On 9 August of every year, South Africans celebrate the remarkable women who have helped shape this country. In the spirit of Women’s Day, Wild salutes the formidable females who look after our natural heritage. By Gaynor Siljeur

To celebrate Women’s Day, Wild talks to women who love and protect our natural spaces about why it’s so special to work in conservation.

Eugenia Mkhatshwa, Section Ranger in Garden Route National Park (Tsitsikamma section)

As a senior ranger in a demanding park, Eugenia is responsible for a high-performing team. Rangers reporting to her patrol the Tsitsikamma coastline (including recently rezoned areas that allow local communities access to fishing grounds) and police the forest areas as well.

When did you decide to become a park ranger?

Growing up in the Eastern Cape between East London and King Williams’ Town, I naturally wanted to become a forester. In 1988, after tertiary training, I joined the Department of Forestry as a forest conservator. I was one of the people transferred from the Department to South African National Parks (SANParks).

What is your favourite place in the park?

When I feel overwhelmed I absolutely love going to the viewpoint found on the multi-day Dolphin Hiking Trail to take a deep breath. There I can look the combination of forest, fynbos and ocean right in the face. It makes protecting the mountain to ocean catchment that is Tsitsikamma completely worthwhile.

Any advice to future female rangers?

Being a female supervisor has proven to be tough and at times I’ve felt taken for granted. But I found my passion for nature was tougher than circumstances.

Passion is what will sustain you, so it’s important to have an unshakeable love for nature. It’s also crucial to be patient and to listen to other people. As with every job, you will need to work on your confidence in your role. Pave the way for yourself as a woman in this male-dominated world. Be prepared for anything, build on your levels of tolerance and patience, and put in the hours without the promise of a positive outcome. It’s all worth it in the end.

Dominique du Toit, Section Ranger in Garden Route National Park (Goudveld)

Dominique started her career in forestry and later moved to the Southern Cape to work for the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. She is now working in both marine and forest areas for SANParks.

What is your favourite part of the job?

I generally enjoy walking in the forest and along trails, so when I have to do this as part of my job, it comes naturally.

What has been your biggest achievement?

A real highlight of my career has been seeing the growth in tourism in the area that I manage. As of 2018, the number of people visiting Goudveld has grown from 2,500 visitors to 80,000. I am so proud!

How have things changed since you started your job?

The legislation to enable conservation has improved over the years. I am also very aware of the fact that there are more female rangers now than when I started. This shows that gender equality is certainly being addressed.

Chanel Rampartab, Conservation Innovation Manager for Biodiversity, CapeNature

With a background in ecological sciences and zoology, Chanel is responsible for implementing new processes and technology at CapeNature to move the organisation’s conservation efforts forward.

What do you love most about your work?

The best part of my job is exploring innovative ideas that are emerging and maturing in the conservation arena. I get to think about how to change the way that we work using new technology, concepts, practices and processes, and develop strategic partnerships with key role players.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your job?

Urging people to get out of their comfort zones to think about making long-term changes – as individuals, as an organisation and as a sector.

What is the outlook for women in conservation?

Over the past few years, women have been featuring more prominently in this primarily male-dominated sector. Today, CapeNature is 46% female, and my directorate (Biodiversity Capabilities) is 48% female.

Liesl Wagner, Field Ranger, Garden Route National Park (Wilderness Section)

A field ranger at Windmeulnek, Liesl was one of the rangers working on the frontlines of the recent fires. She is also part of the team rebuilding the area.

How did you become a park ranger?

I’ve been working for SANParks for 13 years now. I began as a general worker and did that for about two years before becoming a field ranger. What inspired me to keep working hard was my love for nature. My father also worked for SANParks before. I would admire how my father woke up so early in the morning to go to work.

What special training/skills do you use in your job?

As a young woman working in a remote area, I bring an unmatchable level of fitness. I have really good interpersonal skills and I plan to continue studying to further my career.

What is a daily perk of your job?

I love tracking (or following spoor) as there are large mammals in my area. Windmeulnek also has the best views of the Outeniqua mountain range.

Read more about our fearless females in this great article featured in the autumn issue of Wild.

Also read: A women ranger who rules