Thandiwe Mweetwa, born in southern Zambia, graduated from a high school in the Eastern Province with first class distinctions in all subjects. She was awarded a scholarship by Pestalozzi International Village Trust, where her International Baccalaureate Diploma and extensive contributions to the community gained her an International Student Humanitarian Award from the University of British Columbia. There she obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Animal Biology, whilst working at home, during her summers, in the Luangwa Valley with the Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP).
Thandiwe is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Natural Resources Conservation, majoring in Wildlife Conservation and Management at the University of Arizona. Her research focuses on studying lion population dynamics in one of Africa’s last remaining strongholds for the species. Because of this research, Thandiwe has received WWF’s Russell E. Train Fellowship and she is also a recipient of the Wildlife Conservation Network’s Disney Scholarship for Wildlife Conservation. In 2016, Thandiwe was named as an Emerging Explorer by the National Geographic Society, an honour bestowed upon individuals from various disciplines around the world pushing the boundaries of science and exploration.
In addition to wildlife research, one of Thandiwe’s greatest passions is passing on love and respect for nature to the next generation of Zambian conservationists, lawyers, doctors and teachers. She coordinates ZCP’s outreach program working with local schools in the community and leading students in designing and conducting field based science research projects. With support from National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative, she has also started a training program for Zambian young women wishing to pursue careers in wildlife conservation. Thandiwe is also currently leading various community involvement projects aimed at building support for the protection of large carnivores in the Luangwa Valley.
In the future, Thandiwe hopes to expand her work to other parts of Zambia as wildlife research in the country is still in its developmental stage. She also plans to expand educational programs aimed at empowering young people and building local capacity for wildlife management. Although the field of wildlife conservation is one of very few success stories, Thandiwe still believes there is hope for the future. As she points out, human behaviour, which is the cause of many environmental problems, can be changed.