An Unforgettable Experience!

  • by Adreena Kurdziel and Juliana Botelho March 20, 2024
An Unforgettable Experience!

We are two early careers students about to graduate from the Environmental and Wildlife Management program at Vanier College in Québec, Canada. Our program requires us to complete an internship to help us integrate our skills by learning how to work in a professional setting as a field technician. We were inspired by our lovely program coordinator to spend our time at The Cheetah Conservation Fund in Otjiwarongo, Namibia.

Ecology Team

We got to put our developed field skills to use in this new environment. We battled through  vegetation that grips to you with large thorns and overcame seeing deadly snakes. All of these new experiences shaped us into being ready to face anything. Working with the ecology team, we took part in a five year collaborative project between CCF and Vanier College, gathering baseline data to analyze the biodiversity in response to bush encroachment. We surveyed six plots in the reserve observing the birds, mammals, reptiles, dragonflies and butterflies present. One plot was surveyed repeatedly for six days a week before continuing to the next plot. We used a stationary point count method to identify bird species, sex, and activity. Acoustic recordings were also collected to enhance the understanding of the birds occupying the area as some birds may not have been visible through the dense vegetation.

For the mammals, we set camera traps pointing to present game trails to optimize our chances of seeing wildlife. Three 100m transects of approximate equidistance within each plot were walked to look for reptiles, butterflies and dragonflies. We kept our eyes peeled for these creatures, where any observations within these classes were noted down. In addition, we got to practice catching butterflies with aerial nets, and transferring them into a petri dish to be able to identify them closely. We spent time in the office entering data from which we produced graphs of species richness, abundance, diversity and observations overtime. In this sampling process we had the opportunity to develop our identification skills by learning the local birds, mammals and butterflies, as well as good data management. We also learnt how important it is to be organized and have good communication within your team.

Being in the ecology department we also got to take part in servicing camera traps in the reserve once a week as part of CCF’s long term monitoring study. In the field we collected SD cards, added new batteries and maintained the land to remove potential sources of interference and make sure we collected the most effective data. In the office we sorted through thousands of images of a bunch of different animals within CCF land. We thoroughly enjoyed having a sneak peek into the activity of the abundance of Africa’s animals when humans are not around. We also got to work with updating camera trap points, routes and fences all through Avenza Maps. A great opportunity we took part in was the Big Field Count where we surveyed all the animals that we could see, tried to sex them and get their distance which contributes to regular monitoring of game species populations on the CCF reserve.

Our experience

Being at CCF was a wonderful experience where we got to learn so many new species and actually see them in real life. One of the most exciting things about being in nature every day, is you will never know what you may see. The animals you see here become such a special moment as we have never seen these species before. Another great thing about CCF is the community. Many local students decide to have their internships here and we had the opportunity to develop a good relationship with them. Not only are their super fun moments, but also great learning opportunities about the different cultures and traditions in Namibia. We are so glad we had the opportunity to spend our internship at CCF and are left with an unforgettable experience.


Key Takeaways

While not without its challenges, our time here has been invaluable and pushed us to grow not only professionally but personally as well. To be able to participate in a five-year project knowing that the data we assisted in collecting will have a meaningful contribution to understanding the impact of bush encroachment on biodiversity has been an incredible experience. We came to Namibia with backgrounds in conducting semi-remote field work through our program, however this was the first time working and living so tightly integrated with wildlife. We leave with new skills we could not have gained anywhere else. From troops of baboons sauntering through bush, to the yipping of black-backed jackals heard at sunset, the honking of hornbills at sunrise, and the abundance of stimulating conversations amongst people, CCF is a living entity that we feel lucky to have been a part of. The diversity to be found here is truly a thing of beauty, and to have formed under such extreme environmental stressors is inspiring.

Conservation begins but does not end with the cheetah – we must understand the interconnectedness of all living beings subjected to the indiscriminate encroachment of climate change. In this way, CCF truly understands the necessity of a holistic approach between husbandry, ecology, human-wildlife conflict resolution, genetics, sustenance, and local communities. The knowledge, skills, and connections developed during our two-month internship will last us a lifetime.

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