Shirley Sibiya brings enthusiasm, experience and a deep commitment to conservation to her new position.
From a very young age, Shirley says she had a rapport with animals. As a girl, her happiest times were spent caring for her family’s domestic animals—so much so that when she told her brother in Grade 12 that she was thinking of a career in travel and tourism, he told her to think again. “He said, ‘You love animals, you should be looking at conservation or agriculture,’” she recalls.
She realised he was right, and visited both departments at a subsequent Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) open day. It was a tough decision but in the end she decided that conservation was how she should spend her life. With that decision made, she settled down to get good matric marks. She managed to do so, and registered at TUT for a diploma in conservation. Her brother and sister sponsored her studies, two years of theory and one of practical.
With her National Diploma in Nature Conservation under her belt, Shirley interned at Limpopo Nature Conservation for 12 months before applying for a job at Loskop. She took up her new position there in May 2009, ending up a section head.
After two months at Verloren Valei she says she has begun to adapt to the colder climate and has already developed a love for the place—as her children have too.
“The grassland biome makes this a unique reserve,” she says. She adds that fire management is critical in managing and protecting Verloren Valei’s biodiversity—fire is an essential part of its ecology but the correct balance has to be struck.
“Everything here is new to me, but I am enjoying the opportunity to learn. My staff all know their jobs, and the reserve is just like a family,” she says. “I love the fact that I am on my own out here.”