Masters Students (Dissertation)

Rona van der Merwe



South African born and raised, Rona completed her undergraduate degree, BSc Conservation Ecology, at Stellenbosch University in 2014. She spent the next two years travelling four continents and learning in the field to gain perspective on the role of research and practical conservation. In 2016 she decided that it was time to pursue a masters degree to increase her own skills and hopefully contribute to meaningful research.

Having spent a large part of her childhood in the Northern Cape, Rona has a deep love for arid environments. The Karoo was an obvious choice for her to continue research (she completed her honours thesis on the Critically Endangered Riverine Rabbit, endemic to the Karoo, in collaboration with the Endangered Wildlife Trust). Her desire to study something out of her depth, e.g. avian ecology, and her obsession with highly intelligent animals, led her to Pied Crows, an abundant Karoo scavenger, and, ultimately, the Fitz. For her research she will be looking at the ecology of breeding and non-breeding Pied Crows in a semi-arid, Karoo landscape. She hopes that a better understanding of crow ecology in the Karoo will aid our understanding of the environmental impacts of increased Pied Crow abundances on native fauna, endemic tortoises in particular.

Rona acknowledges the destructive and detrimental anthropogenic impacts, caused by unsustainable practices and disconnected mind-sets, on ecosystems. She wishes to pursue research that betters our understanding of these impacts. Birds of the opportunistic corvid family are known to be highly responsive to anthropogenic impacts with increasing abundances around human settlements and Rona believes that an increase in crows are therefore only a reflection of our own lives.

Fingers crossed that she’ll be able to trap these highly intelligent birds!


Ryan, P.G., Shaw, J.M., van der Merwe, R., van der Merwe, E. 2012.  Carrion Attraction: Goshawks and other birds captured on camera traps. Ornithological Observations, Vol. 3: 102-106

Shaw, J.M., van der Merwe, R., van der Merwe, E. and Ryan, P.G. 2015. Winter scavenging rates under power lines in the Karoo, South Africa. African Journal of Wildlife Research 45:122-126. IF 1.246