Celebrating Women in Conservation

Helene van der Westhuyzen
by CapeNature

Meet Helene van der Westhuyzen, Conservation Services Manager at CapeNature. We spoke to her as part of our women in conservation series for August (Women’s Month).

Nature conservation officials are the heartbeat of an entity like CapeNature and they deal with a range of responsibilities, including resolving conflict between humans and wildlife, promoting environmental awareness, implementing stewardship strategies with landowners, and ensuring that regulations relating to fauna and flora are correctly enforced.

Conservation officials need to be physically fit as well as target orientated with the ability to work independently. They need to be proficient in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and also having knowledge of the relevant environmental legislation.

Q What was your background before you started your current job at CapeNature?

A I started my career in conservation as a WIL student in CapeNature at our Metro office at that time, reporting to Alan Wheeler within the Conservation Services component.  So CapeNature has been my home since I started working.

Q What is your typical day like?

A A day in my office can range from office work like checking and responding to emails, writing inspection reports and issuing permits to receiving a call about a questionable activity that needs to be investigated right away. Other duties would include conducting inspections on the keeping or trading of wild animals (from private individuals wanting, for example a snake as a pet, to on-site visits to bigger centres like World of Birds), investigating the trade in flora and negotiating with landowners to ensure that critical biodiversity in the Western region is protected.

Q What is the most interesting aspect of your job?

A The most interesting aspect for me is the investigation of alleged illegal activities.

Q Can you tell us about a few highlights/stand out incidents from your job?

A Highlights include successful convictions of illegal activities, signing up a new landowners who are willing to conserve their land for generations to come.

Despite progressive environmental legislation, the unprecedented poaching of wildlife in South Africa is increasing.

Members of the public with information regarding illegal hunting in the Western Cape can email CapeNature on info@capenature.co.za

Q What advice would you have for a young person who wants to follow in your footsteps?

A Set goals for yourself and put actions in place to reach your goals, get as much experience as you can on all aspects of nature conservation and listen and learn from anyone who you encounter that is willing to share their knowledge and experience.