There is no doubt that the iIlegal wildlife trade is one of the biggest threats being faced globally, with species such as elephant, rhino, lion and pangolin being targeted across the African region. Without trained men and women on the ground, who are able to manage their wildlife areas sustainably, whilst also protecting vulnerable species such as these, the situation would be even more dire.
This year, 40 graduates of the Southern African Wildlife College’s Natural Resource Management qualifications programme, will go back to their respective parks across Africa equipped to tackle these challenges head on.
Hailing from eight African countries, the graduates received their Higher and Advanced certificates in Natural Resource Management from Dr. Yolanda Pretorius and Dr. Moscow Marumo, at the Southern African Wildlife College (SAWC) campus in the Greater Kruger National Park. The College, founded in 1996, has been offering wildlife area management qualifications for 21 years. This year the countries represented by the graduates included Central African Republic, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The graduates will help protect the one million hectares of transfrontier conservation areas, whilst also engaging with communities to help find a balance between land for wildlife habitat and land to maintain livelihoods.
“Competing land uses and lack of integrated landscape planning have resulted in habitat degradation, loss of livelihoods and loss of biodiversity, which is further impacted by wildlife crime,” said Peace Park Foundation’s Dr. Moscow Marumo, the key note speaker at this year’s graduation ceremony. “It is important that these future conservation managers and leaders not only protect vulnerable and threatened species but enable communities to see the value of conserving our wildlife and natural areas, which in turn can unlock opportunities for socio-economic development.”
The occasion was marked by the presence of key donors, supporters and partners of the SAWC, including representatives of WWF South Africa, Peace Parks Foundation (PPF), Distell and the Southern African Wildlife College Trust.
“None of what we have achieved would be possible without our donors,” said College CEO Theresa Sowry, thanking them, and the many individual donors, for their ongoing commitment to the College and its growth over the past two decades. “Today I must especially thank the MAVA Foundation which, through PPF supports 35% of Higher and Advanced Certificate students’ course fees, KfW Stiftung, a long standing donor of this programme, the Swedish National Postcard Lottery, the Sun Institute, Pirtek as well as Friends of African Wildlife, our Zürich- based funding partner, which this year supported a record number of student bursaries across various programmes including this one,” she said.
The College’s growth and its contribution to developing critical management capacity for protected areas in SADC was a common theme for all the guest speakers.
“Your journey has just expanded,” continued Dr. Marumo, describing the next step for the graduates, who will now take their skills and training in conservation management to the national parks and reserves in their home countries. “What you have learned during your time at the College has prepared you to manage and defend Africa’s last resources. You have acquired the skills needed to empower yourselves to protect wildlife and engage the adjacent communities. Take pride in the training you have received and fly the flag high as you return home.”
Dr. Yolanda Pretorius, who manages the Higher Education and Training qualifications at the SAWC described the graduates as “mature, knowledgeable, and well prepared.” In referencing the College’s commitment to training beyond boundaries, Dr. Pretorius expressed her pride in the graduating class. “These students are part of a new era in conservation, and have acquired skills that will help raise the bar at an international level.”
“From now on, you are ambassadors of this College, and you will make the College proud, as you strive to be the best version of yourselves,” said SRC President, George Phiri from the Zambian Carnivore Programme as he spoke to his fellow students. He reminded the graduating class to “use these newly acquired skills wisely and to spread the word as to the importance of protecting our national parks and our natural resources.”
During the ceremony five students were awarded for their resilience and the hard work shown throughout the year.
The awards went to
- Distell Foundation Award for the Top Achieving Student: Higher Certificate in Nature Conservation and Leadership (cum laude): Obrain Kamwale, Zambia, Department Of National Parks and Wildlife Services
- Distell Foundation Award for the Top Achieving Student: Advanced Certificate in Transfrontier Conservation Management (cum laude): Steve Wemba, Malawi, African Parks
- SAWC award for the Best Financial Management Student: George Kamuzhu Phiri: Zambian Carnivore Programme
- Hans Hoheisen Award for the Best Protected Area Management Student : Obrain Kamwale: Zambia, Department of National Parks and Wildlife and Services
- SAWC Best Animal Studies Student : Sizwe Joshua Matsane, South Africa, Kruger National Park
- Rosie Sturgis Award for the Most Improved Student: Victoria Masiane Mabusane : Lesotho, Ministry of Environment and Culture
- WWF South Africa Award for the Most Outstanding South African Student: Sizwe Joshua Matsane: Kruger National Park
In addition, this year a new award was presented in memory of the late Ernest Mokganedi, a long-standing Director of the SAWC Board and Director of Transfrontier Conservation Areas at the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa. This award was presented by Aruna Seepersadh, Deputy Director at the Department to the student who excelled in the Transfrotier Conservation module, African Parks’ Steve Wemba from Malawi.
“South Africa lost a true conservationist with Mr. Mokganedi’s passing. He has however left us with a legacy and a firm foundation having led numerous multi-stakeholder forums and complex negotiations which have been instrumental in establishing and extending tranfrontier conservation areas, whilst also ensuring that the countries and communities linked through TFCA’s benefitted. This award will ensure that his name lives on,” said Seepersadh.
This award made the sought-after Southern African Wildlife Trust (SAWCT) scholarship awards even more poignant. This year they went to the three highest achievers in the Higher Certificate class namely:
- Obrain Kamwale, Zambia Department of National Parks and Wildlife Services
- Sizwe Joshua Matsane, South Africa, Kruger National Park
- Elelwani Mulaudzi, South Africa, Grounded Media
The scholarships will give these students the opportunity to continue with their studies and complete the Advanced Certificate programme in 2019.
At the ceremony, Lesley Richardson, Chairperson of SAWCT, presented Dr. Surandar Singh with a certificate to signify his contribution as a long-standing donor of SAWCT, and he concluded with a heartfelt message expressing that he was “proud to be here having witnessed so many students go on to do such wonderful work.”
In closing, Sowry added that we have entered a new era of “inclusive conservation,” emphasising the importance of institutionalising a ‘learning by doing’ approach. “Training beyond boundaries means training beyond the fences, across different countries, cultures, and religions, whilst also training and learning beyond our own boundaries, so that the benefits of protecting wildlife are widespread.” She bid farewell to the graduating class and affirmed the students’ applied understanding of conservation, saying “your energy and enthusiasm will be missed, but your communities will be richer upon your return.”