Meet the field team and their supervisors
Dr Michelle Henley – Co-founder, Director & Principal Researcher
Michelle has been studying elephants for the more than 20 years and has a PhD from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg on the Sex- and Age-related Feeding Distinctions of the African Elephant. In 2003 Michelle co-founded the Transboundary Elephant Research Programme, together with Chair Marlene McCay, as the South African branch of Save the Elephants – which later became Elephants Alive. Since then she has been monitoring elephant movements and their social interactions within the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, straddling South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. She has published numerous articles in in peer-reviewed scientific journals, popular publications and has contributed towards various books. She has also written and illustrated children’s books on elephant conservation. Michelle is a registered Post-doctoral Fellow at the Applied Behavioural Ecology and Environmental Research Unit of the University of South Africa and a Trustee of the Elephant Specialist Advisory Group of South Africa. In 2009 she received her Post Graduate Certificate in Education (with distinction) in order to be better equipped to teach children about the environment. Michelle won The Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA)’s National Award for an Individual (2013), was finalist in the Tusk Conservation Leadership Awards (2016), runner up to the Mail and Guardian, Greening the Future Awards for both the Species and Biodiversity Stewardship categories (2016) and finalist in the Eco Angel Awards (2017). Michelle was elected as one of 10 of the most inspiring women in South Africa by Culture Trip (2017) and was invited by the IUCN to serve as a member on the African Elephant Specialist Group (2017).
Anka Bedetti – Tracking and ID Study Projects Manager
Originally from Belgium, Anka started calling South Africa home in 2010 after graduating with an MSc in Population Dynamics where she studied the home ranges of giant elephant shrew in Tanzania. Her career started off as a research intern for Endangered Wildlife Trust working on their wildlife and roadkill project, after which she accepted the position as an elephant research assistant in the Greater Mapungubwe area, allowing her passion for elephant conservation to grow for two years. Thereafter she gained experience as an assistant manager on a game reserve in the Lowveld, finally joining Elephants Alive in 2016 as the Tracking and ID study Projects Manager.
Robin Cook – Big Tree Projects Manager
Although Robin grew up in Johannesburg, his passion for conservation grew stronger with every family visit to the Kruger National Park. With an honours degree in Ecology, he began working with Elephants Alive since 2014 when he started his post-graduate studies at the University of Witwatersrand. Before his return to Elephants Alive as a Researcher, and after recently publishing his MSc, Robin spent three months in Sri Lanka as a project coordinator for the Asian Elephants and Bee Project, allowing his interest in the use of mitigation methods to solve human-elephant conflict to grow.
Ronny Makukule – Researcher, Bee Project- and Community Liaison Officer
Ronny has been involved with Elephants Alive since he was a young boy, and his ability to identify known individuals has continued to be an asset to the team. After matriculating in 2012, he studied Environmental Education at Southern African Wildlife College, and then joined the Timbavati Foundation as an Environmental Monitor working with local community schools. After 2 years, Ronny returned to his roots, joining Elephants Alive in 2016 as a Research Assistant. Ronny has also become our leading beekeeper, gaining experience and knowledge in bee husbandry. We eagerly await the honey that will be harvested due to his hard work and dedication.
Before joining Elephants Alive, Julie spent 7 years conducting research on dwarf mongooses in South Africa, having established the Dwarf Mongoose Research Project in 2011. She completed her MSc and PhD on the species through the University of Bristol, UK, where her work investigated receiver responses to anti-predator vocalisations. She returned as a postdoctoral researcher, using biological market- and social network- theory to investigate social relationships. Julie has since swapped Africa’s smallest carnivore for its largest land mammal, joining Elephants Alive in 2018 as the ID Study Project Manager.
Meet the Trustees of Elephants Alive
Marlene McCay – Co-founder and Chair
Wildlife Conservation has been central to Marlene’s life from her childhood. In 1956, her father, founded the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve on the border of the Kruger National Park. Marlene herself served on the Executive Committee of this reserve for thirteen years. In 1977 she opened Tanda Tula Safari Camp, which become one of the leading tented safari camps in Africa. In 1979 Marlene began working with IUCN on their Conservation Education programme in Southern Africa. In 1988 she became the owner of Constantia Uitsig Wine Farm and developed the property which was to become an iconic wine estate. In 1994 Marlene and her husband bought farms outside Graaff Reinet in the Great Karoo, removing all the fences and domestic livestock on the seriously denuded veld – and replacing it with wild animals. In 2001 Marlene became a Trustee of Save the Elephants, and she continues to be an active Trustee. After selling Tanda Tula and Constantia Uitsig, Marlene has dedicated her life to conservation. In 2003, Marlene and Michelle Henley founded the Save the Elephants Transboundary Elephant Research Programme, operating in the Association of Private Nature Reserves adjacent to the Kruger National Park. In 2006 Save the Elephants-SA became a registered South African NGO – now called Elephants Alive.
Barry Paul – data specialist and information security
Barry was the former division manager of Atlas and vice president of the South African Bureau of Standards, with many years of experience in intellectual property and patents. He has a master of Business Leadership Post Graduate Degree from UNISA, and attended the University of Berkeley’s ‘Advanced Management Course’ in California. Barry brings with him a vast amount of experience in Information Technology, database and business management. He regularly visits the Kruger National Park with his wife, children and grandchildren and works tirelessly to help the elephants where ever he can.
Sarah Smuts – treasurer and branding
Sarah completed her B.Comm degree at UCT and then worked in the graphic design industry for many years. Here she gained experience in running a small business including all aspects of finance, marketing and branding. Sarah is passionate about the environment and conservation and was thrilled to become a member of Save The Elephants – South Africa in 2009 where she worked on many varied projects, including marketing, administration and brand management.