Ghana’s First Female Amphibian Biologist

Ghana’s First Female Amphibian Biologist
7 min read

Meet Sandra Owusu-Gyamfi. She is Ghana’s First Female Amphibian Biologist.

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Sandra Owusu-Gyamfi (Photo Source: www.savethefrogs.com)

Sandra is Programmes Co-ordinator of Save The Frogs! Ghana – the leading amphibian research and conservation group in West Africa, and has been on tour in the United Kingdom meeting with professional conservationists, students and amphibian lovers.

Sandra had her secondary education at Accra Girls’ Secondary School in Ghana where she studied General Science. She obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana, and a Master’s degree in Environmental Conservation from the University of Greenwich, UK.

“I started off with the idea of wanting to pursue a career in Medicine. This came about as a result of a news story aired on national television about the pressures Ghana’s medical personnel faced; the ratio of patients to doctors being ridiculously unproportional. Hence, my decision to study General Science.”

  • What prompted your interest in Environmental Science? 

“I actually owe it to my cousin who paid the family a visit just around the time I had completed secondary school and was contemplating on which programme to choose. Although my grades were not good enough to study medicine, it was good enough for other medical programmes and also engineering programmes. However, he explained that there was this new programme KNUST had introduced two years earlier and thought it would just be about right for me. I managed to convince my dad who eventually agreed to it. So basically, I didn’t originally plan to do this programme but once I started, there was no going back. After my undergraduate career, my dad suggested I continue climbing the “academic ladder”. So we both decided on me studying in the UK for me to get a different exposure. I insisted on studying an environmentally related programme. Conservation Science was more appealing to me.”

  • What has the experience been like so far?

“It was very easy and smooth for me. I don’t know why, but I think because very few women are in this field (environmental programmes), most professionals were very encouraging and ready to listen and point me in the right direction. Although very beneficial, in a way, it kind of makes you feel weak. But then again, if they were tough and pushy, I would probably have said they were not being fair.”

  • Tell us about SAVE THE FROGS! Ghana. How are you involved?

“SAVE THE FROGS! is the world’s leading conservation organisation dedicated exclusively to the protection of amphibians. Its goal is also to promote a society that respects and appreciates nature and wildlife. It was founded in the United States of America by Dr. Kerry Kriger in 2008.

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SAVE THE FROGS! GHANA (Photo Source: www.savethefrogs.com)

SAVE THE FROGS! Ghana was founded in 2011 as Ghana’s and West Africa’s first branch, and it is the only organisation dedicated exclusively to the protection of the region’s amphibians. Amphibians in Ghana like elsewhere are rapidly declining. One in three species are threatened with extinction, and without appropriate interventions they will not survive in the coming centuries. Aside these factors usually implicated for amphibian decline worldwide—habitat loss, pollution, climate change, diseases and over-exploitation, other significant problems thwarting Ghana’s amphibian conservation efforts include apathy, pessimism and lack of awareness among the general public. Ghana has little tradition of educating its populace about the amphibian extinction crisis and knowledge has been restricted to a handful of local amphibian experts and individuals. However, I and the STF! Ghana team have always envisaged a Ghanaian society that would respect and appreciate amphibians and we have made significant progress in this respect.

Prior to the establishment of SAVE THE FROGS! Ghana (hereafter STF! Ghana), there were just three professional amphibian biologists in the country. In just over two years of our organisation’s existence, we have increased the number of local amphibian biologists six-fold (from 3 to 18). This includes two other female amphibian biologists. I am also part of the team that did the recent rediscovery of the Giant West African Squeaker Frog (Arthroleptis krokosua) which has made international headlines. It took us over 4 years of intensive search and countless man-hours to finally rediscover the species. We further investigated the threats the species was facing which was preventing it from recovering from the brink of extinction. That was when we noticed the negative impacts of the invasive weed Chromoleana odorata (Devil weed/Acheampong weed) on not just the species but other amphibians.

As the Programmes Co-ordinator I organise educational outreaches in schools and local communities. I’ve organised four Save The Frogs Day Celebrations (the world’s largest day dedicated to amphibian actions) all over the country. This brought together over 1,000 participants who received free education and items such as stickers and t-shirts. I’ve also organised two amphibian workshops; one at the University College of Agriculture and Environmental Studies and another at the University of Development Studies-Tamale, benefitting a total of 150 students. Finally, I help to identify prevailing threats to amphibians, and advice on the mitigation measures that could be implemented. One pending project I’ll be undertaking is to remove amphibians trapped in puddles on roads; the first of its kind in West Africa to prevent amphibian road kills.”

  • You are currently the first female Amphibian Biologist from Ghana. How does that make you feel?

“Special but pressured. This means I have to live up to the title and also serve as a role model for other young girls out there. My aim is to encourage many more women to become ambitious and fearless. I want to hear that a young Ghanaian woman is working on snakes. That will definitely make the headlines! Let us not feel limited in anyway. We can do it once we put our minds to it. Women are a force to reckon with and for a long time now we have been in the shadows of our male counterparts. I believe with a combination of the strength of men and the patience and endurance of women, we can actually make huge strides in protecting the environment.”

  • Any final words for the younger female generation?

“My philosophy in life is: “to effect a long lasting change in conservation, empower one woman and she will bring her entire family on board”. To the young girls out there with an interest in science related careers, go for it! We need more women in this field. You may never know what is out there if you never try. Luckily for me, I find myself working with some of the nicest men you can ever imagine. They do not give me any special treatment just because I am a woman, neither do they push me around. We are all professionals and that is all it is.”