Brittany Arendse | WWF South Africa

Brittany Arendse

Posted on 01 January 2015
Brittany Arendse is a Masters Intern at WWF-SA.
© Natasha Prince/WWF-SA
Having completed an MSc degree in Botany at the University of Cape Town, Brittany Arendse joined the WWF Graduate Development Programme to hone her skills.

What she found was her calling:

1.What inspired you to pursue a career or to study in this sector?
Too often we take the environment for granted and I wanted to be at the forefront of change and education.

2. What’s the coolest project you’ve worked on during your internship?
Nature’s Valley Trust (NVT) does bird-ringing every two weeks, where we learn to remove birds from mist-nets, ring and measure them. The process has awakened a newfound passion in me, one I did not know I had. A few months after I started at NVT, I was finally allowed to take birds out of the net without supervision. This was exciting but also very daunting for me, I didn’t have my mentor close by to ask for help and it seemed so easy to apply too much pressure or do something that may affect the bird negatively. My first ‘victim’ was a southern double-collared sunbird, if anyone has seen them up close they would know the panic I felt. They are only about 6g when fully grown – a heaped teaspoon of sugar to put it in perspective for you. I took it slow and steady and at last had this tiny little ball of fluff in my hands. This was literally what people would call a moment of clarity: while I was looking down at this little bird and had his fragile, warm body in my hands, I was nearly brought to tears. From then on I was determined to explore this avenue, fully. Who knows what else awaits!

3. In what ways have you grown during this internship?
Discovering new avenues of passion have made me feel less boxed in to any one path. I have discovered that I can do even more than I thought was possible. Along with professional growth, I have also experienced immense personal growth by learning to work with people from many different walks of life.

4. What is the strangest thing that has happened to you during the internship?
What comes to mind first: I fried burger patties in a wetsuit the other day. This statement is a bit random but the actual story behind it is not. NVT was hosting the Wildlands Studies course for a week. Included in our package was that we prepare all meals as well as exposing the students to the different facets of the conservation and education work we do in the area. I was out sampling mosquito fish (an invasive fish) in the Groot River estuary with the students, over two sessions, before and after lunch and I was also on lunch duty for the day. This is how I found myself behind the stove, frying patties in my wetsuit. In hindsight this was a good move as the oil was splattering all over the place.

5. What is the most challenging thing that’s happened to you while in the field?
A lot of my Fynbos-related work revolves around breeding systems and how plants reproduce and survive. To research this we need to perform exclusion experiments by either cutting out insects or birds from a specific plant to see which seed set is higher. I spent three hours every day for three days in the field adding exclusion bags to plants. When I returned to check on them two weeks later, I discovered that someone had removed all my bags even though I had posted clear signs that it was part of a project in the area. This was devastating as the plants I was working on had a tiny window of flowering and I basically had to redo the whole thing.

6. What’s the single most important piece of advice you would give to a young person planning to enter the sector?
Find what makes you tick. If you’re really passionate about the environment, immerse yourself in as much as you can, whenever you can. Through learning and opening avenues for yourself you will find something that drives you on a level you were not expecting and this will fuel your drive for years to come.

7. What do you think makes our environmental future so bright?
There are so many imminent crises in the world today but being in a room with so many bright, young people who want to make a difference - and I wholeheartedly believe will achieve that - has given me so much hope for the future. We are the environmental leaders of tomorrow and I do believe that our passion for the environment will be carried over and will be seen tenfold in the next generation.
Brittany Arendse is a Masters Intern at WWF-SA.
© Natasha Prince/WWF-SA Enlarge