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Khensani Nkuna

2021 Intern

WWF intern Khensani Vulani Nkuna is excited about her internship with the South African National Parks (SANParks). Not only because of her love and connection to nature, but because she believes that her work will also benefit the community that she grew up in. She is from Mpumalanga and is now based in Skukuza – the ‘‘capital city’’ of the Kruger National Park. As a Conservation Science intern, her role inside the park involves monitoring and managing invasive plant species in the area.

Khensani has a Bachelor of Science degree in Botany and Zoology from the University of Venda and a Master’s in Botany from the University of Stellenbosch.

We caught up with her to learn more about her career story, her wishes and ambitions:

What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about invasion biology and solving some of the complex issues caused by invasive species. Before I became interested in this topic I was more into ethnobotany, which entails studying interrelations between humans and plants. I was also keen to explore the use of indigenous knowledge to solve modern issues, such as using indigenous plants to treat common ailments.

Through my studies, I became aware of the threats posed by invasive alien species to our local plant species. I then felt the need to be actively involved in the conservation of our natural ecosystems and I began to develop my knowledge in this area.

What inspired your choice of study?
Growing up in the rural area of Bushbuckridge without electricity and away from amenities like shopping centres, natural resources were our primary source of food, medicine, and fuel for making fire. Therefore, I can positively say that my decision to pursue a career in natural sciences was mainly inspired by my upbringing.

What excites you about your internship?
I look forward to gaining practical work experience and developing hard skills that will increase my employability. I am excited to be placed at the Kruger National Park because my work in supporting the management of invasive alien species will directly benefit the nearby communities where I grew up. Alien species can have negative impacts on indigenous species and natural resources like water, which communities depend on to survive. Hence proper management is crucial.

What are your expectations of this internship?
I’d like to develop my knowledge about invasion biology, be exposed to new ideas and opportunities, grow my network, and be equipped with the skills needed for a prolific career in the conservation ecology field.

What contribution do you hope to make towards a future in which people and nature thrive?
I hope to conduct research that will inform environmental policies and regulations across all levels. Through my work, I also wish to influence decision-makers and stakeholders – and even ordinary individuals – to take responsibility for looking after our natural environment.

Who inspires you the most and why?
My daughter is my inspiration. She is the reason I keep going even when it looks like we are fighting a losing battle due to the many factors impacting nature. I see it necessary for us to conserve our natural environment, for her and everyone else, because we all benefit from it.

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