Getting to know Nikisha

Nikisha holds an MSc. in Biological Sciences from the University of KwaZulu-Natal which primarily focused on the aspects of the biology and ecology of the southern tree agama (Acanthocercus atricollis) in an urban context. Her research interests lie in herpetology, conservation, and freshwater systems. As such, She is currently pursuing a PhD which will aim to bridge knowledge gaps that exist in relation to amphibian diversity and conservation in the Kruger National Park. Nikisha finds It is a privilege to work in the Kruger, exploring and learning about the vast biodiversity, landscapes, and river systems, particularly during research and collection trips. 

Nikisha is currently employed by SANParks, Kruger National Park as the curator of the invaluable Skukuza Biological Reference Collection, which comprises ~25 000 floral and faunal specimens. Her role seeks to ensure not only the longevity and legacy of the reference collection but to also promote global access to this unique biodiversity information. One of the aspects she enjoys most about this role is having the platform to impart biodiversity and conservation knowledge through educational facilitation and mentorship of students. 

Her duties as a curator in the Kruger National Park vary in relation to what projects and aspects need to be prioritised at a particular time. Some of her duties include collection care and curation, overseeing digitisation projects, educational facilitation and mentorship, biodiversity data management, research support, coordination of collection field trips and establishing frameworks for standard operating procedures, among others. 

In her career, Nikisha has learned that innovative solutions and out of the box thinking is required to solve issues in a collections-based environment. According to her, lack of funding can pose a major limitation in terms of caring for or even expanding the collection and it is therefore integral to form strong collaborations to get further support and advice on such matters. 

Importance of collections: In Nikisha’s view, natural history collections are a representative snapshot of past and present biodiversity. They have been proven to have the potential to predict the future of fauna and flora by providing a historic backbone to work with. Additionally, a natural history collection based particularly in a protected area such as the Kruger National Park, acts as an inventory of what occurs in the park. Nikisha poses the question: How can we conserve a species, if we do not know of its existence or where it has occurred historically? 

Nikisha as a young leader: 

“Since being in my current role, I have had to take the lead on specific projects and “come out of my shell” when mentoring students or facilitating groups.” 

This has taught her that she does possess the capability to not only be a good leader in a collections-based environment but to offer the necessary support and guidance that is tailored to specific individuals.

Nikisha believes that it is quite integral for young leaders, especially in collections and biodiversity sectors, to be given the opportunity to gain experience and grow their expertise and experience with guidance from experts that are already familiar with the industry. It can be quite intimidating to be in such a role, especially when one is still finding their feet – this is where support from an organisation such as the Natural Science Collection Facility (NSCF) comes majorly into play. 

“Personally, networking with and through the NSCF has equipped me with further skills and confidence to better support my role.”

When it comes to stepping into her young leader role, Nikisha believes that having a good working relationship with one’s supervisor through effective communication and having a plan in place that prioritises specific needs and projects is key.

“If you already have set goals, it is easier to ask for advice and gain support especially when in a young leadership role. It is also integral to take into account advice and recommendations that are given by one’s supervisor.” 

Expectations from the workshop: According to Nikisha, managing such a unique collection requires substantial knowledge especially in terms of collection care and expanding the collection in such a way that it will be beneficial to a larger audience.

“I am positive that the knowledge gained during the workshop will assist in taking the reference collection to the next level in terms of the current and required national standards and enabling further access. I also hope to gain a better approach in relation to time management and prioritising specific needs of the collection.”

She is excited about networking with like-minded and enthusiastic individuals that have chosen to work in a collections-based environment; learning something new through their experiences and sharing the knowledge she has gained while being in this role. 

Anticipated challenges: In Nikisha’s view, there are various aspects that one is required to address when managing and caring for a natural history collection. She thorefore believes that this workshop will better enable her to prioritise specific needs by making more efficient use of available resources, time, and staff assistance.

Preparation for the workshop: 

“The NSCF has provided material which I am going through thoroughly to have a deeper understanding of what the workshop might entail and how to best make use of the experience. I will also be looking through similar supplemental material.”

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