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Shaquille Benjamin is fascinated by everything to do with nature, including people. He plans to use his academic background, combined with the skills and experience from his career, to drive sustainability and be part of a future where people recognise their connection to the environment.
With his BSc degree in Biodiversity and Conservation Biology from the University of the Western Cape and an Honours degree in Biodiversity and Ecology from Stellenbosch University, Shaquille landed a WWF internship with the Flower Valley Conservation Trust outside Gansbaai, in the Western Cape. As an Ecologist intern, he is responsible for managing alien plant invasions and preventing fires on Flower Valley’s 540 ha farm. He also conducts faunal and floral surveys and monitors resource use on the property.
We asked him to share more:
What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about the conservation of ecosystems, especially when humans are recognised as a part of the natural environment. I believe that people should be included when decisions are being made about nature.
I also love learning new things and discovering why certain plants and animals behave or function in a particular way. Sharing what I’ve learnt with others in an easily digestible way excites me a lot.
What inspired your choice of study?
A simple story from my childhood sparked my choice of study. While growing up in Belhar in the Cape flats, I lived next to an area that had the most amazing and diverse fynbos shrubs. However, there were reports about high crime levels in my area, especially within the dense fynbos. As a result, the municipality decided to get involved and removed the entire vegetation. It became a barren sand-dominated landscape afterwards.
A few years later, the same area was covered by what I now know as Acacia saligna or Port Jackson. I learnt that this is a highly invasive and fast-spreading exotic plant that consumes more water than locally adapted fynbos would. The whole phenomenon ignited my interest in plants and conservation and inspired me to pursue ecology as my field of study.
What excites you about your internship?
I am excited about learning as much as I can from all aspects of the Flower Valley Conservation Trust. I also look forward to developing into a better professional through the various workshops in WWF’s internship programme. What excites me even more is the fact that I get to work outdoors in pristine fynbos for most of my workday.
What are your expectations of this internship?
I wish to gain the skills and experience to further myself as a young professional in the conservation and ecology field.
What contribution do you hope to make towards a future in which people and nature thrive?
I aim to make an impact in my field by bringing people and nature together in a more sustainable way. This will most likely be achieved by not excluding people from nature but by incorporating them into managing the natural environment in a more sustainable way which could still benefit people and nature equally.
Who inspires you the most and why?
My parents are my biggest inspiration. They have consistently done the hard work to get to where they are today. They faced adversity and challenges and made many sacrifices which put them in uncomfortable positions. How they dealt with these issues are the lessons I learnt from them, which is why I am who I am today. They taught me that I should go for anything I want in life, no matter what it takes to get there.