Intern Story

Intern Story – Jump Starting My Career in the Bush

  • by Helena Ihuhwa January 7, 2019
Intern Story – Jump Starting My Career in the Bush

I have always loved lab work; a passion I believe was the reason for pursuing my Honors in Microbiology. Since my final year I have been looking for placements in my field of study.

I was fortunate to secure an internship at the Cheetah Conservation Fund in the genetics laboratory and I have been here since July. My experience here has been one of a kind. As I have always been deemed to be a city girl, settling in on a remote farm was quite a challenge. But I have made amazing friends who have helped to make my stay very memorable. Above that, my colleagues have made my journey here one I will always cherish.

Before getting my own project to work on, my laboratory supervisors helped to make sure I was comfortable with the daily lab techniques. Once I had the hang of everything, I was given a chance to assist with different amazing projects both for CCF and for collaborators including the Wild boys’ project about two wild cheetahs and a project about elephant relatedness.

Currently I am working on a CCF long term project, namely the cheetah population study. The cheetah population study is an ongoing project that has been worked on by previous lab members. This project aims at genotyping scat samples from cheetahs at CCF as well as wild cheetahs from all over Namibia we obtain opportunistically. DNA is extracted from cheetah scat samples collected by CCF staff members or by the scat dog detection team. Working on scat DNA is a non-invasive way of obtaining DNA from individuals. The DNA is then used to genotype the cheetahs. I have then been filling gaps in the genotypes from what was previously done to identify individuals and get a broader picture of the Namibian cheetah population.

Helena in the genetics lab

When I am not in the lab, I am helping out on general tasks. These basically involve feeding the captive cheetahs at the center, assisting the livestock guarding dog program by taking care of the dogs and goats on the model farm. The nights were spent by playing games like Scrabble which has always been my favorite (I must say I later got tired of winning at this one), Cards against humanity and Volleyball (which I mostly watched from afar, I am not much of a jumper). Some nights were spent on game drives in the reserve both for fun and game counts. Although I believe the ecology team celebrated when I didn’t join, as I can be a bit loud and which scares the animals away.

Altogether it has been an honor to work with people that are passionate about what they do and about saving wildlife, and I must say the same passion has been installed in me. Every little bit of help makes a difference they say, and I am glad I had in the opportunity to make a difference. Being an intern in this laboratory has also broadened my interest in forensic genetics, a career path I am looking into pursuing in the future.

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