The National Geographic Society has announced that University of Arizona graduate student Thandiwe Mweetwa is part of its 2016 class of Emerging Explorers, a group of 13 individuals from around the globe whose unconventional thinking and innovations are changing the world for the better.
Mweetwa, currently pursuing a master's degree in natural resources conservation at the UA, has spent time in Zambia to study lion populations there. She was 12 when she moved from a small town in southern Zambia to a rural area up north. Her parents had died within two years of each other, and she went to live with her uncle in her mother’s home village of Mfuwe. She found herself in a small, red-brick house with no running water or electricity, surrounded in nearby buildings by extended family.
The move introduced her to wildlife she had heard about in stories from her mother: baboons, vervet monkeys, buffalo and elephants. A painful transition gave way to a new passion and career, and now she is doing crucial research to help save lions in Zambia's Luangwa River Valley.
The river valley is "an amazing place," Mweetwa says. "There are still great densities of game. For example, it holds Zambia’s biggest lion population, its largest leopard population, its second-largest dog population. So ecologically it’s a key area ... important in the country, but also in the region. Most of it has huge areas of land that can be used for conservation, but it’s also facing most of the environmental problems that you see in many parts — issues to do with human encroachment."
The Emerging Explorers Program recognizes and supports uniquely gifted and inspiring scientists, conservationists and innovators who are at the forefront of discovery, adventure and global problem-solving while still early in their careers. Each Emerging Explorer receives a $10,000 award to aid further research and exploration.