MY JOURNEY IN CONSERVATION AND THE ROAD AHEAD
Innocent Buthelezi, Field Officer, EWT Wildlife and Transport Programme
I was born on 27 January 1990 at Jericho Clinic. Jericho is a rural village in the North West Province of South Africa. I grew up in Johannesburg, where my mother worked as a domestic worker. During the school holidays, I would alternate between visiting my maternal family in North West and my paternal family in KwaZulu-Natal, where my parents now live in Madadeni, near Newcastle.
While my parents were growing up, neither of them had the opportunity to finish their schooling, but they were determined to build a better future for me and provide me with the opportunities that they never had. Living in Johannesburg, I was fortunate to receive a higher standard of education than many other children residing in the more rural areas of the North West or KwaZulu-Natal. At the age of seven, I discovered a love for karate, and progressed to Red Belt by the age of 13. I stopped my karate lessons when I went to high school, but continued with other sports such as soccer, rugby, and athletics. My love of rugby encouraged me to build up my strength and stamina, and I started lifting weights that I made from cement compressed into empty paint cans.
During my teenage years, while not doing sports, I developed an interest in watching National Geographic and Animal Planet on DSTV, where my passion for nature really took hold, and eventually led me to pursue a career in nature conservation. I matriculated in 2008, and I started my studies at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) in 2009. I graduated from TUT with a National Diploma in 2012, which I would never have achieved without the generosity of my mother’s employer, who financially supported my studies. No one else in my family had completed schooling, let alone tertiary studies. After graduating I volunteered with SANBI and worked at Rand Water as an assistant until 2017, when I embarked on my current career with the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Wildlife and Transport Programme (WTP).
Upon joining the EWT in 2017, I felt the urge to pursue a Bachelor’s in Technology (BTech), and with support from the EWT and a generous study bursary from Trans African Concessions (TRACN4) to conduct my BTech through a research project entitled ‘Assessing the effectiveness of road signage in altering driver behaviour in the Kruger National Park (KNP), South Africa,’ based on reports on social media (specifically Facebook) that indicated levels of public concern for the number of animals being killed on the roads (i.e. roadkill) inside the KNP.
I have always been a dreamer; it is what has always kept me going throughout my conservation career, and my ultimate goal is to achieve a PhD. Despite the disruption of the academic year by the COVID-19 pandemic, I aim to complete my BTech this year and I hope to graduate in 2021.
I will not deny that working full-time and studying has not been without its challenges, particularly while fulfilling the role of a husband and father. Fortunately, a lot of my studies have related directly to the work I do with TRACN4, and without the bursary it would have been extremely difficult to support my family and further my studies. I am eternally grateful for the faith they have placed in me and bringing me ever closer to my destination as a wildlife conservationist.
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