My name is Anri Theunis, née Marais. I’m 29 years old and was born in Malmesbury, Western Cape. I grew up in a small community, Riverlands, about 60km North of Cape Town. Surrounded by nature, I have always loved the long walks and picnics my grandmother and I used to indulge in when I was much younger. It was only until I started my career at SANBI (South African National Biodiversity Institute), Kirstenbosch that I realised how much of a biodiversity hotspot my town really is. Boasting with Fynbos and many endangered species (both fauna and flora). Things that I never noticed as I grew up, yet always looked at and adored.

My love for nature and animals inspired me to pursue the career that I am currently in. I started my journey at SANBI in 2013 as a Groen Sebenza intern with the CREW Programme. The internship lasted for 2½ years. This is where I really built up my skills set and experience working with the CREW programme which monitors threatened and endangered plant species nationally. During this internship I started to understand the importance of conservation and environmental education and understanding how important data collection is. As my internship came to an end, there were funds available for another year for a Project Assistant with CREW. I applied and was successful. Throughout my career with CREW, I became more and more interested in plants, science, and taxonomy. Even the Latin names intrigued me, and I really started to enjoy plant taxonomy and identification of plant species. I spent a lot of time in the Compton Herbarium, looking at collections of specimens which CREW was due to monitor. After more than 3 years of working with CREW, my journey continued elsewhere…

Fieldwork days

In 2018, I started a new (Permanent) journey at Compton Herbarium. This is where I am currently at. My work focuses on curation and plant specimens administration. Ensuring that all incoming and collected specimens are processed and in good condition, properly pressed, dried, and mounted before they are sent to the scientists for taxonomic review, curation, or identification. I also manage volunteers who assist us with mounting. Aside from that, I do Georeferencing of historical records using QGIS (Quantum Geographic Information System), which allow me to analyse spatial data and verify the correct localities based on locality points provided by a collector. I also do digitizing (imaging of specimens using a UV Lightbox) as we are building up a virtual database (virtual herbarium). Data capturing forms part of my daily work as well using the BODATSA Database. Other tasks include physical curation of specimens, coordinating a donor collection sent to Compton Herbarium, and “housekeeping” such as maintaining and managing the storeroom, preparation room, freezers for decontamination, dryer, stock control, etc.

Pressing specimens at 12am.

While all of this seems all fun and interesting, getting here was not as easy (literally). Getting to work was a struggle for many years. For the first few years I managed to find accommodation around Cape Town, moving from one place to another. Living out of my suitcases basically. It was tough, moving away from home, living in unfamiliar areas. When that did not work out, I was forced to move back home and use 3 means of transport to get to work daily. I would wake up at 4AM every morning to catch the earliest bus to Town. Then 2 other buses/taxis to get to work. I would get back home when it’s dark at night. These were crazy times. Through rain and storms, I walked the roads. But all this led me to being able to purchase my first car. And ever since then, getting to work has been much easier. If there’s one thing I can encourage my peers to do, is to just do it! No matter how, what or when, everything that is meant to be, will work out just fine. Another thing, nothing comes easy. So, wipe the sweat and tears and push through, even if it seems impossible. Stay focused.

You too can share your #TheScienceStruggleIsReal story

Email Fulu at f.gelebe@sanbi.org.za or WhatsApp at 0728822332.