Meet Our Team
Dr. Debbie Young - Director of AERU
Debbie graduated from Rhodes University, Grahamstown in 1998, with a Ph.D in Zoology, after which she specialized for many years in the marine mammal field, working with both captive and free-ranging whales, dolphins and seals. Her field of interest not only included diet, feeding and distribution of free-ranging dolphins but she specialized in the study of stress-related physiological changes related to welfare in captive environments and the influence of whale watching activities on wild dolphins and whales.
She has been with AERU since its inception in 2009 and has been instrumental in both founding and growing the organization into the productive and expanding research unit that AERU is today.
Clare Padfield - Research Officer
Clare is a graduate from the University of Exeter in the UK. She was introduced to AERU and our elephants when she completed her Masters behavioural study here at the Park in 2013. Drawn to all things ‘African’ and ‘elephant’ she was compelled to come back and join the team the following year.
She assists Dr. Debbie with all research activities – overseeing data collection, protocols, reports and research summaries. She also acts as co-supervisor to all AERU research students.
Christina Tholander - Assistant Volunteer Coordinator & Lab Supervisor
Christina first joined AERU as a volunteer for 3 months in April 2016. She brought with her huge suitcase of laboratory equipment and a keen passion for elephants! It soon transpired that Christina with her biochemistry degree and the AERU onsite lab were a perfect match and after a few weeks, our Danish dung scientist was starting the compilation of the still ever-growing “Dung Library”.
Christina returned again in September for another 3 months and then again in December 2016, officially becoming a permanent part of the AERU team. In amongst all her lab and dung duties, she helps with the welcoming and settling in of new volunteers, and organizes and oversees the volunteers’ activities on a daily basis.
Nikki Peresino - Assistant Volunteer Coordinator
Nikki Peresino our assistant volunteer coordinator was born in Namibia and moved to Knysna 12 years ago from Gauteng. She worked as a veterinary assistant / anaesthetist for small animals for 22 years, before starting with AERU in September 2016.
She assists with all aspects of the volunteer programme on a daily basis – training, behavioural data collection and house-keeping in the volunteer accommodation. She loves animals and spending time with our 3 cats, who share the bunkhouse with the volunteers.
Nicki Milachowski - Volunteer Administrator and Assistant Researcher
Nicki has always had a love for nature, animals and in particular, animal behaviour. After graduating with a BSc degree in Zoology in 2015 from The University of Pretoria, she joined the AERU team in February 2016 as an intern. She worked as an intern for nearly a year until she was offered a permanent position in the end of 2016.
Nicki’s role in the team focuses on volunteer bookings and enquires, assisting with induction and training of new volunteers; as well as assisting the research officer with data collection, processing and analysis. She is also our enthusiastic leader of the Elephant Enrichment Programme!
Laurie joined us a volunteer in 2010. After an initial eight week placement, she stayed on as volunteer co-ordinator for several months. Following a short visit to her home in Canada, she returned in 2011 as a full-time staff member of AERU – co-ordinating the volunteer programme and acting as marketing and fundraising officer.
Unfortunately Laurie had to return home again in July 2013 but she remains a member of the AERU family, managing our ‘Everything Elephant Shop’ and other fund-raising initiatives.