kostadin Luchansky/Angola Image Bank

Werner Conradie

Werner Conradie holds a masters in environmental science (M.Env.Sc) and has 10 years of experience in southern African herpetofauna, with his main research interests focusing on the taxonomy, conservation, and ecology of amphibians and reptiles. He has published numerous principal and collaborative scientific papers, and has served on a number of conservation and scientific panels, including the Southern African Reptile and Amphibian Relisting Committees. Werner has represented his field on television and in numerous field guides and has participated in expeditions in various countries including Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, Malawi, Lesotho, and Zambia. He is currently the Curator of Herpetology at the Port Elizabeth Museum (Bayworld), South Africa. 

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HALO Trust

HALO Trust is an international humanitarian organization that focuses on the removal of landmines in areas emerging from conflict. They have been working in Angola for two decades and have destroyed more than 92,000 landmines—clearing 800 minefields over 22,600 hectares of land. They now focus on the more rural areas in Angola, where the threat of mines isolates remote villages and poses a real danger to their inhabitants. The HALO Trust is an essential partner in the Okavango Wilderness Project expeditions and accompanies the team on all missions to remove and detonate remaining mines and to ensure that the routes are clear.

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