Coalition launches High Court proceedings to stop devastating coal mine planned for Mpumalanga water hotspot

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A coalition of eight civil society and community organisations has launched proceedings in the Pretoria High Court against Indian owned mining company Atha-Africa Ventures Pty Ltd. The coalition is asking the High Court to stop the mining company from commencing with any mining or related activities inside the Mabola Protected Environment outside Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga without a confirmed environmental authorisation and local planning approval.

The application is set down for hearing in the High Court in Pretoria on 27 June 2017.

The coalition consists of groundWork, the Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of South Africa, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, Birdlife South Africa, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, Federation for a Sustainable Environment, Association for Water and Rural Development (AWARD) and the Bench Marks Foundation, and is represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights.

The area in which Atha-Africa wants to build an underground coal mine is a declared protected environment. This strategic water source area has been identified as incredibly important and strategic to protect in the interest of all South Africans.

The strategic water source area is composed mostly of wetlands, pans and grassland, and is a source of four major rivers – the Tugela, the Vaal, the Usutu and the Pongola – that provide water to a huge number of downstream water users. These users will all be affected if the sources of those rivers are compromised.

Atha-Africa was granted a mining right by the Minister of Mineral Resources in 2015, shortly after the declaration of the protected area by the Mpumalanga MEC. Since then, Atha has received licences and approvals from the Mpumalanga environment department, the Department of Water & Sanitation, and the Minister of Environmental Affairs. All these approvals have been challenged by the coalition through internal appeals, and a High Court judicial review of the original mining right granted. A further judicial review application of the Minister of Environmental Affairs’ decision to approve mining in a protected area will be issued shortly.

The coalition believes it has good prospects of success in all these proceedings, and that the approvals will be set aside by the courts in due course. If necessary, the coalition will take this matter to the Constitutional Court.

The two approvals at issue in the interdict proceedings issued this week are:

  1. the environmental authorisation issued by the Mpumalanga environment department in 2016 under the National Environmental Management Act. This authorisation has been appealed by the coalition, but the Mpumalanga MEC has not yet decided the appeal. Until such decision has been made, the authorisation is suspended by law, and Atha cannot commence mining.
  2. approval for change of land use from conservation and/or agricultural purposes to mining, which is a legal requirement under the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act No. 16 of 2013. Atha has not yet received the necessary approval for this change of land use from the local municipality.

Before launching court proceedings to stop the mine, the coalition repeatedly asked Atha-Africa to provide an undertaking that it will not proceed without these approvals. It has refused to do so. This left the coalition with no option but to approach the High Court.

If Atha were allowed to commence mining now, and the approvals are thereafter set aside, the damage caused would be irreversible.

Contacts

Catherine Horsfield
Head: Mining Programme
Centre for Environmental Rights
Tel: +27 21 447 1647
chorsfield@cer.org.za.

Belinda Glenn
Communication and Brand Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
belindag@ewt.org.za

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Endangered Wildlife Trust statement on the Knysna fires

 

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) was truly devastated to hear of the fires that have wreaked havoc on huge areas of the Garden Route, and particularly Knysna. The loss of life, property and habitat is tragic, and our thoughts are with all those affected, as well as those who are working to stabilise the situation.

The extreme nature of these fires and the extent of the damage was in no small way exacerbated by the extensive and uncontrolled spread of alien plant species such as pine and wattle trees. The threat posed by alien invasive plants in the area was identified many years ago. An article written by Richard Cowling, Brian van Wilgen, Tineke Kraaij, and Jonathan Britton, titled How no-man’s-land is now everyone’s problem, and published in the September 2009 edition of Veld&Flora, was almost prophetic in the concerns it raised regarding the potential for abnormally intense fires to ravage the area, due to the replacement of indigenous fynbos with alien plant species such as pine trees. The authors developed various scenarios for the Garden Route and, based on the existence of uncontrolled alien spread, and periods of lower rainfall, they predicted that “… fires would rage with abnormal intensity, seriously threatening homes, crops, plantations and people. The high-intensity fires would damage the soil, resulting in erosion and silting up of dams, further exacerbating water problems.”

The intense fires fuelled by alien vegetation also have a far more damaging impact on the soil than typical fynbos fires would have, resulting in extreme erosion. This eroded soil and other debris now threatens to end up in the area’s water sources, with a potentially devastating effect on water quality and the ecosystems in those rivers and estuaries. This brings home the importance of investment in ecosystem services, alien vegetation removal and catchment rehabilitation. The National Department of Environmental Affairs Natural Resource Management Programme, as well as provincial agencies, such as CapeNature, need to continue and ramp up the valuable work they do on this front to get a handle on the invasions that threaten, not just our water resources but lives and habitats too. Civil society needs to get behind these agencies and work together to make sure this scale of disaster does not happen again.

The EWT has previously been involved with developing the Knysna estuary management plan some ten years ago and had started discussions with the members of the Knysna Basin Project and the Estuary Management Forum in May this year around re-engaging to provide implementation support for aspects of the estuary management plan. In a few short weeks, everything has now changed and we are re-assessing how we can work with the Forum and the local communities to support both short-term protection of the estuary from siltation and runoff as well as long-term catchment management through restoration and re-indigenisation.

We are working with various partners to document the extent of the damage to the natural environment, particularly as a result of sediment and debris that may now end up in the estuary, and the potential impact on key habitats, such as the Eelgrass, and species, such as the Knysna Seahorse. Our aim is to have a team in the field in the coming week to start supporting local authorities to alleviate some of these impacts through debris clearing and silt trap ecosystem restoration work around the estuary.

The EWT is making an urgent plea for local government, the private sector, members of the public and communities to join hands and ensure that the restoration of the indigenous ground cover, removal of alien vegetation and improved management of the catchment in the Garden Route is urgently prioritised over the short and long term in order to secure the socio-economic development and sustainability of this region and to make sure that this never happens again.

 

Contacts

Bridget Jonker

Source to Sea Programme Manager

Tel: +27 87 021 0398

bridgetc@ewt.org.za

 

Belinda Glenn

Communication and Brand Manager

Endangered Wildlife Trust

Tel: +27 87 021 0398

belindag@ewt.org.za

 

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Ford Wildlife Foundation Supports Cranes and Wetlands Conservation with New Ford Ranger

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The Ford Wildlife Foundation (FWF) handed over a new Ford Ranger bakkie to the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) to support its Cranes, Wetlands and Communities Project. The handover forms part of Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa’s (FMCSA) commitment to the conservation and preservation of the environment in Sub-Saharan Africa.

As part of two decades of work by the EWT’s African Crane Conservation Programme, the EWT’s Cranes, Wetlands and Communities Project has been running for the past seven years to halt the decline of all three of South Africa’s crane species – including the Vulnerable Blue Crane, the Endangered Grey Crowned Crane, and the Critically Endangered Wattled Crane.

Due to their dependence on wetlands for their survival, the project uses cranes as flagships for the protection and restoration of key wetlands and grasslands within strategically selected catchments in the Drakensberg and Highveld regions. The expansion of these protected areas and ecosystems is important for both people and cranes alike – these are our water factories to support our everyday lives, economic development and support biodiversity. In addition, the project works with communities in each of the focus areas to ensure people become part of the long-term solution in conserving natural resources and biodiversity.

The EWT project is already turning the tide on the decline of crane populations in South Africa. By focusing on the core areas important for cranes and using cranes as flagships for habitat protection, the project has protected over 100 000 hectares of land in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape. That is an area five times the size of Table Mountain National Park.  As a result, all three species of cranes are increasing in number, with the Grey Crowned Crane population in KwaZulu-Natal increasing by 44% over the past decade alone.

How the Ford Ranger Will Support the Cranes, Wetlands and Communities Project
The project consists of a team of eight that is dedicated to the conservation of some incredibly unique and valuable parts of South Africa. “Team members have to travel large distances from rural Eastern Cape in the south to the Lakes District – Chrissiesmeer in Mpumalanga, working daily with farmers and rural communities, schools and municipalities. With only four vehicles available – two of which are soon to be decommissioned – the support of a new Ford Ranger from Ford Wildlife Foundation will be invaluable to the project’s operations,” says Tanya Smith, Southern Africa Regional Manager, African Crane Conservation Programme.

The locally-built Ford Ranger, which is one of South Africa’s top-selling vehicles overall and in the light commercial segment, will be used to enable the project to go further and make a real impact – particularly in the remote locations often associated with conservation and environmental projects.

Ford Wildlife Foundation Dedication to Conservation
For the past 25 years, FMCSA has supported more than 150 conservation projects and invested over R30 million to help maintain wildlife and ecosystems in South Africa. In September 2014, FMCSA officially established the Ford Wildlife Foundation to continue that support.

The Ford Wildlife Foundation is unique as it does not provide a cash donation to the conservation projects it supports, instead Ford’s partner organisations are equipped with Ford Rangers. The vehicles are provided to help project operations, such as transporting animals between different locations, vets to sick or poached animals, or environmental experts to educate others on the importance of conservation.

With the support of Ford’s extensive dealer network, the vehicles operating in all Ford Wildlife Foundation projects are monitored and serviced by Ford to ensure they operate at peak efficiency.

 

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Contacts
Tanya Smith
African Crane Conservation Programme Southern Africa Regional Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
tanyas@ewt.org.za

Belinda Glenn
Communication and Brand Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
belindag@ewt.org.za

Cecily McLane
Ford Wildlife Foundation
cecilym@meropa.co.za

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Wildlife ranchers work with the EWT to give African Wild Dogs a chance to roam free

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Through the help of concerned wildlife ranchers, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) was recently able to successfully relocate three Endangered female African Wild Dogs (Lycaon pictus) from an area of potential high carnivore conflict in Limpopo to a safe area within the Waterberg region.

With the increase in the price of game animals over the last decade, conflict between carnivores and farmers over the killing of game is a reality in the region. There have been many cases where Endangered species such as Wild Dogs and Cheetahs have been directly persecuted through the use of poisons, gin traps, and organised hunts, and some have even been deliberately driven over on our roads. However, it is very encouraging that some landowners’ attitudes are changing for the benefit of Endangered species conservation and that they are aware of the legislation that protects these animals.

This kind of promising change in attitude was highlighted when, on Sunday 28 May 2017, the EWT received a report of three Wild Dogs on a wildlife ranch between Thabazimbi and Dwaalboom in Limpopo. The farm owner, Piet du Toit, did not want the Wild Dogs on his property, however he also did not wish to persecute the animals and wanted to relocate them to a safe area. He contacted the local vet, Dr Louis Greef, who was willing to dart the Wild Dogs, and in turn contacted the EWT for assistance in relocating the carnivores. The EWT keeps a database of all Wild Dog sightings outside of protected areas in South Africa and a single male Wild Dog had been reported at Lindani near Melkrivier a few days previously. The decision was therefore taken to move these three female Wild Dogs to Lindani in the hope that the solitary animal would join up with them, giving them all a greater chance of survival. The owners of Lindani, Peg and Sam van Coller, were more than happy for the dogs to be released on the property, and the necessary permits were obtained from Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism (LEDET).

Initial attempts to dart the dogs were unsuccessful, and the next sighting was just before sunset, resulting in the need for a new plan, which involved darting the animals from a helicopter the next day. Derek van der Merwe, Conflict Mitigation Field Officer of the EWT’s Carnivore Conservation Programme, veterinarian, Dr Sune Ferriera, and farm managers Andries Hills and Wim Anholds assisted in the capture of the three Wild Dogs and they were safely transported and released on Lindani on 29 May by the EWT. The Wild Dogs were seen on Lindani the following morning, and again on 4 June, and are doing well, seeming unperturbed by the move.

With less than 500 Wild Dogs left in South Africa, the safe relocation of three females is significant, and gives hope, specifically to the population in the Waterberg region. The small, free-roaming population of Wild Dogs in the Waterberg is estimated at between only five and 15 in number, and is genetically valuable. This makes this group of Wild Dogs critically important in a species that is on the verge of extinction, and makes the introduction of these three females even more exciting. The EWT thanks community members and partners such as Piet du Toit, Wim Anholds, Andries Hills, LEDET, Dr Louis Greef, Dr Sune Ferriera, and Lindani landowners, Peg and Sam van Coller, for their involvement in our efforts to protect Wild Dogs and offer them a chance to flourish.

The public is also invited to help us save these iconic animals in areas where there may be a risk of conflict with humans, by sending information and photographs of sightings to Derek van der Merwe at DerekV@ewt.org.za. Derek can also be contacted if you would like to know more about conflict mitigation measures that benefit both farmers and carnivores.

The EWT’s Wild Dog work is supported by Investec Properties, Jaguar-Land Rover South Africa, Land Rover Centurion, Vaughan de la Harpe, GCCL2 – Richard Bosman, Painted Wolf Wines, South African National Parks Honourary Rangers, Elizabeth Wakemen Henderson Fund and IQ Business.

Contacts

Derek van der Merwe

Carnivore Conservation Programme Wildlife Conflict Mitigation Officer

Endangered Wildlife Trust

Tel: +27 87 021 0398

derekv@ewt.org.za

 

David Marneweck

Carnivore Conservation Programme Manager

Endangered Wildlife Trust

Tel: +27 87 021 0398

davidm@ewt.org.za

 

Belinda Glenn

Communication and Brand Manager

Endangered Wildlife Trust

Tel: +27 87 021 0398

belindag@ewt.org.za

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WARM UP THIS WINTER AT THE SIXTH ANNUAL CHRISSIESMEER CRANE FESTIVAL!

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Be sure to join the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) this winter from 23 – 25 June 2017 at the annual Chrissiesmeer Crane Festival, held in a uniquely beautiful part of the Mpumalanga Highveld which is only about 2 hours away Johannesburg.

The festival will cater for all, with a variety of activities from field trips to see Endangered cranes, children’s games, local traditional dancing, timeless music, and a variety of stalls. In celebration of the area’s Scottish ancestry, one of the festival’s highlights is the colourful Scottish fireplace concert with a warm atmosphere, good music, and delicious cuisine.

Nestled in the heart of South Africa’s Lakes District, the little village of Chrissiesmeer in Mpumalanga derives its name from the adjacent Lake Chrissie, the largest natural freshwater lake in South Africa. There are also approximately 300 lakes and pans located within a radius of 20 kilometres around Lake Chrissie. Three different types of pans occur here, creating excellent habitat for a wide variety of species, in particular birds. It is this uniqueness and value from a water and biodiversity perspective that makes the Chrissiesmeer area so important to protect for future generations.

The EWT’s African Crane Conservation Programme has been working with the farming and rural communities in this area to protect and sustainably manage its natural resources for the past five years. The area, covering more than 60 000 ha, was declared a Protected Environment in 2014, and is home to two of our three threatened crane species. This includes our National Bird the Blue Crane, as well as a magnificent flock of Grey Crowned Cranes. Birding tours to see these beautiful birds are a major highlight of the festival.

The objective of the festival is to increase environmental awareness among visitors, local communities and the public of the importance of Chrissiesmeer’s biodiversity and the conservation of this crucial crane habitat. The festival also seeks to boost the tourism potential of the area by promoting Chrissiesmeer as a great destination for birders and nature lovers, photographers, anglers and cyclists, to name a few.

The event is hosted by U and Me Creative in partnership with the EWT. For more information on the Chrissiesmeer Crane Festival please contact Charmain at cranefestival@gmail.com or visit the Facebook page “Chrissiesmeer Crane Festival”.

Contact:

Ursula Franke
Highveld Regional Coordinator
African Crane Conservation Programme
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 83 332 8859
ursulaf@ewt.org.za
Belinda Glenn
Communication and Brand Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398 (ext. 110)
belindag@ewt.org.za

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Cheetahs Return to Malawi for First Time after 20-Year Absence

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Cheetahs were translocated from South Africa to Liwonde National Park in Malawi, returning the threatened species to the country

 A small founder population of Cheetahs has been successfully relocated to Liwonde National Park in Malawi, restoring the severely threatened species at least twenty-years after its extinction in the country. Led by African Parks, a conservation non-profit that manages national parks and protected areas on behalf of governments across the continent, and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), in partnership with Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), the translocation of four Cheetahs to Liwonde on May 17th formed a national milestone as the first big cats made their return to the flourishing park.

Although it has been about 20 years since Cheetahs were last seen in Malawi, it has been close to a century since Cheetahs were documented in Liwonde National Park. Lions and Leopards were also historically common, but disappeared in recent years due to rampant poaching. Decades of habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict and poaching severely reduced the nation’s predator populations, entirely eradicating Cheetahs, a species threatened with extinction in Africa. “Large predators like Cheetahs play pivotal roles in African ecosystems, but they are in troubling decline across the continent,” said Liwonde National Park Manager Craig Reid. “Malawi has made progressive commitments to conserve wildlife. The reintroduction of the Cheetah is historic for the country and a new era for the park, where the return of large predators holds great optimism for the restoration of the natural system and the conservation of this highly vulnerable species.” This will also open up opportunities for other highly threatened carnivores to be restored to Malawi at a later stage.

On May 17th, African Parks and the EWT oversaw the successful translocation of these four Cheetahs, which made the journey by plane from South Africa and arrived safely in Liwonde National Park, thanks to the support provided by Ulendo Airlink and Robin Pope Safaris for the transportation. They were released into specially-built bomas to allow for close supervision during a period of adjustment, until being released into the wider park. The animals are all in good health and are expected to do well in Liwonde, where habitat and prey conditions are optimal and measures are in place to ensure their ongoing conservation and protection.

These Cheetahs were carefully sourced by the EWT’s Cheetah Metapopulation Project, which was established in 2011 with the aim of creating safe spaces for Cheetahs in South Africa and managing the existing population in a number of reserves to ensure genetic diversity. The project now operates in 55 reserves, and in 2016, began investigating opportunities for reintroduction outside of South Africa. This partnership was deemed ideal, as African Parks has secured safe spaces for a myriad of species in the reserves it manages. For this introduction, it was essential to select Cheetahs that are predator savvy, as Lion, Leopard and Spotted Hyena are responsible for almost 50% of Cheetah deaths in fenced reserves. Cheetahs are the first large predator to be reintroduced into Liwonde, giving them at least six months to settle in before other large predators are reintroduced into the park. Ensuring that the chosen Cheetahs were not related was also imperative, to prevent genetic issues in the future. Phinda and Welgevonden Private Game Reserves kindly made a male Cheetah available, while Mountain Zebra National Park and Amakhala Private Game Reserve kindly made a female Cheetah available for this reintroduction into Malawi. These are considered to be some of the top Cheetah reserves in South Africa, all having contributed substantially to Cheetah conservation efforts in the country. The EWT will assist with ongoing monitoring and management of these special animals.

African Parks assumed management of Liwonde National Park in partnership with the DNPW in 2015, and since then has completely overhauled law enforcement to secure the park, making significant progress in revitalising habitat and wildlife populations through the reduction of poaching and mitigating human-wildlife conflict. The reintroduction of the Cheetah forms part of the collective vision of African Parks and the Malawian government to restore the country’s parks, rehabilitate wildlife populations, and increase tourism, creating highly-valued assets for the country and its people. Managing and restoring key species also positions Liwonde as a globally significant wildlife tourism destination, with benefits flowing to local communities.

Eradicated from 90 percent of their historical range in Africa, Cheetahs are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, with as few as 6,700 estimated to remain in the wild. “Reintroduction to safe and fenced protected areas is one way to protect the future of the species on the continent,” said EWT Cheetah Metapopulation Coordinator Vincent van der Merwe. “This collaborative undertaking represents a highly valuable opportunity for both the park and Cheetah conservation in light of the need for urgent action to address their decline.” Since assuming management of Liwonde, African Parks has constructed a reliable perimeter fence, removed thousands of snare traps, significantly reduced poaching, and is working with local communities to ensure the long-term success of conservation in the area.

The reintroduction of Cheetahs to Liwonde National Park is another extraordinary story of progressive and optimistic wildlife conservation in Malawi. On the heels of the historic “500 Elephants” initiative which will see 500 elephants being moved from Liwonde National Park and Majete Wildlife Reserve to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve (all three parks are managed by African Parks with DNPW), the Cheetah’s homecoming marks the historic return of the threatened species to the nation at least 20 years after its local extinction. This opens a hopeful new chapter for large predator conservation in the park. Liwonde has welcomed back its first big cat, a profound milestone for the ongoing restoration of this valuable protected area.

Click here to download images of the Cheetah translocation

About African Parks: African Parks is a non-profit conservation organisation that takes on the complete responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks in partnership with governments and local communities. With the largest counter-poaching force and the most amount of area under protection for any one NGO in Africa, African Parks manages 10 national parks and protected areas in seven countries covering six million hectares: Malawi, Zambia, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Chad. Visit www.african-parks.org and www.500elephants.org to learn more. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook

About The Endangered Wildlife Trust: The EWT is a credible, impactful player in regional conservation, committed to identifying the key factors threatening biodiversity and developing innovative methodologies and best practice to reduce these and promote harmonious co-existence and sustainable living for both people and wildlife. Read more about the EWT’s work at: www.ewt.org.za or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Contacts

Vincent van der Merwe
Cheetah Metapopulation Project Coordinator
Endangered Wildlife Trust
vincentv@ewt.org.za

Belinda Glenn
Communication and Brand Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
belindag@ewt.org.za

Fran Read
African Parks
Media Assistant
Tel: +27 823837558
franr@african-parks.org

 

 

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Empowering communities through frog and wetland conservation

Cherise Acker Jiba Magwaza

Conservation without the inclusion of people does not always work. In order to address the issue of South Africa being environmentally sound, education and training is vital because not everyone is aware of the fact that our ecosystems are threatened. As a Community Development student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and an intern of the EWT’s Threatened Amphibian Programme (TAP), I have come to realise that increasing beneficiary consultation during project planning or beneficiary involvement in the management of project implementation or operation also increases project efficiency. One of the TAP projects that can attest to the latter is the vegetable garden project at Isipingo in KwaZulu-Natal. This project includes four local gardeners that used to plant their vegetables in a threatened wetland, which partly disturbed its wellbeing. With proper engagement and through a conservation agreement drawn up with the gardeners, they have since moved out of the wetland and now plant on the edge where their activities pose no threat its wellbeing. Of course, this was not an easy task but it is amazing how community projects can run smoothly if stakeholders are properly engaged and are made part of the project, as this empowers them.

Isipingo - garden border

Another exciting project that that seeks to develop the communities with which we work with is the National Resource Management (NRM) project. Here we look at empowering our hardworking alien vegetation clearing teams through toolbox talks. Toolbox talks are used to engage alien vegetation clearing workers in Durban on issues of the environment and getting them to change their attitudes towards nature, but focusing on frogs and wetlands. I have seen how excited these toolbox talks make the teams to work with nature and to get more involved, rather than just clearing alien plants and going home. Teams are now able to do monitoring of any species they come across, be it fauna or flora, which is important because we need to know what other species are found around our working areas. Workers’ attitude surveys help us understand how the teams feel about the project; that is if they are happy or not and if they have any challenges. The surveys are done using an individual questionnaire that is confidential to make sure that everyone shares their experiences without any fear. It is heart-warming to see that teams now understand the reason behind their work and how it is important not only to them but to the whole ecosystem. A lesson that I have learnt working in these projects is that community development does not always have to take the form of monetary benefits, but one can also develop a community by sharing knowledge and education.

This work is made possible by Rand Merchant Bank, Rufford Foundation and Disney Conservation Fund.

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Exploring fishing as an alternative to poaching

Poaching in KwaZulu-Natal continues to be a major concern. It has financial and ecological implications not only for livestock and game farmers, but for the grassland ecosystem as a whole. It is a multi-faceted, cross-cutting and complex issue, which has largely resulted from an ideology of preservation, while excluding ordinary communities from wildlife conservation.

Community participants of the mini fishing competition

Since the dawn of democracy in South Africa, there has been a strong drive for community participation in sustainable utilisation of natural resources. This drive, however, places a huge responsibility on citizens to understand the intricacies of responsible citizenry when it comes to how they relate to wildlife. Conversely, conservationists need to be sensitive in their handling of environmental issues that impact on communities, with poaching being one example. A proactive approach, that seeks to combine education, law enforcement and acceptable alternatives, is pivotal if poaching is to be addressed. Despite concerted efforts towards addressing poaching with dogs (which impacts particularly on small antelope species such as the Endangered Oribi – Ourebia ourebi), the issue continues to escalate, particularly within the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. Weekends and holidays tend to be times at which poaching is most prevalent.

Attempts to explore alternatives to poaching with dogs have often proved futile, as illicit gambling has been the main driving force behind such acts. Many of those involved are not living in poverty, which lessens the impact of offering alternative livelihoods as a solution. It is also important to consider that some community members still view hunting with dogs as an authentic traditional practice.

Over the years, I have observed that horseracing and fishing are common interests for those that are involved in taxi hunts (poaching with dogs). One therefore needs not look too far from these interests when exploring alternatives to these gambling activities. Earlier this year, we held a meeting with 43 community members, the majority of whom are known to be involved in hunting with dogs. As an outcome of the meeting, a fishing competition was organised over the Easter weekend, which is usually a time when poaching with dogs is rife. Fifteen community members, most of whom frequently hunt with dogs, took part. The competition was a great success, and provided an opportunity to highlight the illegality of hunting without permits, the need for environmental responsibility, as well as water quality issues. The initiative has been well received by the participants and those that are directly and indirectly affected by poaching.

In a follow-up event, the participants spent a weekend at Wagendrift Dam in Estcourt, where they were able to gain first-hand experience in responsible fishing, such as being litter free, and took part in community engagement facilitation on poaching issues. As a next step, we are aiming to establish a community-based angling club for people who have in the past been involved in illegal hunting with dogs. A list of angling competitions, which are spread across most weekends and holidays, has been received and the members have already made a commitment to participate in those competitions.

During the fishing competition held over the Easter weekend, not a single poaching incident was reported at the Thurlow Nature Reserve (near Midmar Dam). Given the addictive nature of fishing, we hope that this may be seen as a viable alternative to illegal poaching of antelope, and hope for continued success, even if just on a small scale.

This work is made possible by NCT Forestry Co-Operative Limited.

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Become a citizen scientist and help to save our Humpback Dolphins

Just popped up to share the news that YOU can help save the dolphins

Previous research has highlighted that Richards Bay is a hotspot for the Humpback Dolphin (Sousa plumbea), which was recently listed as Endangered on the Red List of Mammals of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. It is one of the places in South Africa where Humpback Dolphins are most likely to be found…and most likely to become caught in the shark nets. This unintentional entanglement has been identified as major threat to the species, and we’ve learnt that the Richards Bay shark nets have been set in a core feeding area. The loss of dolphins in the nets affects not only the resident Humpback Dolphin population at Richards Bay but also the wider KwaZulu-Natal population, as many transient Humpback Dolphins move through the area. It is abundantly clear that conservation resources could be maximised by focusing efforts in one area, Richards Bay, potentially creating a ripple effect throughout the population of this Endangered species.

So with the strategy “think global, act local” in mind, we examined the dolphins’ interactions with shark nets at Richards Bay more closely. We have now identified the deadliest shark net and aim to understand how the dolphins use the area around this net, hoping to answer questions like: which sections do they use the most, what do they do here (e.g. feed/travel/rest), and how often do they come? The KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board will use this information to make changes to the net to reduce the number of dolphin deaths, without compromising the safety of bathers.

To answer these questions, we recently installed a video camera to monitor dolphins in this focal area and we are broadcasting what this camera sees via our website. This is where you come in! We need help from people who would like to help save the dolphins. The more eyes we have watching the footage, the more likely we are to see the dolphins and collect the relevant data.

If you would like to help, please visit our website, check out our Frequently Asked Questions and watch the live stream. We’d love to be in touch with people who share our passion for dolphin conservation, so please send us a message with your thoughts or questions. You can contact us via email: iknowthatdolphin@gmail.com or via our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/conservedolphins

 

Thank you to the EWT Kelly Legge Dolphin Fund for supporting this work.

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Celebrating Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism

BIODIVERSITY

Did you know that South Africa is the third most biodiverse country in the world? We’re also the only country in the world to contain an entire floral kingdom, the Cape Floral Kingdom, which is home to over 9,000 plant species, and although South Africa occupies only 2% of the world’s land surface area, it is home to 10% of the world’s plant species and 7% of the world’s reptile, bird and mammal species!

But what does biodiversity mean and why is it important? Since bio means life and diversity means variety, when we talk about biodiversity, we mean the variety of all living things on earth – all the different plants and animals, from the tiniest micro-organism to the tallest tree and biggest mammal, and the ecosystems they are part of.

Biodiversity is something we all need to protect because it provides the building blocks for a healthy environment! These include things we can’t survive without, like fresh air, clean water, healthy food, and building materials, to name a few. We also know that ecosystems that have a wide variety of plants and animals tend to be healthier than those that don’t, and are better able to adapt to naturally changing conditions. More than that, biodiversity also offers us recreational, cultural and spiritual benefits.

On 22 May each year, International Day for Biological Diversity is celebrated to recognise the importance of biodiversity. It’s also a day to consider how we as humans have impacted on biodiversity, and what we can do to prevent its loss. This year’s theme was Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism.

Naturally, the kind of incredible biodiversity we enjoy in South Africa is a major tourism drawcard. Tourism is very important to our economy, and this revenue can, in turn, be used to help reduce threats to wildlife, and to maintain or increase biodiversity. Of course, this also relies on responsible tourists who make ethical choices when it comes to visiting wildlife facilities, say no to wild animal interactions, and purchase curios with care.

The EWT is committed to identifying the key factors threatening biodiversity and developing innovative methodologies and best practice guidelines to reduce these and promote harmonious co-existence and sustainable living for both people and wildlife. You can help to protect our biodiversity too, by doing the following:

  • Plant an indigenous tree to create habitat for many different animals and insects, and help to purify the air we breathe.
  • Make sure there are no alien invasive plant species in your garden.
  • Reduce and if possible, rule out your use of pesticides.
  • Recycle, pick up litter and say no to single-use plastics.
  • Become a sustainable consumer, and, for example, only choose seafood from the SASSI green list.
  • Clean up a river or wetland in your community.
  • Be a responsible tourist – say no to souvenirs made from bone, shells, fur or ivory, and avoid unethical wildlife interactions.
  • If you’re a business leader, consider joining the EWT’s National Biodiversity and Business Network, to get assistance with mainstreaming biodiversity into your business. For more information contact ewt@ewt.org.za

If you have other suggestions of how individuals could be protecting our biodiversity, let us know by emailing Mwitu@ewt.org.za

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