Our meet the team blog series continues! This month we interviewed Zikankuba Sijali, our Assistant Country Coordinator for PREDICT (for more information on PREDICT, check out the ABOUT HALI tab).
Growing up in Mwanza region on Kome Island in Lake Victoria, Zikankuba was interested in animal health from an early age. After helping his mom with the cattle and spending time at a farm extension center when he was in primary school, Zikankuba decided he would one day become a veterinarian. At the extension center, he learned about improving village livelihoods with professionals from Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), the university where he recently earned his veterinary degree. Vet school offered Zikankuba the chance to pursue his long-term interest in wildlife as well as livestock. After courses in wildlife immobilization and treatment, Zikankuba wanted to work in one of the national parks, but his first job posting was as a district veterinary officer (DVO) for Pangani district on Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coast.
Zikankuba enjoyed working as a DVO, but after learning more about wildlife and connections with people and domestic animals, he wanted to explore zoonotic disease at the human-livestock-wildlife interface. Last December, Zikankuba’s dream to become a researcher led him to the HALI Project, where he is now the Assistant Country Coordinator for PREDICT, focusing on diseases that can move from wildlife to people. He’s excited to be learning about surveillance techniques, new disease diagnostics for wildlife, and zoonotic disease transmission. One of the most interesting parts of the project for Zikankuba has been working with bats – both large fruit bats and smaller insectivorous bats. Before he joined HALI, Zikankuba strongly disliked bats and saw them as a disturbance, but now you can hear him say, “I’m friends with bats,” as he tells people about their importance. Maybe they’ve grown to remind him of his favorite animals – wild birds.
Although Zikankuba enjoys living and working in Iringa, he also loved the lake coast where he could always find his favorite meal, fresh fish with ugali. His favorite area in Tanzania, though, is Mara region, a place with nice weather and welcoming people. In addition to being a beautiful region, it’s where he met his fiancée, Marilyn.
Zikankuba means thunderstorm and when combined with Sijali, it roughly translates to never scared of thunderstorms. Perhaps that’s why Zikankuba is also so open to new research experiences, from trapping rodents to working with pastoralist communities. When asked about his favorite part of working with HALI, Zikankuba told us that “investigating emerging diseases makes my profession come alive”. Spend time with Zikankuba and you can certainly see his enthusiasm, whether he is in the field sampling bats or in the office combing local newspapers for reports of disease outbreaks.