Top UKZN Researcher and Academic Shortlisted for Three “Science Oscars”

Discover UKZN


Professor Colleen Downs.

The South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Ecosystem Health and Biodiversity in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, Professor Colleen Downs, has been named as a finalist for three of the 13 highly acclaimed National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)-South32 Awards.

Initiated in 1998, the NSTF-South32 Awards – dubbed the Science Oscars of South Africa – recognise outstanding contributions to Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) and innovation in South Africa for researchers and other SET-related professionals.

Downs has been nominated for the Lifetime Award (in recognition of an individual’s achievements over a period of 15 years or more), the Research or Engineering Capacity Development Award (for work done by an individual over the last 5-10 years), and the NSTF-GreenMatter Award (for contributions to biodiversity, conservation, environmental sustainability and a greener economy).

Selection as a finalist is a considerable achievement given the growing profile of the awards, the quality of nominations and the competition nominees face.

Downs has been recognised nationally and globally for her work in biology, particularly in terrestrial vertebrate ecology, having conducted research on animals from Nile crocodiles to hadedas. Her more than 200 publications reach a wide audience, helping her meet her goal of furthering and communicating science. She has also been featured on popular platforms such as BBC Earth.

Downs is consistently named the top-published woman academic at UKZN, and has supervised more than 60 postgraduate students. She is currently Honorary President of BirdLife South Africa, and her international recognitions include Fellowship of the International Ornithologists’ Union (IOU) and associate editor of the British Ornithologists’ Union’s (BOU) IBIS journal and of the international journal, Urban Ecosystems.

A particular focus area for her is how changing land use affects biodiversity and ecosystem health, including exploration of the urban ecology of various species and their persistence. She sees anthropogenic environmental change with changing land use as an important conservation issue in the short-term, and climate change in the long-term.

Downs chairs the Cape Parrot Working Group and, going beyond her academic activities, has contributed to the annual Cape Parrot Big Birding Day for 20 years.

The institution of these awards is part of the NSTF’s vision to work towards a transformed country where SET and innovation contribute to a higher quality of life for all South Africans, and where the profiles of SET professionals are representative of the population and where the education system, particularly for SET and innovation, is effective.

Winners will be announced on 29 June at a gala dinner in Gauteng.

Christine Cuénod