Zoliswa (Zoe) Nhleko, Ecologist

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science?

My favorite part about my job is working with amazing wildlife most people don’t get to see on a daily basis or even in their lifetime. And the scenic landscapes I get to work in. My love for wildlife started when I was in primary school and part of an environmental club that met once a week at the local museum. 

What do you do?

I do research on large mammals. Right now it’s specific to white rhinos. I am investigating how rhino poaching is and may continue to affect rhino population dynamics like recruitment, where they are distributed in the landscape and their behavior.

How does your research contribute to the betterment of society and animals in general?

Most rhino populations are at risk of extinction if the poaching goes on unabated. My research hopes to contribute towards means to biologically save the species. There is only so much we can do to stop poaching, but maybe there is much more we can do in our biological management of the species to allow them to grow at maximum rates in order to withstand the poaching onslaught. Lessons from rhinos could be used on other species facing poaching.

What are your data and how do you obtain them?

Some of my data like long term population estimates came from long term monitoring programs like aerial rhino censuses which are done every year in my study site. Data on how poaching affects behavior and physiology came from field work I conducted myself. I ran an experiment using sound playback and camera traps for the behaviour component and collected white rhino poop samples for the physiology question. 

What advice would you give to aspiring scientists?

Science comes in all shapes and sizes, there is space for everyone. Find what you are passionate about and look up people who work in that field and reach out for advice. Some of the projects/jobs I have done have come through reaching out to people in the field that were strangers but soon became valuable connections. 

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