July 2013
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Nanotech draws attention in Kenya
SAASTA salutes David Block
Science Centre CEO awarded
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Open your own Science Spaza
The Universe is expanding
"Space Skype" links kids
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iThemba LABS - advancing knowledge
Ex ZooClub members' success
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Former ZooClub members on the path to success

The ZooClub of the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG) aims to involve, empower and encourage the youth to follow a career in the natural sciences by raising their awareness about the importance and benefits of these sciences. They also get the chance to learn more about nature conservation and work with some of the animals housed in the zoo.

As much as being a member of the ZooClub is fruitful and fun, it comes to an end when the ZooClub members (Zookies) matriculate.

NZG staff members often wonder what happens to the Zookies once being part of the ZooClub ends. getSETgo looks at five former ZooClub members who have matriculated and are currently studying at tertiary institutions.

  Justin R. Grace is in his fourth year studying Veterinary Sciences at Onderstepoort.
Justin F. Grace completed the Junior Nature Conservator course at the beginning of 2004, which gave him the opportunity to work with different kinds of animals the zoo. In 2006, he completed the Assistant Nature Conservator course. "I had the privilege of helping to raise the Taiping Four gorillas that were housed at the Zoo until their return home to Cameroon," he says.

"Working at the Zoo was the best experience ever and being there every holiday and every weekend from 2004 through to 2009 was the best way to grow up," says Justin. He even worked on Christmas and New Year's Day and helped to make Christmas presents and Easter eggs for the animals when the time came.

Based on his experience working at the zoo and his love for animals, Justin decided to become a veterinarian. Thanks to his extensive amount of voluntary hours working at the zoo, he was among the first group to be selected to study Veterinary Sciences at Onderstepoort. Currently in his 4th year, he finds his studies invigorating.

"My previous knowledge of working with animals has made the practical part of the course very easy for me and has put me at a high advantage above all my fellow students with regard to knowledge and practical handling skills," he explains. "I would not trade my experience working at the zoo for anything, and I would do it all over again if I could."

  Lebogang Kgasago is studying Biotechnology at the University of Johannesburg.
Lebogang Kgasago became a ZooClub member in 2009 when she was in Grade 9. She is currently studying Biotechnology at the University of Johannesburg. Her course deals with zoology, ecology, biodiversity and microbiology. The reason she chose this field of study is because the ZooClub encouraged and showed her the importance of science in the world. She says she never regrets the time she spent with the NZG as a Zookie.

"It was an amazing experience. I worked in the zoo and participated fully in the different activities on offer, like going on camps and educational trips. I learned a lot about the zoo animals and I wanted to know more," says Lebogang, adding that she found the ZooClub to be "fun, educational, career building and a life-time opportunity". She is currently volunteering at the ZooClub.

  William Komane is studying Tourism Management at the University of South Africa.
William Komane became a ZooClub member in 2005, when he was in Grade 8. William matriculated in 2009 and is currently studying Tourism Management at the University of South Africa. William says that, for him, the ZooClub has always been more than an environmental club.

"It helped me through my studies from Grade 8 to 12. The information I received from the zoo was beneficial to me as I have used it to do other youth environmental courses such as the Junior Honorary Rangers and Cheetah Challenge," says William.

Today, William is a Junior Ranger facilitator, thanks to the knowledge and experience he gained while being a member of the ZooClub. This gave him an opportunity to work with organisations like the De Wildt Nature Reserve and SANParks. William says he intends to take tourism in South Africa to the next level.

  Deeva Webb, a third-year student at the University of Pretoria, is studying Animal Science.
Deeva Webb, a third-year student at the University of Pretoria, is studying Animal Science. She participated in the Junior Nature Conservator's course in December 2005. Deeva says that the zoo gave her so many opportunities she would not have had anywhere else. In 2006, she went on a tour to the Kruger National Park with some of the other junior nature conservators. She also visited De Wildt Nature Reserve with the ZooClub.

She had the opportunity of doing a research project with the ZooClub and entering it into the Eskom Expo where she received a bronze medal. Deeva was the chair of the ZooClub in 2010. "Without the knowledge and love for animals ignited in me while working at the zoo, I might have never ended up in the direction that I am in now," says Deeva.

  Lewyn Maefala, a second-year student at the Tshwane University of Technology, is studying Nature Conservation.
Lewyn Maefala, a second-year student at the Tshwane University of Technology, is studying Nature Conservation. She says that growing up as a Junior Nature Conservator and ZooClub member gave her the platform to develop and mature in the field of nature and is still motivating her to reach higher levels in conservation. Many projects that she has participated in as a ZooClub member, such as working with African wild dogs and Cape fur seals and eradicating Lantana camara invasive plants, taught her how to investigate and identify problems and come up with possible solutions within our ecosystem.

She took part in several youth symposiums and came third in a poster presentation. Along with her conservation course, Lewyn is studying environmental education, inspired by the NZG's Elize de Jager and Parks Leshaba. "I go the extra mile to teach previously disadvantaged students about conservation," says Lewyn.

The ZooClub is clearly a platform that nurtures future nature conservators and scientists. The support that is given by the Department of Conservation Education and Public Engagement in Science at the NZG means a lot to the ZooClub members as it is a stepping stone towards their careers.

By Belinda Mokhanda, NZG Intern