Friday, 13 July 2012

Student Report: Laura Eikendal

What does conservation mean nowadays? Its not about saving a particular animal species anymore, it is all about saving and preserving ecosystems. The aim of the Namib Carnivore Conservation Centre (NCCC) is to conserve the precious ecosystems of Southern Namibia through education and research, and by solving human-wildlife conflicts. Their focus lies on the carnivores in the area such as leopard hyena and cheetah, and that is where my story kicks in. Ever since I was young I was obsessed by wild cats, especially with the cheetah. In the first year of of my Animal Management studies at the Van Hall Insituut in the Netherlands, they told me that I shouldn't be so focused on the cheetah and that I should broaden my field of interest. I tried but I couldn't! I kept my dream of working with wild cheetahs and going to Namibia. In my fourth and last year of my Animal Management course I had to do a major internship abroad, so I decided to follow my dream.

On September 2nd 2011 I arrived in Namibia and my first impression was even better than I expected! The first 10 days was spent at N/a'an ku se's Wildlife Sanctuary. They wanted me to learn every aspect of the farm; where the animals came from and the story behind every animal. You'll spend every day differently, from food preparation for the animals to doing game counts. But you'll do every activity with a lot of volunteers, which makes it a lot of fun! Because my studies are more research orientated, I had a little bit of a different daily schedule than the other volunteers. I helped a lot with with the Footprint Identification Technique (FIT). This technique is being developed to identify wild cheetah individuals in an easy way through their spoor, and therefore many photos of spoor samples from N/a'an ku se cheetahs are being collected. Game counts are also an important aspect of a conservation research project. Looking at the population dynamics of the animals living on the farmland of N/a'an ku se will contribute to important decisions that must be taken about the land and it's living creatures.

After these 10 days, I was finally sent to the NCCC to do my internship of three months. When I arrived there I met the project coordinators Matt and Kate, who are really nice and easy going people.
Also the Guest Farm owners Walter and Simone are really kind and fun to be around. My research project was to investigate the spatial use and habitat preferences of Annie and Betty who were being held in the 500ha soft-release camp prior to their possible release back to the wild. My task involved spending a of time in the field with the cats, gathering data about their behaviour and taking GPS points of their position. 
Another activity that the NCCC does for the research side of their project is placing and controlling camera traps around the area. With this method you can calculate the carnivore density of the area, and therefore monitor the wildlife in the area properly.

On the other side, I helped out with the eco-tourism cheetah safari drives. Because not only is research an important aspect of conservation, so is education and raising awareness among young people. From time to time I had volunteers with me to help me out with gathering and classifying all the data.

The NCCC is a perfect place to do an internship for students of Animal Management, Ecology or other conservation related subjects. In return for your contribution to the project, you will get good guidance, beautiful surroundings,  a lot of fun and of course an experience you'll never forget.

Laura Eikendal