CapeNature WIL Internships – Take a Walk on the Wild Side

by CapeNature

How well do you remember your first job? Well, Aneesa Du Plessis won’t forget hers in a hurry!

She was accepted by CapeNature into the Workplace Integrated Learning (WIL) internship programme for 2016 and she spent that entire year at the De Hoop Nature Reserve helping out with a range of tasks including resource management, general administration and maintenance, conservation compliance and conservation communication.

Here’s a pic of Aneesa at the ‘office’:

We caught up with Aneesa (that’s her wearing the sunglasses and hat below) recently and asked her to tell us more about her experience of the WIL programme.

(Q) What is the WIL programme?

(A) The primary objective of the programme is to expose the student to the field of nature conservation and to provide the chance of gaining valuable experience in this field. Students are able to experience the nature conservation industry at first hand.

The basic principle of WIL is that personal growth and professional development are best achieved by an educational method that combines classroom learning with practical experience.

(Q) What were your expectations coming into the WIL programme?

(A) I expected to grow as an individual in terms of my career and personal life. This definitely happened. There was a slight concern as to whether I would be given the respect of being knowledgeable in conservation (because I was just a student at the time) and lacked practical experience. This was completely the opposite. I was able to add value to meetings and overall work matters.

Generally, I learnt and got to experience way more than I ever thought possible. The reason for this is that when you’re still a student you don’t get that exposure to be able to know all the different pathways you can branch off into with conservation.

As it was my first time moving away from home and living alone, I initially thought it might be a bit difficult to adjust. This changed the moment I got to De Hoop Nature Reserve.

(Q) Why was that?

(A) I remember my first morning at the reserve. I was drinking coffee in my garden, enjoying the view when my manager drove past. He took that as a good sign that I would be okay when it came to enjoying the year and being alone.

I got to develop and gain many skills, both soft and hard. I found a passion when doing this. Not only did it improve my public speaking ability, it gave me more confidence. The mentorship I received from CapeNature was incredible. The support from my manager, supervisor and other CapeNature colleagues made it possible for my WIL year to be a success.

(Q) You mentioned before about the practical experience that you picked up.  Can you give an example please?

(A) There were many skills learnt that can be seen as small to some, but when you really think about it, it is important in the bigger picture. For example, learning how to distinguish between male and female Bontebok – people take it for granted that you can always see the genitals. This is not true. Sometimes the animals are far away. Sometimes they are in an awkward position. Sometimes they are in large groups. How do you tell what the sex is then? We were taught how to distinguish that. This is the difference between theoretical and practical experience.

(Q) Having completed the WIL programme, what would you say were the biggest benefits of the internship?

(A) Networking was a huge benefit for me. I now know many professionals within the conservation sector as a result of my experiences in my WIL year. It also means that many of them now know who I am, which is quite important in a field if you want to make a name for yourself.

But the biggest benefit is definitely gaining practical experience. I had many opportunities to sit in on meetings and be trained at the same time. I was exposed to other career paths in conservation that I hadn’t thought of before. I got to physically see and deal with problems as opposed to just reading about it or seeing it on the news. I really had the opportunity to develop myself as an individual. I’m completely different now than when I was in WIL, in terms of experience, knowledge, and the confidence that comes with that.

(Q) With the benefit of that experience, what advice do you have for other students who may be considering a career in conservation?

(A) Conservation is as much to do with people as it is with fauna and flora. Therefore, it is crucial that conservationists develop their communication skills in order to better communicate with local communities. After all, a great deal of conservation is about getting the message across to the general public how, in most cases, have little to no environmental background or knowledge.

It’s very important to get hands-on experience in conservation. Even if you end up in the planning or logistical operation, you should ideally have practical knowledge and experience because it’s very different than just saying the guys on the ground must do xyz – no! There are things you learn from being hands on that you won’t learn in the classroom.

Things don’t fall into your lap – you have to work hard to achieve what you want. Be proactive. Internships like WIL are invaluable in grooming individuals for the real world. Students need to remember that there’s more than just the theoretical knowledge that they’ve been taught in university or college. Having practical experience gives you the upper hand when you’re a new graduate looking for a job. If you have an opportunity to apply for a WIL internship be sure to go for it!

CapeNature offers a 12-month residential WIL internship in the conservation sector to a limited number of students who have successfully completed the theoretical portion of the National Qualification in Nature Conservation. The successful interns are mentored by experienced, competent and professional CapeNature staff for the duration of the internship.

Training commences at selected CapeNature reserves in January each year.


  • South African citizen.
  • Eagerness to be trained in the conservation sector.
  • Successful completion of the whole theoretical part of the National Qualification in Nature Conservation.
  • Comfortable with outdoor and physically demanding activities.


  • To learn and develop in accordance with the planned outcomes of the WIL internship programme.
  • To perform service activities while in training.
  • Trainees must subscribe to the on-site rules and procedures as well as the CapeNature code of conduct.

The primary objective of the programme is to expose the student to the field of nature conservation and to provide the chance of gaining valuable experience in this field. Students are able to experience the nature conservation industry first hand and have the opportunity to apply their theoretical knowledge in practice.


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