From England to South Africa – The Stuff Dreams are Made of

Katie Rooke holds a BSc in Zoology and Marine Biology from Aberdeen University and an MRes from Bristol University in Brown Hyaena translocation. She currently works in South Africa, running the Askari Wilderness Volunteer Programme. She is an ideal advocate for anyone trying to pursue a career in conservation within Southern Africa. Here she gives an account of her experience working in the bush, her love for Brown Hyaenas and her determination to strive for a career in conservation within South Africa.

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Katie playing eye-spy for a raptor across the savannah (Sean Matthewson).

What’s your job title Katie? And can you describe some of your daily activities conducted with some of the volunteers you take on?

I’m the manager at Askari. Our activities are split between reserve management projects and wildlife monitoring and vary on a daily, weekly and seasonal basis. All projects contribute to the reserve goal; restoring wilderness to this area after years of human use. Work includes the eradication of alien plants, removal of bush encroachment, repair of eroded soils, anti-poaching patrols and removal of old farming fences to name a few.

On a daily basis we are responsible for the monitoring of all the wildlife, keeping up with species such as lion, elephant and cheetah and recording numbers, new births and activity patterns. We also do this for all the general game herbivore species and certain birdlife. In between all of this, the most important activity is to learn about the bush; see as much amazing wildlife as we can and marvel at the nature we’re surrounded by every day.

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Katie with Safiya the caracal, who was rescued as a kitten and reintroduced back to the wild. (credit: Edward Smith).

As a woman, have you ever found it difficult getting into work or during working in conservation within South Africa?

The career path I chose is definitely a male dominated one but I did have a little practice already from a few years in the British Territorial army. I have felt, on many occasions, that I have had to work that little bit harder or prove myself that little bit more to progress. For me though, it’s all part of the challenge and that’s what I love.

Your research on brown hyaenas produced some rather spectacular results for hyaena translocation techniques. Can you give a brief summary of your research and point us in the direction where we can hope to find your published results soon?

The brown hyaena research was a definite highlight of my career so far. The near threatened species comes into conflict with farmers when they are (incorrectly) blamed for livestock deaths. As a result they suffer persecution and also habitat loss. The study removed 5 Brown Hyaenas from an area of conflict and translocated them to a conservation area.

My research monitored their progress post-release and the move was a great success. The hyaenas survived and established in their new environment and went on to reproduce and start a sustainable population. Brown hyaenas are a fairly unusual species to study so this was a real privilege. A past translocation study in the 70’s did not have such advanced technology available and this study was therefore quite pioneering.

I am currently working on a paper for publication and aiming to submit to a zoology based journal. My hope is that the work can form a baseline for future translocations of brown hyaenas away from conflict areas and assist in the conservation of the species.

Katie just adding the finishing touches to her favourite brown hyaenas new radio collar (Credit: Garth Bowen)

Katie just adding the finishing touches to her favourite brown hyaenas new radio collar (Credit: Garth Bowen)

What’s your favourite animal and why?

The brown hyaena is my favourite; I have a soft spot for hyaenas in general. They are very charismatic with interesting behaviour and mischievous characters. The brown hyaena is a rare and elusive species to see; throughout my study it was incredible to get a secret insight into their intricate world. It was a huge privilege and I feel a special connection to them for that.

What would you tell your younger self?

Don’t listen to, or be put off by the doubters in life. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Dare to dream big and then follow those dreams. Aim for the moon…even if you don’t make it you’ll be among the stars, and in my book that beats staying on land any day!

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If any of you would be interested in coming to volunteer with Katie, check out these links below:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9Ytq4zuDzM]

Website: https://www.askariwcp.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Askari.Wilderness.Conservation.Programme

Instagram: https://instagram.com/eds_wildlife_photography/ (Here you can check out some of the amazing photographs taken on Pidwa Wilderness Reserve by Edward Smith, who co-runs the volunteer programme with Katie – there are some magnificent photos, so do check it out!)

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