My first week in Cape Town was a blissful blur and my internship orientation was my second day after my arrival. The first night was a “First Thursday” where art galleries open at night and display local artist new projects with free wine tasting. I walked around the city with my roommates in awe of how many people were out to go to art shows supporting people in their community as we listened to live music at each gallery.
I awoke very early on that Friday morning from nerves. This would be my first time meeting my supervisor, Markus, in person and all I could think about was this first impression I would be making. I put on the outfit I had planned on my flight from Turkey and hopped into my Uuber.
When I walked into the office it was everything I could have expected from a wildlife NGO: Markus sitting on a big yellow yoga ball, a wall filled with different legal books and international agreements, clippings from anti-poaching success, and (my favorite addition) a bag of shark fins. Since TRAFFIC requires a lot of traveling for its employees and work in general, Markus was the only one in the office that day. We spent the first hour talking about my travels and getting to know each other a little bit more until he took me into the conference room where he had a presentation for me already set up. The presentation was a quick rundown on the NGO and began educating me on our recent efforts. Quickly, however, the presentation turned into an open discussion on all that I already know on illegal wildlife trade and my vast knowledge of various international agreements (shout out to Dr. Stacy Coyle). We were both getting really excited about these ten weeks of my internship that we did not realize that three hours had already passed.
Markus took us out to lunch where we talked American versus South African politics and climate change in reference to illegal wildlife trade. Recent fires caused by droughts in Kruger National Park (home to the largest population of white rhinos) have forced rhinos from their protected reserve and right into the hands of poachers. Despite aggressive efforts to salvage the species population, climate change has subsequently made all efforts meaningless. TRAFFIC’s massive multi-office project is on rhino horn trade and it was a riveting conversation that left me obsessed with my new internship.
The first week was a bit rocky. Markus was very encouraging and gave constant words of encouragement but I was frustrated with myself in terms of my project. I was using Excel for United Nations Customs trade data analysis, something I had never done before. I stayed up until 3 am Monday and Tuesday night teaching myself the more advanced functions of Excel and actually started to really enjoy myself whilst doing data analytics.
The following week Markus presented my data at TRAFFIC’s annual international conference in Cambridge, UK and texted me, “Hope you’ve had a good day! Just been talking about abalone – your trade analysis and sale of confiscated abalone research strongly supported by my colleagues.” I was very proud of myself, to say the least. To actually be apart of an organization that’s so aligned with my passions is a dream come true and I was thrilled to be recognized by my boss and the rest of my NGO.