Volenti van der Westhuizen: Career path opportunity – from Field Ranger towards Managing a Nursery

March 12, 2021

Volenti van der Westhuizen is a local Richtersvelder from Eksteenfontein. She is a field ranger at the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, currently working in the nursery. Previously she was involved in establishing the Richtersveld World Heritage Site, which is adjacent to the Richtersveld National Park. She began working in the park in 2013 as a biodiversity social projects administrator.

Volenti was appointed as a South African National Parks (SANParks) field ranger in 2015 in the Kleinduin Section for the GEF-5 PA Project. The project provided Volenti with training on the job and in the field and a unique opportunity to be part in the formation of the botanical garden.


Volenti van der Westhuizen overlooking the vast landscape of the Richtersveld National Park. (Image: Gavin Links)

For Volenti, being part of SANParks means to be in charge of her own development. She sees herself as a custodian of natural resources, which involves learning about biodiversity and the conservation of our natural heritage for future generations.

In this video Volenti van der Westhuizen reflects on her job as a SANParks field ranger. 

Volenti is currently based at the Richtersveld National Park nursery and shadows the nursery’s curator, Pieter van Wyk as he develops the Richtersveld Botanical Garden. The job shadowing is part of an in-house training for Volenti to potentially follow a career path in becoming the curator of a nursery or botanical garden. So far it has been a great learning experience for her.


The Richtersveld National Park nursery. (Image: Oscar Osberg)

As part of the team involved in establishing the botanical garden in Sendelingsdrif, she has received training in nursery and basic horticulture management with an emphasis on propagation, pest control and landscaping. She has also been trained in law enforcement, permit control and monitoring of red data species, as part of SANBI’s Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) Programme. 

Volenti said that women are mainly focussed on order in the workplace, have a natural aptitude for administration, and have a soft touch for many things. However, nowadays women are required to use tools, drive heavy vehicles and are no longer scared of challenges. Field ranger training includes the use of fire arms necessary for anti-poaching and for working in big five reserves. Volenti was part of a group trained at the South African Wildlife College.


Volenti van der Westhuizen (front) taking part in the anti-poaching training. (Image: Gavin Links

The overall training included day-to-day practical training as well as a biannual exam. The training is scored by monitoring the work and the learning process. Overall Volenti passed the biannual exams with an average of 88% and received an award as the ‘overall best performer in the work place’.

The importance of this training is to have someone like Volenti prepared to manage a nursery and botanical garden and know how to propagate plants. This not only provides opportunities for permanent work within the newly established botanical demonstration garden but also other organisations like the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), where she could potentially work for the National Botanical Gardens or private organisations with a nursery. 

She enjoys the practical work and explains that the nursery has taught her more about conservation than conservation departments, or when she was working as a field ranger. ”One of the highlights for me is seeing the plants grow, especially if some of the plants have been suffering, and then after nurturing them, seeing them come to life again,” she said.


Volenti van der Westhuizen exploring looking at a succulent names
Othonna sedifolia, also commonly known as ‘ossieharpuis’. (Image: Gavin Links)

The curator’s work is not only about plants but also about managing people. Volenti had the opportunity to manage teams during her work at the nursery. This has not always been an easy task. She finds it much easier to work with a smaller team. One of her biggest struggles is, when people are given tasks and do not complete them and others have to do their work. 

Notwithstanding these challenges, Volenti is interested in furthering her career in horticulture or conservation. Pursuing a diploma in horticulture or nature conservation, learning more about the various environmental laws, to know how and when to apply law enforcement as well as practical training at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden are all possible building blocks that will take her there.


The world becomes an oyster for Volenti van der Westhuizen.
(Image: Gavin Links)

Her only worry is, that the current work is temporary. If an opportunity for a permanent employment arises before a post becomes available at the Richtersveld National Park’s nursery or botanical garden, she will have to make a choice for financial reasons. “I am not that young anymore and need to think about my future and stability,” she said. 

In this video Volenti van der Westhuizen shares the importance of protecting culture and biodiversity.