The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s African Crane Conservation Programme (ACCP) has embarked on a process to employ four EcoRangers for the Southern Drakensberg Stewardship Project. EcoRangers are field staff who will be deployed on farms that have committed to the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme in the region. Basically they will form part of our “support unit” for biodiversity stewardship sites. The role of the EcoRangers will be to help farmers implement conservation management practices needed on each farm as required by the conservation management plan. These practices could, for example, include the mapping of alien plants, the laying out of trails, community workshop facilitation, the monitoring of cranes or assisting with the rehabilitation of dongas.
Initially 30 candidates were selected from Underberg in KwaZulu-Natal and Matatiele in the Eastern Cape. Workshops were held with both groups to get a sense of the talent and potential available. In addition, the opportunity was taken to create awareness around cranes and threatened habitats. The workshops were very interesting and thoroughly enjoyed by all the participants. Sixteen candidates were then selected from both groups for interviews in Matatiele.
The Matatiele Nature Reserve proved an effective but unlikely interview venue. After a short hike to assess fitness levels, participants reported individually to four interview stations situated in the grassland overlooking the nature reserve. This technique proved to be very successful to gauge the practical knowledge of the participants.
Photo: The EWT’s Lucky Myeni interviews a EcoRanger Candidate within the Matatiele Nature Reserve
By going through this process the EWT demonstrated its commitment to enthusiastic young people by taking the time to get to know them first rather than to make a judgement call based on a once-off interview. It was clear that this approach was greatly appreciated by the participants.
Eventually eight trainee EcoRangers were identified from the interview process and employed by the EWT. These trainees are based in Underberg and will undergo training in various disciplines to ensure that they are able to make a meaningful contribution to the farms where they will eventually be deployed. Thus far the training has included First Aid, an introduction to birding course, Basic Ecology, field visits to dairy farms, forestry estates, a water bottling plant and training in etiquette and ethics. Practical training in outdoor skills, fire management, and fencing and erosion control will follow in the weeks to come.
The training process has also highlighted for me, the huge need for practical exposure and the creation of a holistic theoretical foundation for interns and new entrants in the conservation sector.
The EcoRangers project is sponsored by the European Union for a period of 42 months.
Photo: The EcoRanger interns view an owl box at Pinelands plantation during a visit to find out the value of plantations to South Africa’s economy but also understanding the impacts of forestry on the environment.
Photo: The EcoRanger interns visited a rotary dairy on the farm Elton, near Underberg, in order to learn about the value and difficulties of commercial farms in South Africa.