Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Protecting wildlife in Botswana

Olanna Nissim '13During the academic year, varsity volleyball team member Olanna Nissim ’13 is a defense specialist. But last summer, she spent time defending something else she loves on very different turf. She interned at the Cheetah Conservation Botswana (CCB), in South Africa.

The main goal of CCB is to preserve the nation’s cheetah population through scientific research, community outreach and education, and by working with rural communities to promote coexistence with Botswana’s diverse predator species. Nissim, an economics major, contributed to that effort through a variety of assignments and also engaged her interest in the cultural dynamics of economics.

She helped with fundraising by being in contact with NGOs and zoo officials in the United States, shadowed conservation project director Rebecca Klein, held camps to teach children predator awareness, worked at the education center, greeted visitors, and spent time with rehabilitated cheetahs, hyenas, monkeys and birds.

Nissim also helped present clinics to educate farmers about how to maintain their livestock without harming cheetahs. “The clinics try to show them how to live in harmony with predators,” she says. “We set up ‘critter cams,’ night-vision cameras, to show that the cheetahs were not the problem because cheetahs never really wander into farms. We also analyzed the bite marks on dead animals to decipher what type of animal attacked. Farmers have been shooting cheetahs because they don’t know for sure what has been killing their animals at night.”

The senior has always had an interest in the environment and wildlife. In fact, when she was in high school she started a wildlife awareness club dedicated to raising awareness and funding to protect the endangered cheetah species. So when she considered internships, she wanted to find a conservation effort in the nonprofit realm that focused on the ecology between wildlife and the environment.

“For me, economic development involves many factors and depends on the environment and societal structure of the area. This opportunity intrigued me because the conservation and coexistence of the cheetahs is a huge factor of Botswana’s economy,” says Nissim. “Wildlife is one of the country’s biggest sources of income from the tourism that it brings in, and the country has the largest populations of cheetahs left in the world.”

Photo by Soraya Matos '14