Postgraduate students form the bulk of iCWild's research team. We currently have 33 postgraduates, including 13 doctoral students, 13 Masters students and eight honours students. Student projects cover a range of topics and focus on a range of species. Our collaborations with conservation NGOs and professional bodies greatly increases our capacity to fund and educate these young scientists in conflict research.
Esme's blurb is coming soon! In the meantime you can read more about the baboon work she's been involved with here.
Michelle Blanckenberg is a third-year PhD student looking at how the creation of a national park within a small livestock farming region will impact mammalian species richness, relative abundance and livestock losses. Michelle completed her BSc degree and BSc (Hons) at Rhodes University focusing on Zoology and Environmental Science. In 2017 she completed her MSc in Conservation Biology at the University of Cape Town. Michelle’s love for the environment and conservation stems from the many adventures spent in Namibia and Botswana. She is passionate about conservation and ultimately aims to become an expert in landscape ecology, restoration and conflict resolution. Michelle is especially interested in aspects of community-based conservation through environmental education and social ecology.
Read more here.
Marine is a French conservation scientist with a passion for wildlife, science and the wilderness, be it in Africa or Alaska. She grew up between the green hills of Champagne and the capital city of France, Paris, where she first received a degree in languages and neurosciences at the University of Paris Diderot (Paris VII). She then graduated with an M.Sc. in Biodiversity-Ecology-Evolution, specializing in Conservation Biology at the University Pierre and Marie Curie (Paris VI) in 2009. Her thesis was conducted in France and Zimbabwe where she studied the ecophysiology of plains zebras and Przewalski horses. Since then, Marine has worked on various predator projects spread over 4 continents. She returned to University in 2013 to pursue her PhD in wildlife conservation and behavioural ecology at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.
Marine has a lifelong interest in conservation and wildlife ecology and is particularly interested in human-carnivore relationships. She sees conflict between animals and humans, as being the biggest challenge that wildlife conservationists will have to face in the 21st century. When she is not tracking animals or writing up her PhD, Marine loves trail running, rock and ice climbing and any outdoor adventure.
Thesis title: The Karoo Predator Project – Understanding the socio-ecological mechanisms behind farmer-predator conflict in the Karoo, South Africa
Main supervisor: Prof. Justin O’Riain
Co-supervisors: Prof. Nicoli Nattrass, Prof. Beatrice Conradie, Prof. Allan Clark
Read more here.
Tammy grew up on a farm in Zimbabwe and from a young age has had a passion for the outdoors, wildlife and conservation. A family trip to Sodwana Bay (KZN) as a child sparked her fascination with the ocean and set her on the course to becoming a marine biologist, despite her upbringing in land-locked Zimbabwe. After leaving high school, Tammy enrolled at UCT and in 2012 obtained a BSc in Marine Biology and Applied Biology, followed by an Honours degree in Marine Biology in 2013. Through her studies, Tammy developed a keen interest in the field of spatial ecology, and the application of spatial data to advise fisheries management and conservation, particularly for vulnerable species such as apex predators.
In 2015 she began her MSc on the behaviour and spatial ecology of the broadnose sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus) in South Africa, and has since upgraded to a PhD. The primary aims of her research are to gain a better understanding of the distribution, movement patterns, habitat use and behaviour of this species, with the overarching objective of improving the management of this recreationally and commercially exploited predator on a national scale. Her primary research methods involve the use of acoustic and satellite telemetry supplemented with tag and recapture data from recreational anglers along the South African coast.
Read more here.
Robynne's blurb is coming soon!
Gabi is a student with the Urban Caracal Project and recently upgraded her Masters to a PhD. Born in London, she grew up in Cape Town, South Africa passionate about wildlife, particularly felids, and so decided to study zoology at a young age. She has since completed her Bachelor of Science Honours at the University of Cape Town, developing research interests in conservation biology, particularly how innovative use of technology can aid in data collection to inform this field. She was awarded the British Ecological Society's Robert May Prize for early career researchers for her paper that explores and validates the use of Google Images to collect data on visible traits of organisms. More recently, her work has focused on the burgeoning field of urban ecology. Her thesis aims to explore how rapid urbanisation influences the foraging ecology of the highly adaptable Cape Peninsula caracal, using both classic and new methods. The upgrade to PhD will allow further investigation into the costs and benefits of foraging at the interface between protected areas and the urban edge by quantifying environmental toxicant exposure and identifying potential exposure routes. Gabi was recently awarded funding from the WWF's Table Mountain Fund to support this environmental toxicant testing work.
Read more here.
Joselyn Mormile is a PhD candidate in iCWild. She received her Bachelors of Science degree in Animal Behavior from Rutgers University in the US in 2008 and received her license as a veterinary nurse in 2010. In 2014, she completed her Masters of Primate Conservation from Oxford Brookes University in the UK. She has been working with chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) in captive, wild and urban settings throughout South Africa since 2011. She specialises in interdisciplinary research on human-baboon interaction within urban landscapes. Her Master’s dissertation research was conducted in Knysna, Western Cape Province on the human dimension of conflict with urban baboons. Her research focused on the spatial patterns and decision making of a troop of baboons in response to urban land transformation and human perceptions. In 2020 prior to completing her thesis she was offered a position as a manager for the private company Nature Conservation Corporation applying her diverse skills to management challenges to do with communities and baboons on the Cape Peninsula. While nothing to do with her PhD we are thrilled she has secured employment before completing her thesis.
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Matt is from the United States, but fell in love with the African savannah during a university study abroad program in Tanzania. After completing his undergraduate degree in English and Politics, Matt moved back to Tanzania where he spent several years as a research assistant and lodge manager in the Selous Game Reserve. Hooked on life in the bush, Matt returned to school to get a Masters in Environmental Management, with a focus on ecosystem science and conservation. For his thesis, Matt analyzed connecting between East African lion populations. He went on to coordinate a year-long research project on illegal bushmeat hunting in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.
Matt joined iCWild in August 2015 in collaboration with Panthera’s Leopard Program. He is analyzing data from motion-triggered camera trap surveys using Spatial Capture-Recapture models to study leopard population dynamics and distribution across dozens of reserves in South Africa, Mozambique, and Swaziland.
Read more here.
Lucy’s favourite memories are of long camping trips spent exploring the mountains, valleys, riverbeds and shorelines of the Western Cape of South Africa and British Columbia in Canada, both of which she has come to call home. In her mind becoming a conservation biologist was never even a question, just simply something she was determined to make happen.
She completed a BSc in Applied Biology and Ecology and Evolution at UCT in 2016 and went on to complete her Honours in Biological Sciences at UCT in 2017, focusing on whether pelage patterns can be used to infer relatedness in leopards. During her Honours year she spent a few months in Kruger National Park on a course run by the Organization for Tropical Studies, and fell in love with the savanna. This combined with her passion for wildlife, conservation and the great outdoors means that time spent in the field is when she is her happiest.
Lucy has been involved in projects run by Panthera since 2015, and in 2018 began her MSc as a collaboration between iCWild and Panthera, which she has now upgraded to a PhD. She is aiming to improve the ways in which camera traps are used to assess leopard populations, allowing for a more holistic view on population health and more practical methods of assessing populations over greater spatial scales. Her work is based on data from in and around Kruger National Park, where she spent a year and a half collecting camera-trap data.
Read more here.
Marina Tavolaro is a PhD student at iCWild whose research aims to better understand and tackle conservation conflicts in Namibian communal conservancies. The community based natural resources management (CBNRM) system, which links conservation to poverty alleviation through sustainable use of natural resources, is a key development strategy for rural Namibia. By better integrating the underpinning social context with the material impacts and evaluation of conflicts across communal conservancies, she hopes to enhance effective conflict management and long-term conservation benefits.
Marina holds a MSc by research from Bristol University (UK) and a BSc (Hons) in Zoology from the University of Aberdeen (UK). She recently worked for two years as a consultant at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and previously worked as a researcher on the wildlife-livestock interface in southern Africa at Onderstepoort (University of Pretoria).
Read more here.
Vincent van der Merwe
Vincent’s upbringing on an avocado farm in Limpopo triggered an interest in all things biological. After school he pursued a BSc degree in Entomology at the University of Pretoria (TUKS) whilst serving with the South African Army. After a brief stint as a safari guide in the Lowveld Vincent returned to TUKS to complete a BSc (Hons) in Conservation Genetics. He then moved to Mozambique where he worked as an environmental consultant and high school biology teacher. Upon returning to South Africa Vincent completed an MSc in Conservation Biology at the University of Cape Town. He was then employed as Cheetah Metapopulation co-ordinator by the Endangered Wildlife Trust.
Since 2011, Vincent has overseen the growth of the metapopulation from 241 Cheetah on 41 reserves to 332 individuals on 53 reserves. When he realised the potential of metapopulation management for securing safe space for carnivores, he decided to pursue a PhD on the subject. His research interests include the historical distribution of Cheetah in southern Africa, their genetic status and evaluating the viability of fragmented Cheetah populations through population modelling.
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Travelling across Southern Africa in the back of her parents 4x4 ignited a passion for wildlife within Zoe. It drove her to complete her Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2013, majoring in Applied Biology and Ecology & Evolution. She went on to complete her Honours degree at the same institution, with her research project focused on exploring whether the relative abundance of various predator guilds were affected primarily by bottom-up or by top-down processes. Her interest in utilising camera traps as a tool in research encouraged her to further her academic studies, thus in 2015 she began a M.Sc. degree at UCT investigating predictors of presence for the critically endangered riverine rabbit. The initial success and scope of the project was such that she is in the process of upgrading to a Ph.D. Zoe currently works with both Endangered Wildlife Trust and SANBI to investigate the effects of land use on the presence of medium and large mammals in the South African drylands, paying particular attention to riverine rabbits. The results of this study will provide an extensive data set on land use and mammal presence/diversity/distribution in addition to a finer scale assessment of riverine rabbit presence throughout the Karoo and known distribution of the species.
Read more here.
Pieter Du Plessis
Pieter's blurb is coming soon!
Ayesha Hargey always found herself both fascinated and humbled by the rich diversity and history of Cape Town, having grown up there. She completed her BSc and BSc (Hons) in Biodiversity and Conservation Biology at the University of the Western Cape. Her thesis focused on the use of rarely-studied non-perennial rivers by terrestrial mammals through a camera trap survey. Having developed a deep interest in camera trapping, she was driven by the desire to pursue her lifelong passion towards felines and their conservation. Her Masters focuses on a survey of the leopard population in the De Hoop Nature Reserve.
Nadine was born in France where her love for nature probably started when she was raised by her grandparents in the countryside. Initially, after high school, she had studied in the field of pharmacy but she quickly realized that she wasn’t made for it and decided to focus on biology. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in science in France and just after, she started her Masters (first year) in animal behavior. In order to achieve her dreams of travel and also to gain some experience, she went in South Africa in the beginning of 2015 to study caracal and leopard distribution on a reserve of the Limpopo province (Mogalakwena Research Centre). During that time, her passion for mammals, especially felines, and conservation increased. She decided to pursue her studies here and she just started this year her Msc degree in Biological sciences though the University of Cape Town.
Her project is part of the Karoo BioGaps project which will occurred in three states of South Africa: western, northern and eastern Cape. This project is designed to evaluate diversity of 11 representative taxonomic groups in areas targeted for shale gas exploitation and also to upgrade existing data about targeted taxa in South African museums. Her mission will be to assess diversity and characteristics of communities of the small mammals’ species. In fact, this study aims to understand, if there is difference in diversity among habitats, species occupancy and habitat richness models.
Thesis: Diversity of terrestrial small mammals at Karoo sites vulnerable to shale-gas exploration and other land uses (Supervisors: Gary Bronner and Justin O’Riain).
Xolani's blurb is coming soon!
Franck Barrel Mavinga
After completing his degree in Animal Biology at the University of Marien Ngouabi in Congo Brazzaville in 2006, Franck started working at Mbeli Bai Study as a research assistant and educator on gorilla conservation. His main tasks were recording daily behavioural and demographic events for large mammals including gorillas, and collecting phenological data on trees consumed by gorillas and forest elephants. In May 2013, he was appointed to the post of Assistant of Community Development at the Nouabalé-Ndoki Foundation, where his monthly tasks included:
Franck expects that the Conservation Biology Masters course will provide him with the necessary theoretical and practical background to help him maximize his effectiveness at managing conservation projects in his country, the Republic of Congo.
Thesis: A camera trap assessment of factors influencing leopard (Panthera pardus) habitat use in the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, Republic of Congo. (Supervisors: Justin O'Riain, Gareth Mann, Thomas Breuer)
Having grown up on a dairy farm in Cheshire, England, Phoebe has always been passionate about nature and discovering the natural world. Being surrounded by cows, chickens and a whole host of British wildlife in her childhood led her to study for an honours degree in Geography at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. This degree gave her the qualitative and quantitative skills to develop a career in research ecology. Phoebe worked on a number of ecological and environmental projects, including coral reef research in the British Virgin Islands and Benguela dolphin research in Namibia, before finding her home in the South African bush, where she has been a field guide for the past year. Phoebe specialises in trail guiding, where she believes that guests get to experience the bush on a much more intimate level and observe things often missed from a vehicle. Phoebe is passionate about tracking and has committed a significant amount of time to improving her skills. She also enjoys birding, hiking, travelling and any activity which involves the oceans around Cape Town. Phoebe hopes that the MSc in Conservation Biology will allow her to play an important role in protecting and conserving areas of South Africa and further afield which are currently under threat. She would like to use her passion for ecological research to develop long term monitoring projects which can lead to informed policy decisions.
Thesis: Landscape utilisation by a reintroduced pack of African Wild Dogs (Lycaon pictus) in eastern Botswana. (Supervisors: Justin O'Riain, Andrei Snyman, Gareth Mann)
Raised all over Africa, Michelle was always surrounded by natural beauty, and it was its presence and disappearance that drove Michelle into studying wild carnivores and understanding their conservation needs and priorities. Her current project, in collaboration with Panthera, is exploring how human-induced pressure is influencing mesocarnivore presence and species richness in protected areas in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. In the future, Michelle will be starting her PhD looking at the impact of bark stripping by baboons in pine plantations in Mpumalanga, and exploring possible mitigation strategies.
Michael was raised in northern Kwazulu-Natal before relocating to the leafy surrounds of Westville, Durban. Yearly trips to Kruger and many holidays spent in the bush have cultivated a love for the great outdoors and a keen sense of adventure, both of which have continued to blossom. He is driven to not only understand ecological systems but also to protect them in perpetuity for future generations.
Michael completed his BSc in Applied Biology and Environmental Science at the University of Cape Town. He has since gone on to complete his Honours at UCT, and couldn’t resist the charm and outdoor culture of Cape Town, ultimately remaining in the city for his Masters. When he isn’t working he is sure to be swimming, cycling or running as he pursues another of his passions: triathlons.
Michelle's blurb is coming soon!
Since I was a young child, our annual trips to the Kruger National Park fostered a love of nature within me. So when it came to finalizing the direction of my tertiary studies during high school, the decision was simple. In 2017 I completed my BSc, majoring in Applied Biology, and Ecology and Evolution. The following year I received my BSc Hons in Biological Sciences (my thesis focused on how fire and herbivory affected arthropod assemblages in and around the Nkuhlu Exclosures, in Kruger National Park) and was fortunate enough to attend the African and Ecology Conservation Course through the Organisation for Tropical Studies. Besides the joy of spending the better part of three months within the Kruger National Park, I learnt a great deal, particularly about conducting field work in tricky and exciting circumstances.
I have been exposed to primates throughout my life whilst growing up in KwaZulu Natal and visiting the Kruger National Park so when presented with a project that focused on baboon management, I was naturally very interested. I began my MSc in 2019, investigating the use of virtual fences to prevent baboons from entering Gordon’s Bay, Western Cape. This project was initiated by Human Wildlife Solutions in 2016.
Thesis: Breaking new ground: An assessment of the impact of ‘virtual fences’ on Chacma baboons (Papino ursinus) in the Western Cape, South Africa. (Supervised by Justin O'Riain and Phil Richardson)
Johanna Taylor, or Jo, joined Panthera’s Leopard Program full-time in 2017 as a research technician. Originally from the United States of America, Jo is now based out of Cape Town, South Africa, although she spends the majority of the year travelling across South Africa helping to manage and run the Panthera camera trap surveys looking at leopard populations.
After earning a BSc in conservation ecology and wildlife resources, she entered in the zoological field working with big cats and African ungulates at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium where she was part of a successful breeding program of rare and genetically valuable Amur leopards and Amur tigers. Jo joined the wild cat conservation field in 2010 while working for National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative. In 2016, she moved to Namibia to take up the role of assistant operations manager for the Cheetah Conservation Fund. There, she ran surveys within the Great Waterberg Landscape, monitoring cheetah and rhino populations. At the beginning of 2018, she began work on her MSc dissertation focusing on population densities of the rarely studied serval in South Africa through iCWild.
David van Beuningen
Growing up on a farm in Zimbabwe, an appreciation for the natural world was instilled in Dave from an early age. However Dave’s true passion lies in the marine environment. After completing a BSc. in Marine Biology and Ecology, Dave volunteered for Oceans Research in Mossel Bay: an organisation which studies many aspects of the marine environment, but focuses particularly on great white sharks. It was here that Dave grew to respect these enigmatic animals, and discovered that he wanted to work in marine conservation. Dave was fortunate to be invited back after his Honours degree to work for Oceans Research as a Field Specialist where he gained valuable field research skills and was able to transfer these to the many volunteers that passed through the programme. He then travelled to Mozambique to do a Dive Masters course for three months, and came back to Hermanus in South Africa to work as Operations Manager for the South African Shark Conservancy, an NGO dedicated to promoting the conservation and sustainable use of living marine resources. Dave has spent the last two years as Research Technician for Shark Spotters, an organisation which aims to foster the sustainable coexistence between people and sharks using a simple but effective shark safety strategy. It was here that Dave really saw how humans and sharks can coexist in a sustainable manner, and he aims to use this philosophy to ensure that humans and nature can coexist sustainably in future.
Thesis: Environmental predictors of Carcharodon carcharias presence at two popular beaches in False Bay, South Africa, using acoustic telemetry. (Supervisors: Justin O'Riain, Alison Kock)
Read more here.
Aamirah's blurb is coming soon!
Megan's blurb is coming soon!
Jonothan's blurb is coming soon!
Thesis: Rats and People in Conflict. An Investigation into the Determinants of Humane Treatment of Rats in Site C, Khayelitsha, South Africa.
Read more here.
Leigh de Necker
Shannon grew up in Connecticut, USA, and has always been fascinated with animal behaviour. She studied Biology at James Madison University, concentrating on Ecology, while also participating full time in the university swim team. Eager to pursue her interest in behavioural studies, Shannon spent time in the psychology department, involved in multiple studies with field mice investigating landmark usage in foraging behaviours. During her studies, Shannon had the opportunity to volunteer at the Ann van Dyk Cheetah and Wild Dog Centre in the North West Province of South Africa, and was immediately captivated by the African wildlife. After spending time on a baboon behavioural research project in Cape Town, Shannon joined the Urban Caracal Project to gain insight into the area usage and movements of these elusive cats. When not running around the bush after wild animals, Shannon enjoys music, wine tasting, running, and spending time at the beach.
Thesis: Behavioural and physiological responses of chacma baboons (Papio ursinus)to wildfire in the Cape Peninsula of South Africa. (Supervisors: Justin O'Riain, Larissa Swedell, Steffen Foerster, Matthew Lewis)
Born and raised in New Jersey, Caitlin has been working in wildlife conservation for the past five years. Before starting her degree at UCT, Caitlin worked in Washington D.C. as a Foundation Relations Manager for Defenders of Wildlife, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of North American biodiversity. She focused on the strategic development of foundation and corporate giving to support field projects across the country, from reducing human-wildlife conflict to strengthening key environmental safeguards such as the Endangered Species Act. In 2016, Caitlin graduated from the Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders program, a two-year course focused on capacity building, skills training and the implementation of a wildlife conservation campaign. Through this program, Caitlin worked with Giraffe Conservation Foundation in Namibia to implement an international media campaign and launch a first of its kind investigation into the impacts of trade on giraffe populations. Caitlin’s passion for African wildlife and wild places was fostered during a year abroad in 2010 when she worked for a wide variety of environmental initiatives while traveling from the Norwegian Arctic to South Africa. Caitlin graduated from the University of Virginia with a double major in Foreign Affairs and Religious Studies.
Thesis: Investigating the hidden costs of livestock guarding dogs and the diet of a sympatric predator in Namaqualand, South Africa. (Supervisors: Justin O'Riain, Kristine Teichman, Marine Drouilly)
Zena Kruss-Van Der Heever
Thesis: Rats in the Home: An In-depth Investigation into Housing Quality as a Determinant of Rodent Infestation in Khayelitsha Site C.
Read more here.
After completing a BSc in Applied Biology, Systematics and Macroevolution at UCT (2013), Vincent stayed on to complete his BSc (Hons) on Haemoparasitism in African Penguins (2014). As part of the Panthera’s Project Pardus, he since started his MSc (2015) and upgraded to a PhD (2017) focussed on using forensic phylogenetic tools to determine the spatial extent and geographic origins of illegally traded skins across southern Africa. His work forms part of Panthera’s Furs for Life initiative, provisioning faux leopard Capes to members of the Shembe Church in collaboration with the Peace Parks Foundation and Cartier.
His research spans across southern Africa, where he collaborates with various ongoing research projects, national parks, ecotourism operations, taxidermists and museums to collect genetic reference material for leopards and other large cat species. Working closely with statutory wildlife authorities in the confiscation of illegally traded skins, Panthera hopes to determine the origins of these skins and direct already limited resources to populations which are most at risk.
Read more here.