The conservation of cheetahs at Inverdoorn is giving Mélissa Boursier plenty of material for her doctoral thesis in veterinary sciences. She is in the fourth year of her studies at Nantes, ONIRIS in France which she says "is the best year so far, because now I know I will be a vet." This is a dream she has held dear for a long time, "I wanted to be a vet since a young age. I am happy to be able to do the job I've always wanted to do."
Her thesis will focus on cheetah reproduction and breeding in captivity. Her mentor back in France specialises in animal reproduction and together with his help, as well as her work with Leah Brousse at Inverdoorn, she is acquiring valuable insight and practical experience for her thesis. Cheetah breeding is challenging in captivity and Melissa asserts that we "must find a way to adapt them to captivity so we can improve the situation." She has chosen this topic, because "I have always loved big cats and cheetahs are endangered and reproduction is difficult...it would be sad to lose a species such as this. It's good to have tame cheetahs, to follow them and take notes." Tending to Velvet and Iziba gives her the opportunity to do just that, all the while falling in love with them. "They are very friendly and you make a bond with them."
A quiet joy resonates from her as shares her pictures of Inverdoorn, as well as photos of her dog, cat and horse back in France. She is clearly someone who cares deeply about animals, even Inverdoorn's temperamental macaw. "I like Coco," she says, casting a quick look at the brightly-hued bird, "but he doesn't like me." However, Coco chooses this moment to prove her wrong and clambers upon her arm where he perches peacefully while surveying the rest of the room with a suspicious eye.
This is definitely a young woman who takes no nonsense, evident in her practical nature – when she arrives her first words home are exactly what parents want to here: "I am here. I am safe." It is clear that she seeks every opportunity to learn and grow in her field. "During my studies I went to a conference on endangered species and some vets think the cheetah is doomed and taking up space for other animals and those saving them must stop protecting them. I want to see if this is true, if it is too late and if we can do something." Her passion for animals is evident and she is also bent on bringing attention to corruption within wildlife conservation. She tells me about organisations granting subsidies to promote the black rhino, "but this was in an area with no black rhino anywhere. The organisations went into the area and proved there were no black rhino; but the local people don't want to lose the money so they fake the evidence of rhinos in the area." Melissa understands that conserving wildlife is about more than just loving animals, expressed in her astute knowledge and observations. Her keen wit makes her fascinating to talk to, while her gentle soul, evidenced in her love for animals, will impress even the hardest of hearts.