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By Ginger Mauney
“Though there weren’t many wild animals around when I was growing up in Ongwediva, I always felt a natural connection to the birds and the bush.”
As a child, Matti Nghikumbua could never have known that this natural connection would develop into a full-time job, one that has given him a chance to interact with more than 20 000 students from all over Namibia and one that, as a representative of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, has taken him to conferences in the UK, USA and in many South African cities.
Matti joined the CCF in 1997 as a student intern from the Polytechnic of Namibia, where he was studying for the National Diploma in Nature Conservation. He completed two case studies while at the CCF, and then returned in 1998 as a full-time staff member. Matti is currently employed as a Senior Research Assistant and Education Officer at the CCF, a position for which he feels ideally suited.
“I bond naturally with the students. I find that they are enthusiastic to learn, but we need to develop continuity. The conservation message they hear from the CCF and at school often becomes lost when they leave school. Our goal is to make conservation a way of thinking, a way of life.”
Matti considers his involvement with the Namibia Environmental Education Network (NEEN), where he’s been a steering committee member since 1999 and was Secretary in 2003–2004, as a highlight in his short, but interesting career. “I enjoyed the ability of NEEN to pull people together from different walks of life, people who were involved in different fields – from social sciences to economics – and to see how we can apply our different skills to conservation.”
Back at the CCF, in his role as a student supervisor, Matti has applied these lessons to more than 20 students from the Polytechnic of Namibia, while at the same time conducting a research project on small mammals to determine the effects of bush encroachment and fire on CCF farms as part of his BTech in Nature Conservation.
Says Dr Laurie Marker, Executive Director of the CFF, “Matti is a dedicated researcher, environmental educator and cheetah enthusiast. He is intent on mentoring young students – in the same way I mentored him – towards being the best possible young natural-resource managers in Namibia. I’m very proud of Matti’s dedication to this cause. He has an infectious enthusiasm for his job and an uncanny way of engaging people with this enthusiasm for the cheetah and the ecosystem that sustains them.”
“Many Namibian youths participate in the CCF programmes annually. It is important that they see how he values his higher education,” Dr Marker added. Currently enrolled for a two-year Masters in Development Studies (MDS) programme with the University of the Free State in South Africa, Matti says, “I’m still a student at CCF. There are so many things I don’t know. I’d like to do my PhD and I want to become more deeply involved in the Cheetah Census where we use trip photography to gather pictures of cheetahs in the wild for population estimates. The CCF is growing continuously, and there are always challenges. It’s like being in school. I’m always learning, and this is good!”
This article appeared in the 2006/7 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.