Linus Unah: Mastercard Foundation Scholar, Wildlife and Conservation Journalist

April 17, 2024

A forest area in NigeriaThe first time I scheduled a meeting with Linus Unah, a UC Berkeley alumnus with the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, the meeting had to be rescheduled as Unah raced off to lead a small crew in filming the rescue of a manatee about to be sold. Such is the exciting work that Unah now carries out for Wild Africa Fund, a non-profit organization based in Cape Town, South Africa. Unah earned his master's degree in journalism at the conclusion of last year’s spring semester. He quickly began working with Wild Africa Fund, which was co-founded by Peter Knights after co-founding WildAid. WildAid is a non-profit based in San Francisco that also seeks to protect wildlife and raise conservation awareness. Unah worked remotely with WildAid prior to arriving at Berkeley, and his contact with WildAid allowed for a smooth transition to working with Wild Africa Fund upon graduation.

Unah’s former work with WildAid and his recent work with Wild Africa Fund allowed him to learn first-hand about the widespread ecological devastation affecting wildlife and the environment, particularly in West Africa.

“In West Africa it’s totally different when it comes to wildlife and environmental issues. It’s different from East Africa, where wildlife tourism is a huge part of their economy, and people almost inherently understand the value there,” he explains. In West Africa, “tourism is not super big, and you’ve got all sorts of problems from commercial bushmeat trade, which is where people poach and sell wildlife, particularly in very large cities, to logging and mining and deforestation that are devastating wildlife habitats. And also wildlife trafficking, in particular with Nigeria[…] It’s become a massive problem, but then underneath there is the potential as well to create change, and I just couldn’t find anything else as exciting as the potential to create change.”

Photo of Linus Unah

To state that Unah is passionate about wildlife and the environment may be an understatement. He is highly motivated to spread awareness and transform people’s attitudes and behavior in his homeland. The aforementioned manatee is one example of an endangered animal rescued from wildlife trafficking; a veterinarian who works with the authorities and Wild Africa Fund cared for it before releasing it back to its habitat. Unah’s recording of this rescue helps the public to see what is transpiring with their local wildlife while also serving to caution and deter any other potential wildlife traffickers by showing the ramifications of getting caught, as with the suspect now facing prosecution for attempting to sell the manatee.  Trafficking is not the only threat to endangered species, however.

Unah explained to me how the rapidly increasing rate of deforestation in Nigeria and West Africa as a whole is shrinking the available habitats for wildlife in the region. There are a number of factors contributing to this deforestation depending on the area, but a few stand out, such as expanding agricultural land. While large commercial agribusiness of course plays a role here, Unah relates that “farmers, especially small farmers, generally like to expand more and more into the forest seeking new lands to grow their crops, because sometimes their assumption is their existing land is no longer fertile and they need to chop down new areas to plant so they can have better yield.” Wild Africa Fund thus amplifies through their communications the efforts of other non-governmental organizations helping farmers to maintain their yield on the same land; one such organization is the Wildlife Conservation Society Nigeria program. As more people become aware and understand the issue, further exploitation of the forests will hopefully be discouraged.

Mining also largely contributes to deforestation in West Africa, often going hand in hand with logging, which “is a huge problem in Nigeria” for wildlife. Unah mentions, for instance, how a logging area might separate gorillas into two smaller groups and thereby facilitate inbreeding by limiting the availability of diverse mating partners. Urban expansion and development alongside population growth continues to drive habitat loss as well, with more Nigerians now living in cities rather than rural areas—a shift that occurred just in the last few decades. According to a world population growth forecast, Nigeria’s population alone will likely exceed the population of the United States by 2100, which only heightens the necessity for sustainable living that Unah’s work promotes.

Unah’s career in journalism and environmental communications crystallizes the somewhat clichéd advice to follow one’s passions, proving that a dream job can become a reality. By remaining persistent in pursuing work that matters to him, Unah has successfully managed to transform his interests into a meaningful career, becoming in the process an exemplary Mastercard Foundation Scholar.   

Photos, with the exception of Linus Unah's portrait, belong to Wild Africa Fund.

Dr. Mark of Dr. Mark's Animal Show

Linus helped in the production of Dr. Mark's Animal Show, a wildlife TV series designed for children to "learn about iconic wild animals, their habitats, and the important roles they play in ecosystems." The series may be streamed on Showmax.

A child shown with a bird on Dr. Mark's Animal Show

Lions of West Africa

West African lions are on the verge of extinction, but if protected they could increase tourism.

Lufasi Nature Park in Nigeria

Lufasi Nature Park is a protected forest space in Nigeria. Wild Africa Fund seeks to advance the protection of Nigeria's natural heritage for future generations.

Wild landscape with river in South Africa

A wild landscape of South Africa.

Photo of a caged pangolin.

Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in the world, exploited for their meat and scales.