The Environmental and Wildlife Management program at Vanier College is a program that aims to train the students as environmental technologists. All of us are very passionate about wildlife, plants, animal conservation and are eager to travel the world and work in different environments. For myself in particular, I’ve always wanted to travel to Africa, as the wildlife there greatly interests me, and is also subject to many conservation issues. I’ve been wanting to go to Africa for three years now, so when I got the opportunity to do so through the internship program at Vanier, I was overjoyed.
This winter I travelled to Namibia to complete my six-week internship at the Cheetah Conservation Fund, and it was a great life experience for myself and Kéliane, the other student I travelled with.
After a 34-hour commute, we were warmly greeted by the people at CCF, brought to our dorms and showed around the guest and intern facility. This introduced us to the place where we’d be spending our mornings and nights for the next six weeks. The next day, we had our orientation showing us where everything was at CCF and what we would be doing, and then it was time to start work. In the following weeks, Kéliane and I worked on many different tasks including cheetah husbandry, feeding the goat kids at different times in the day, feeding the livestock guarding dogs, meat prep for the cheetahs and carrying out game counts on the reserve. All of these tasks, no matter how small or quick, were crucial to the animals and to CCF. One big takeaway of this trip was seeing how much work is put into a large organization such as this, and how many people it takes to run. Having interns is essential and makes everything run more smoothly for the staff.
My favorite area to work in was with the livestock guarding dogs. You couldn’t help but get to know each dog by their personality and going in to feed them always brought a smile to my face. Knowing that these dogs make a very direct impact on cheetah survival and conservation made it particularly important work for me.
Going into conservation has always been one of my goals and going to CCF and seeing how they carry out different aspects of conservation was really good for me to experience. After being there for six weeks and working closely with the animals and learning about the “big picture” approach through the work with the ecology team and the trail cameras, it helped me realize what kind of path I want to move towards. The ecology work we did at CCF with the head ecologist, Carolina Torres, included going on the reserve to collect trail camera photos and later analyzing them. This helped CCF get a good idea of the spatial distribution of some of the endangered or rare species in the area such as cheetahs, leopards and rhinos. Doing this helps CCF estimate populations, which can indicate how well a species is doing. This really interested me, and I would love to move into a field where I can study the interactions between many species in an ecosystem and perform lots of field work such as this.
The human-wildlife conflict area really opened my eyes to the struggles that are faced between humans and wildlife, and how hard it is to fix those issues. CCF allowed me to see how layered conservation is, meaning that it has many different components to it. Animals, people and the environment – understanding and relating all these things to one another is crucial to making a conservation organization work and reach their goals.
As a Canadian student, I got to see how location affects conservation practices. Canada and Namibia are very different areas of the world, but no matter where you are, conservation is needed. In Namibia, there is a problem with predators such as cheetahs and leopards killing livestock. In Canada, predators like wolves and coyotes are also considered as pests. The result is the same: people end up killing the animals. Human-wildlife conflict continues to be an issue in both places, which requires the need for conservation practices to be put in place regarding these predators. Changing people’s attitudes so that they see the importance of these animals to a healthy ecosystem and human livelihood. This internship allowed me to see that conservation and the goal to preserve a species is fundamentally the same around the world, despite different environments.
Lastly, one thing that made my experience very special was the people that I met. Both the staff of CCF and the other interns were so kind and working with them was really amazing. Lots of teamwork is required in this kind of work, so having great people to do it with made every task fun, even if it was cleaning up cheetah scat.
Overall, my experience as an intern at the Cheetah Conservation Fund this winter was a very positive one. I got to experience the amazing wildlife of Namibia, work closely with the animals, as well as be a part of the conservation work that they do. This helped me narrow down the studies I want to pursue, what kind of work I want to do in the future and furthered my passion for African wildlife, as well as conservation. I will definitely be returning to Africa in the future!