Former LWT Researcher Olivia Sievert Shares her Conservation Career Story

Photo: Frank Weitzer / African Parks

Tell us about your current role

I work with African Parks and the Endangered Wildlife Trust as a Cheetah Monitor. This is part of the large carnivore restoration work that is being undertaken by African Parks in Liwonde National Park in Malawi, in which cheetahs, lions and leopards are being reintroduced into the park. 

Cheetahs were wiped out in Malawi over 20 years ago. With only 7,000 individuals left in the wild globally, their reintroduction – and my role in making sure it happens – is extremely important. In my role as Cheetah Monitor, I ensure each individual is settling into their environment well, developing home ranges, hunting successfully and breeding. The information I gather in the field is then used to assist Park Management in decision-making for Malawi’s only cheetah population. 

How did you end up here?

I always wanted to work with large carnivores, and it was my work with primates at Lilongwe Wildlife Trust (LWT) and the experience I gained there that eventually led to my current position. I first began at LWT in 2014 as a Primate Rehabilitation Assistant, in which I assisted with the running of orphan care, stabilisation of new intakes and integrations. Once orphan season was over, I was able to use my research experience gained in my undergraduate degree (in Marine Biology) to attain the job of Research Assistant with LWT’s ‘One Health’ programme. I then joined Dr. Salb’s Wildlife Emergency Response Unit as the Programmes Assistant.  

What are the best parts of your job?

I am extremely fortunate to be able to follow such rare and beautiful animals around each day and to be able to assist in their conservation. The two best bits so far have been being able to watch the first two litters of cheetah cubs grow into successful adults and being able to see the changes in the park ecosystem as large predators are returned. A

And the most challenging?

I’ve been lucky not to have had too many down days at my job in the two years I’ve been here. However, the rainy season is always hard, especially when you spend hours stuck in the mud without successfully finding any cheetahs. 

What advice would you give to other would-be wildlife researchers?

My main advice to those seeking a career in wildlife biology is to remember that while a degree is valuable, experience is also incredibly important. If it wasn’t for the experience I gained while in my undergraduate degree working with wildlife, I would have never had the opportunity to work for LWT, which then opened the door to where I am today.

Also, be open to different jobs and studying different species. While I always wanted to work with large carnivores, it was my work with primates at LWT and the experience I gained there that eventually led to the position I have now.

Finally, be aware that working with wildlife usually means long days, unusual hours, hard labour and little praise. That being said, being able to contribute to the conservation of threatened species makes it all worth it!

Where do you hope to be in five years?

In five years, I hope that I am still contributing to conservation, whether it’s through gathering information to better inform the management of a population or species, or by using research to inform the development of policies. As long as I am still contributing to conservation in a meaningful way, I will be happy.