#WomensMonth: Meet the woman taking care of Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve

2018-08-17 12:30 - Gabi Zietsman
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Woman holding a baby duckling

Taking care of South Africa's unique natural landscapes and special wildlife is quite a daunting task, and CapeNature's 70 000-hectare reserve in the Hottentots Holland mountains is no exception. It stretches from Elgin to Villiersdorp, from Stellenbosch Mountains to the Groenland Mountains - and all of this is managed by one cool lady.

Before working as conservation manager at the CapeNature reserve, Monique Ruthenberg worked for SANParks for 19 years, starting out as a student in Kruger National Park. "It was the days before smart phones and digital cameras and memories were either preserved on photos taken from a 'mik-en-druk' camera or simply committed to memory," says Monique on the CapeNature blog.

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She moved to Cape Town and worked at what was then known as the Cape Peninsula National Park, and eventually worked as a section ranger at Table Mountain National Park's Simon's Town section among the penguins of Boulders Beach.

But what does a typical day for a conservation manager look like? For Ruthenberg, it's completely unpredictable, which she loves. When you're dealing with Mother Nature on a daily basis, you'll never be bored at the office.

"I might plan my day thinking I have to attend two meetings, respond to the 100+ emails in my inbox and work on a management plan that is due, only to receive a call at 05:00 about a fire that has started in the reserve. This call could easily mean three days out of the office.

"At the end of the day, the best we as managers can do is plan for the unexpected, make the best of each day and take the bull by the horns."

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She's been involved in various animal rescue operations - even had some scary run-ins with a few wild animals, including some abalone poachers. She's been on the front lines during fire outbreaks, which is common in Hottentots Holland, and dangling off cliffs trying to do an alien clearing inspection.

Ruthenberg has also rubbed shoulders with some pretty famous people, like Michelle Obama and Forest Whitaker, but she always remembers the people she's worked with with strong ethics and values that inspire her.

And how can you become just like her?

"Do everything with integrity and stay true to your values. When you see a challenge as an opportunity you will be amazed at what an interesting turn your life can take and how you can positively impact others. Lastly, make sure that you do what you love and love what you do. When you no longer love what you do, it’s time to make a change!"

SEE: Rise of the Matriarch: All-women expedition across southern Africa tackles poaching head on