Frank Willems (1975) is Zambia’s leading ornithologist and ecologist. He is originally from the Netherlands where he worked with the Dutch ornithology trust SOVON after obtaining his MSc in Ecology from Nijmegen University. Most of his professional work focused on the breeding ecology and population dynamics of birds in the Netherlands, while his involvement in Foundation WIWO focused on bird research and training projects mainly in Russia and Iran.
He came to Zambia with his wife Inge in early 2008 to work with Kasanka Trust on the management of Kasanka and Lavushi Manda National Parks, as well as running Shoebill Island Camp in Bangweulu Wetlands. Tasks varied from mammal and bird monitoring, supervising PhD studies on for instance Shoebill, Kinda Baboon and Straw-coloured Fruit Bat, facilitating film crews and writing management plans, to anti-poaching activities, building scout camps and bridges, creating firebreaks, and filling holes in the dirt roads.
Frank is proud to have been able to assist African Parks in Bangweulu to unravel and significantly reduce the illegal trade in Shoebill chicks. The very Bangweulu Shoebills prominently feature in BBC's monumental "Africa" production, alongside Kasanka's mega-colony of Strawcoloured Fruit Bats (the world’s largest mammal migration) and the eagles preying on them. Of all film productions he was a part of, these he enjoyed most. The footage doesn't even remotely reflect the utter dedication he, the BBC team and many others had to invest.
Frank and Inge and by then their 5-year old daughter Robin shifted to manage Mutinondo Wilderness, a nearby private reserve, in 2015. A real personal highlight has been the discovery and subsequent description of the Mutinondo Grass Frog, which reproduces in the incredibly marginal seepage film habitats on the dramatic granite inselbergs that dominate the reserve.
Since late 2017 Frank and family are based in Choma, in the south of the country, where he is setting up his own company. Some major projects in 2018 have been the preparation of the Birds of Zambia app, due in 2019, and a biodiversity survey of the Mafinga Mountains with the BirdLife partner BirdWatch Zambia. So-called "side activities" which indeed tend to take up a core part of one's time, include the function of "Zambian Bird Recorder" and Technical Advisor of the BirdWatch Zambia committee and office, as well as the country rep for African Bird Club.
Having traveled extensively throughout every corner of Zambia, much of his fieldwork has focused on, besides above-mentioned areas, some remote and unexplored parts of the Mwinilunga district. The large evergreen forests he and others have identified using Google Earth, prove to hold real surprises like Vermiculated Fishing-owl and Spot-breasted Ibis. Frank hopes to dedicate more time in the nearby future on exploring this area and ultimately create a conservancy to protect some of Mwinilunga’s rich wildlife.
From a young age, Frank has frequently guided and trained people on nature, in the Netherlands, Zambia, and many other countries. He loves sharing his passion for and knowledge of the bush. During his eleven years in Zambia, he has guided numerous groups throughout the country, including tens of film crews, research groups, photographers and journalists.