Meet Our Team
Maud Bonato - Head of AERU
Maud was born in France and came to South Africa on holidays whilst still studying animal ecology as an undergraduate student back home. She quickly realised that once Africa’s bushveld is in your blood you do not easily get rid of it! She thus decided to pursue postgraduate studies at the University of Pretoria and Stellenbosch University, where she obtained a MSc and a PhD in 2002 and 2009, both in the field of behavioural ecology of lions and then ostriches. While working with farmed ostriches for almost 15 years, she developed a deep interest in using behavioural and physiological measures to not only understand how animal cope and/or adapt to changes in their environment but also on finding ways to improve living conditions of captive animals so as to promote positive emotions and animal welfare.
She joined AERU in June 2020 with the hope to lead the research team and volunteers to new inspirations, empowerment and success!
Christina Tholander - Volunteer Coordinator and Lab Technician
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.
Primrose Manning - Research Officer
Working from England, to join the team post Covid 19
Primrose is our Research Officer and originally from England. She has always loved animals, and fell in love with elephants whilst volunteering at a sanctuary in Thailand in 2012. As part of her MSc in Animal Behaviour at the University of Exeter, she carried out her research project at AERU in 2015, where she looked at the friendships between our unrelated herd. She has since gained experience with primates and marine life in South Africa and Madagascar, before joining the team in 2019. Primrose analyses the data we collect to look for meaningful findings, as well as preparing our research for publication and working in the field.