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SAEON'S Ndlovu Node is growing again

By Dr Tony Swemmer, Manager, SAEON Ndlovu Node

Three new staff members were recently appointed at the SAEON Ndlovu Node, bringing the total staff complement to 15.

Rion Lerm is the Node’s new technician. He has recently submitted his MTech degree at the Tshwane University of Technology, and moved to Phalaborwa to take up his new position in early September. Rion will mainly be involved with the monitoring of biodiversity in the Phalaborwa area, and will have to make use of the bird monitoring skills he has utilised for his MTech research. Funding received from Palabora Copper mine - for the monitoring of biodiversity on their lands - has made his appointment possible. Rion’s fauna identification and GIS skills will make an important contribution to this long-term project.

John Mashale was also appointed in September, to assist with water sampling and the collection of ecological field data at Palabora Copper mine. John previously worked as a contractor at the mine and brings important “institutional memory” to the Node, in the form of knowledge and experience of sampling points on the mine and its surrounding areas.

Merriam Mabunda was appointed as the Node’s environmental monitor for Welverdiend village. She underwent Environmental Monitor training at the South African Wildlife College last year, including 10 months of experiential training at the Lekgalameetse Nature Reserve. She will be responsible for collecting a range of social and ecological data in and around Welverdiend, and assist with the sampling of the Node’s fuelwood harvesting plots there, which have been running since 2009.

Merriam joins the Node’s team of six environmental monitors, who are part of an Expanded Public Works Programme implemented by the Department of Environmental Affairs and SANParks. Four of the Node’s other environmental monitors are also based at rural villages (near Phalaborwa and near Acornhoek), while the sixth works from the Node’s offices and is responsible for data capture and laboratory work.

Martie van der Westhuizen joined SAEON in January this year, as the Node’s administration assistant. She performs a critical function at the Node, assisting with staff management, procurement and a host of other administrative requirements.

Thabo Mohlala is currently a part-time technician for the Node, and uses his free time to work on his MSc degree. He has diligently sampled the Node’s river monitoring sites for over five years, and will soon submit his MSc thesis at WITS University.

Patrick Ndhlovu and Mightyman Mashele have been with the Node for over six years, and continue to work long days in the bush, from the Kruger National Park up to the peaks of the Soutpansberg. They have collected volumes of field data in their positions as field assistants, and have helped to train the Node’s environmental monitors.

Dr Dave Thompson has filled the scientist position at the Node for six years, and continues to collect valuable data using his expert knowledge of the herbaceous plants of the Lowveld and Drakensberg Escarpment. He has also co-supervised numerous postgraduate students, and oversees many SAEON student projects.

Dr Tony Swemmer has been the manager of the Node for nearly eight years, while the Node’s education outreach coordinator, Joe Sibiya is the longest serving member, having faithfully run the Node’s outreach projects since 2005.

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A rare occasion - (almost) all 15 staff members together at the offices of the SAEON Ndlovu Node. Front: Patrick Ndhlovu (Field Assistant); 2nd Row (left to right): Mightyman Mashele (Field Assistant); Ronnie Segodi (Environmental Monitor); Absent: Dave Thompson (Scientist); 3rd Row: Rion Lerm (Technician); Miranda Rakoma (Environmental Monitor); Gerald Nkwinika (Environmental Monitor); Terecia Kgholoane (Environmental Monitor); Merriam Mabunda (Environmental Monitor); 4th Row: John Mashale (Field Assistant); Martie van der Westhuizen (Administration Assistant); Joe Sibiya (Outreach Coordinator); Thabo Mohlala (Technician); Back row: Difference Thibela (Environmental Monitor) and Tony Swemmer (Node Manager)

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