The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (Wessa) formally recognised achievements in the environmental conservation sector ,,min September, at its 2013 Wessa National Awards.
The awards ceremony took place at the House of Pharaohs guesthouse and conference centre in Bryanston, north of Johannesburg. This year, there were 11 finalists from which the adjudicators selected the final awardees.
Presented yearly since 1978, the awards enable Wessa to recognise and honour individuals, corporations, organisations and community, educational or volunteer groups that have made significant contributions to environmental conservation or to environ-mental education in South Africa over a sustained period.
Since the inception of Wessa’s annual National Awards, there have been ten years in which no award was made at all, and many other years when awards were not made in all three categories (individuals, groups and corporates).
Environmental education coordinator Lucas Ngobeni, who has seven years experi-ence in this field, received an individual award for his involvement in and support of Wessa’s national Eco-Schools Programme.
The international programme, initiated by nonprofit organisation the Foundation of Environmental Education, is active in 51 countries. The programme is aimed at creating awareness of and encouraging action towards environmental sustainability in schools and their surrounding communities, as well as supporting education for sustain-able development in the national curriculum.
Eco-Schools was initiated in South Africa in 2003, with Wessa as the implementing agent. Currently, more than 1 200 schools are registered with the programme.
It is estimated that the programme reaches about 10 000 children and 250 teachers thus far. Five of the schools that Ngobeni has been coordinating have received international flags, indicating five consecutive years of involvement in the programme.
“The Lapalala Wilderness node is the largest Wessa Eco-School node in Limpopo, consisting of 38 schools,” says Ngobeni, adding that he has supported this node since its inception in 2005.
“I provide a link between communities and nature reserves since I arrange for schools to visit reserves and learn about wildlife,” he says, adding that he travels constantly from school to school to support learners and present workshops in partnership with the municipalities and companies involved in the programme.
Meanwhile, Dr William Fowlds received an individual award for his contribution to conservation and wildlife veterinary activities performed over many decades, particularly his recent ongoing efforts to help curb the poaching of rhino.
“I recently partnered with investment bank Investec, which supports rhino con-servation projects,” he says. “Apart from offering direct veterinary services to rhino managers and owners, he also documents poaching stories using digital media to educate others.
By documenting images of animals suffering, Fowlds has contributed substan-tially to the momentum in the fight to save the rhino. These images have been used in several nonprofit campaigns.
“I believe that understanding how brutal and traumatic the act of poaching is will reduce demand,” Fowlds says, adding that it inspires many people to become actively involved once they witness the pain and suffering these animals have had to endure.
He says the best way to prevent rhino poach- ing is to take a holistic approach. “Better protection, more information, an effective legal and law enforcement system, stronger international cooperation and education on demand reduction are ways of preventing rhino poaching,” he explains.
Further, Fowlds says South Africans have been led to believe that the mindset of Asian countries, which are generally associated with being rhino horn consumers, cannot be changed. “Consumer countries, such as Vietnam, are now open and willing to reduce the demand for rhino horn,” he says, adding that the Internet and other mass communi-ation media are available in these countries and can be used to spread the antipoaching message worldwide.
Fowlds is a lecturer on the Vets Go Wild programme presented at Amakhala Game Reserve and the Addo Elephant National Park, close to Port Elizabeth.
Meanwhile, Dr Michelle Henley received an individual award for her extensive con- tribution to understanding elephant migra-tory behaviour and using this information to gain insight into an elephant’s environmental impact, as well as into antipoaching efforts.
“I attend workshops, conferences and various conservation meetings where our team presents findings. We also write articles for scientific publications and the popular press to share our information as widely as possible,” she says.
Henley adds that, in South Africa, people are unaware of the large number of elephants being poached outside the county’s borders, which, if not dealt with, could put the elephant population at risk of extinction.
The African elephant is currently listed as ‘of least concern’ in the southern states of the continent, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Red Data Book of South African Mammals (2004).
“Their status is being reviewed and indi-cations are that the continental trends in terms of threats to elephants will spill over into South Africa,” Henley says.
Statistics collated from various sources highlight the imminent threat to the elephant population in South Africa. This was done by first outlining continental trends and then narrowing the potential threat down to South Africa.
There has been a 45% decline in the elephant’s teritory over 28 years, with at least 70% of the remaining range falling outside protected areas. Based on a 10% seizure rate for ivory, 38 000 elephants were poached in 2006, with reports of more intensified poaching in some regions emerging since then.
The estimated 8% yearly decline in the African elephant population, owing to poaching, represents a mortality rate that is higher than elephants’ maximum yearly reproductive rate of 6%.
The present continental decline in the elephant population exceeds the 7.4% a year population drop recorded over the ten years leading up to the 1989 ivory ban, and a downward spiral in elephant numbers can be expected to continue.
Southern African elephants have increased in number since the ivory ban was instated and elephants in the region currently comprise more than 50% of the total continental population, compared with only 21% of the total elephant population more than 20 years ago.
“This bears testimony to the rest of Africa’s elephants being decimated by unregulated domestic ivory markets. Over the same 20-year period, West, East and Central Africa’s elephants used to make up almost 70% of Africa’s elephant population, but currently comprise less than half of the population,” adds Henley.
South African National Parks (SANParks) Honorary Rangers also received a group award at the 2013 Wessa National Awards for voluntary contributions towards the conservation of all South Africa’s national parks. For more than 50 years, these men and women have given their time, expertise and resources at no charge to ensure the integrity and endurance of the country’s parks system, says Wessa.
“We were delighted to receive the award on behalf of the 13 000 volunteer SANParks Honorary Rangers who have been dedicated to conserving the national parks systems over the years,” says National Executive Committee chairperson Janssen Davies, who accepted the award on behalf of the rangers.
The rangers highlight the importance of creating public awareness about rhino conservation. “We have a miracle conservation success story, with Dr Ian Player and others before him having virtually saved the white and black rhino populations in South Africa. “In 1905, the combined population stood at 50 and it is currently estimated at 20 000,” says Davies, adding that there has, however, been an increasing poaching trend over the last five years, with 668 rhino having been poached in 2012 and over 618 poached to date this year.
The rangers say experts predict that this trend will lead to the rhino population decreasing significantly by 2016 and, possibly, the extinction in the wild of white and black rhino by 2026. “We must gather support and the resources of civil society in South Africa and abroad to reverse this poaching trend and ensure that the rhino is a safe species,” say the rangers.
Meanwhile, the environmental society of independent school Glenwood House, in George, received a group award for its contribution to environmental education within the school environment and the greater community of George and beyond.
Wessa has identified human capacity development as a strategic priority for addressing South Africa’s environmental challenges and collaborates with all sectors of society, particularly regional and local government, communities and schools, to implement outstanding environmental education programmes and authoritative training programmes that promote sound environmental governance and effective environmental outcomes.