Marileen van der Westhuizen

Growing up in North Luangwa National Park in Zambia and Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, with parents who are both avid conservationists, Marileen learnt to love nature and conservation from a very young age. Her childhood in these environments presented her with opportunities to experience nature in its truest form and allowed her to meet people who are experts in their respective fields of conservation.

Marileen studied a BSc in Conservation Ecology at Stellenbosch University where she completed her Honours thesis on the habitat suitability of Gonarezhou National Park for reintroduced Black Rhino. Marileen’s real interest lies in human wildlife conflict and conservation education, as growing up in protected areas allowed her to experience the difficulties faced by people living on the outskirts of protected areas. This has helped her to understand that conservation is not just about conserving wildlife and habitats and that people are integrated into our natural ecosystems. Future conservation efforts will fail if people are not factored into the equation and she hopes to be a part of that solution one day.

Marileen is a member of two different student run NPOs: Lessons in Conservation (LiC) and Vet Books for Africa. LiC is an initiative in which students teach children in underprivileged communities about conservation and its relevance their own lives and experiences. Marileen managed a LiC team out of Stellenbosch University. Vet Books for Africa is an initiative in which veterinary students supply educational textbooks and material to other African universities and charities. Both organisations have allowed Marileen to travel to many different southern African countries where she has experienced a range of different cultures. Both also allow her to integrate her two passions for conservation and people.

Marileen is excited to build on her foundation in conservation, using the skills and knowledge taught on the Conservation Biology course. She hopes the course will reinforce the basic ecological concepts she has mastered, whilst broadening her knowledge on other fronts. After the course, she aims to pursue solutions to the problem of ever shrinking biodiversity refuges amidst an ever-increasing human population.

Thesis: Influence of elephant on black rhino browse availability in Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe (Supervisors: Bruce clegg, Vernon Visser).