Science and Research

CCF’s Chief Ecologist and Forest Steward Earns PhD

  • by Matti Nghikembua May 29, 2024
CCF’s Chief Ecologist and Forest Steward Earns PhD

My journey with the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) began in 1995 when I visited as a student with a school group. During that visit, I had close encounters with cheetahs and learned about their conservation through the education programs introduced by Dr. Laurie Marker. This experience piqued my interest in wildlife conservation. Two years later, in 1997, I seized the opportunity to intern at CCF, which solidified my commitment to this field. By 1998, I had officially joined the CCF staff.

As the Chief Ecologist and Forest Steward, my primary focus is on habitat restoration, particularly addressing the issue of bush encroachment. This phenomenon involving native bush species has significantly altered savannah ecosystems, disrupting the herbaceous – woody vegetation balance of grasslands and making it difficult for cheetahs to hunt and reducing grazing capacity.

I oversee habitat restoration projects that involve strategic bush thinning to restore the open grasslands essential for cheetah survival. These efforts are meticulously planned to increase wildlife habitat, rangeland productivity and ensure ecological balance, considering the needs of various wildlife species and the health of the soil. My research includes assessing the impact of these restoration activities on biodiversity, monitoring wildlife populations, and studying soil nutrient dynamics. This work has resulted in the publication of significant research papers contributing to the broader scientific understanding of bush encroachment and habitat restoration.

In addition to my ecological work, I am involved in developing alternative and sustainable energy products from the harvested bush. CCF produces BUSHBLOK®, a solid wood fuel briquette, and explores innovative uses of encroaching woody biomass, such as biochar for soil enhancement and bioenergy production. These initiatives not only provide economic benefits to local communities but also promote sustainable land use practices.

My role extends beyond the technical aspects of conservation. I actively engage with various stakeholders, including government agencies, farmers, and local communities, to promote collaborative approaches to rangeland management. I collaborate with other stakeholders in the biomass sector under the Namibia Biomass Interest Group (NBIG). My holistic approach ensures that conservation efforts are inclusive, addressing the needs of both wildlife and human populations.

Throughout my career at CCF, I have remained committed to education and awareness. I mentor interns and young scientists, fostering the next generation of conservationists. Additionally, I have been working on my PhD, which is now culminating. My doctoral research focused on exploring the responses of wildlife (ungulates and predators), five encroaching woody vegetation and soils physical and chemical properties to bush thinning on farmlands in north central Namibia. In recent decades, Namibian rangelands experienced significant decline of grazing capacity for livestock production as well as suitable habitat for the cheetah and its prey. To counteract some of these negative effects, restoration thinning is recommended. However, information regarding the responses of ecological components to this strategy is limited. Studies of this nature would increase knowledge regarding management interventions and responses amongst species which will eventually lead to informed decision making. The published dissertation summary and articles can be downloaded at:

The doctoral defense of Matti Tweshiningilwa Nghikembua, MSc, will take place on May 31, 2024. The dissertation, titled “Wildlife activity patterns and encroaching woody vegetation response to bush thinning on farmlands in north-central Namibia,” will be examined in the field of Forestry at the Faculty of Science, Forestry and Technology, Joensuu Campus and online.

Date: May 31, 2024
Topic: Wildlife activity patterns and encroaching woody vegetation response to bush thinning on farmlands in north-central Namibia
Field: Forestry
Location: Faculty of Science, Forestry and Technology, Joensuu Campus and online – Link here

This doctoral dissertation explores the impact of bush thinning on wildlife activity patterns and woody vegetation on Namibian farmlands. It addresses critical ecological issues and provides insights into sustainable land management practices.

Opponent: Professor Eshetu Yirdaw, University of Helsinki
Custos: Professor Ari Pappinen, University of Eastern Finland
Language: English

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