Veterinary technologist Tebogo Manamela was out on the field in the Addo Elephant National Park to assist in collecting buffalo samples for tuberculosis when the unthinkable happened.
“I was hit by an adult bull buffalo, next thing I woke in hospital with a twisted ankle and had to be stitched on my head. I was on crutches for [two] 2 months and during that period, I thought I would never be able to work with animals. I was scared to even go out in the field,” Manamela recalled her brush with one of Africa’s fiercest species.
In this interview with Mukurukuru Media editor Styles Lucas Ledwaba celebrating Women’s month she speaks of her unusual career choice, the importance of research, the thrills of life in the wild and the responsibility of helping to preserve Africa’s heritage
Styles Lucas Ledwaba: When most people think of a career in a facility like the Kruger National Park they tend to only focus on the tourism side of things and not the scientific side. Kindly tell us how you ended up as a scientist [Veterinary Technologist]?
Tebogo Manamela: I studied Veterinary Technology, at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and on my 3rd year I was given an opportunity to join SANParks Veterinary Wildlife Services (also known as Game capture department) as an intern. The main focus in the department is translocation of animals, treatment, involvement in research projects and managing a biological bank which is the main role of veterinary technologists
Styles: What does your daily duties entail – in practical terms can you tell us what is it that you do on a daily basis?
Tebogo: I am not only a veterinary technologist at Veterinary Wildlife Services (VWS). On a normal day (this is what we are busy with at the moment) I will go out with a veterinarian, a pilot and a section ranger for rhino dehorning. On average, 10-20 rhino are immobilised chemically and dehorned. During immobilisation of each rhino, samples (blood, tissue, hair, faeces and ticks) are collected and kept [in] cool [storage]. After a long day in the field, I can continue in the laboratory to process all the samples collected in the field. This is so that we bank them and they are later used for research purposes
Styles: How important is your work in the broader context of nature conservation and the Kruger National Park?
Tebogo: I only joined the organisation in 2013 and as a village girl and someone who studied to work in the laboratory, I had little information about conservation. Poaching has become a menace in the park and Africa as a whole I believe. The rhino, and also lion population in the park has decreased tremendously and this is affecting everyone I believe. For me as someone who is interested in research, my work is very important as I get involved in research projects which may involve diseases in animals, treatment of injured animals and being able to give out samples from our bio bank mostly for post grads in obtaining their qualifications.
Styles: What is the most important aspect of your work?
Tebogo: In short, being able to work in the laboratory. Knowing types of samples and being able to know which tests to run on them.
Styles: Is this a generally male dominated field or you have many other women colleagues in this field?
Tebogo: In Kruger [National Park] and in our department, males are dominating but that has not stopped me from enjoying my work. If animals need to be rolled in a certain position, I get involved. It is stressful but enjoyable
Styles: Kindly tell us about the early days in your career. What did you find as the biggest challenge on the job?
Tebogo: I was a new graduate and had little information on conservation, working with veterinarians, understanding research projects and just animal behaviour in general. It took me time to adapt but it was worth it.
Styles: Please share with us what you consider an unforgettable experience on the job, something that happened in the course of duty and you will not forget in a long time.
Tebogo: Wow, sadly in 2018, I went to ADDO Elephant National Park, to assist in buffalo sampling for TB. I was hit by an adult bull buffalo, next thing I woke in hospital with a twisted ankle and had to be stitched on my head. I was on crutches for 2 months and during that period, I thought I would never be able to work with animals. I was scared to even go out in the field, but as mother, I had to be strong and think of my career and my daughter.
Styles: Tell us about your background, where do you come from? At what age and how were you exposed to wildlife and conservation?
Tebogo: I am from a village called Moletjie Mabokelele in Polokwane. And I only got exposed to wildlife and conservation in 2012. Veterinary technologists are based in the laboratory, so I am a lucky vet tech who gets to do field and lab work.
Styles: I understand you are still pursuing further studies. Kindly tell us about this and why it’s important to your career and the field you are involved in?
Tebogo: I just completed my Master’s degree titled: Isolation and characterization of immunoglobulin G from Panthera leo in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Veterinary research is very important on the disease side, as most of these diseases are zoonotic [an infectious disease that is transmitted between species from animals to humans or from humans to animals] and a lot of people are not aware. The lion immune system was the main focus of the study. For my study we managed to develop an essay which can be used in the future to increase knowledge on wild felid immunoglobulins. We also managed to confirm the close relation between lions and domestic cats. This work is published and available for researchers interested in the immunology field.
The importance of studying for me is the fact that one never stops learning. I work with international and national researchers and I must able to understand their projects and assist them. Learning never ends, I am planning to do my PhD soon, next year if I get funding, and just get involved in research.
Styles: Lastly what would you say to the youth, especially young women who want to pursue a career in this field? What should they study? Ends#
Tebogo: Never limit yourself in life, there is no “male dominant field or job “out there. Women are stronger, doers and achievers. Get out there and face the world with pride.
*Abstract from Tebogo’s dissertation – While a decrease of wild felid population has led to disruption of conservation programme, recent studies have shown the importance of immune regulation for determining health outcomes and co-infection. Immunoglobulin G is important for detecting and evaluating responses to infectious diseases and vaccination. But there is limited information on felid immunoglobulins and their role for functional immunity.