After getting degrees in zoology and environmental management from Rhodes University and the University of South Africa, Nhleko landed a high-paying job with a water-purification company. Then she heard about the opportunity to work at Kruger National Park as a junior scientist, “basically an extended internship that gets you through your next degree.”
While it was hard to leave the security of her job and start school again, Nhleko made the leap.
“My friends who graduated from high school with me in 2003 have been working for a long time, and I'm still in school,” she laughs. “At the end of the day, I am so exhausted, but I like what I'm doing.”
Nhlenko’s interest in rhinos began with a simple question: What do the parks really need to know?
"I asked a regional ecologist, ‘What are the questions that you really need answers to, but don't have the manpower?’ One of them was the reproductive success of black rhinos. Are they reproducing or not? What is happening with the population?”
What’s it like to work with rhinos?
“I got chased by a black rhino my first week in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. You have to climb up in a tree to observe them, and sometimes at the end of the day, you can't leave because they're still under the tree. At Kruger, I work with white rhinos, which are tame compared to black rhinos. It’s shocking how light they are on their feet. You'll be standing there writing, and you'll look up and it will be closer, and you haven't heard anything. Living in a national park is awesome. No one day is the same. You might bump into an elephant while you're walking through the park. I say to myself, ‘We get paid to do this?’”
— Zoe Nhleko