Jessie’s on a quest to save the Riverine Rabbit and the Karoo!

The Riverine Rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis) is an incredibly shy creature that only lives in seasonal river vegetation patches in parts of the Karoo. Their remaining habitat is becoming increasingly fragmented, and they face additional threats from hunting, trapping, and being preyed on by feral dogs and cats. The iconic landscape of the Karoo is also imperilled by climate change, mining, hydraulic fracturing (fracking), power lines and the construction of dams.

Jessie

The EWT’s Drylands Conservation Programme is embarking on an exciting new project that could save the Riverine Rabbit, and with it, the Karoo. Despite having worked on this species for more than 15 years, one of the greatest challenges was finding out exactly where these elusive rabbits are living. Once we know where they are, it becomes easier not only to put more effective conservation measures in place, but also to protect their environment.

Jessie the Border Collie is an amazing scent detection dog, who has been trained by her owner, EWT Field Officer Estè Matthew, to sniff out these remarkable rabbits. The aim is for Estè and Jessie to take to the field and map out the areas where Riverine Rabbits occur. As a result, Jessie has been very busy over the last few weeks. With limited scent and a variety of challenges that lie ahead, Jessie has finished her second phase of training. She has completed training at three environmentally dissimilar locations, with a variety of distractions and different types of Riverine Rabbit scent targets. All of these tests were conducted outside in semi-controlled environments. By the end of May, Jessie will start with the final training phase, which includes training in natural field environments.

Jessie can already distinguish between Riverine Rabbits and other lagomorphs (hares and rabbits). This means she indicates on Riverine Rabbit scent, but does not indicate on scents for Scrub Hares (Lepus saxatilis) or Cape Hares (Lepus capensis). She has also made a connection between Riverine Rabbit scent from the two populations that have been identified.

During this epic conservation adventure, Jessie and Estè will have to travel long distances to get to where they need to work, so they’ll need a reliable vehicle, camping equipment, and a specialised GPS collar for Jessie to record her routes and times. An “eye in the sky” with a thermal imaging camera will also greatly help to find bunnies in the thickest parts of the habitat to make Jessie’s job easier. All very exciting, but expensive stuff. If you’d like to help them save the Riverine Rabbit, you can make a donation here, using the reference Riverine Rabbit or email us at ewt@ewt.org.za to find out more.

Jessie is sponsored by Champion Petfoods South Africa and K9 Dispatch. Thanks also go to Rand Merchant Bank, Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations, and our generous supporters who have already made donations towards this work.

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Quick road counts provide a glimpse into crane populations in wetlands around Kabale, Uganda

What makes the landscapes around Kabale, a town in southwestern Uganda, unique is the ease with which Grey Crowned Cranes can be seen foraging, flying and flocking as one drives along gravel roads that radiate from towns and village trading centres. During a recent trip to the area, road trips to villages undertaken to meet community groups involved in integrated wetland conservation and livelihood projects presented opportunities to conduct rapid crane counts. The roads traverse papyrus-covered wetlands, crop fields, pastures, steep hillslopes, eucalyptus plantations and densely populated human settlements. It is in these highly transformed landscapes that cranes were sighted and counted on the 7th and 8th of May. On the first day, 144 cranes were counted, comprising 97 individuals (sighted in flocks), 22 pairs, two juveniles and one chick. They were observed during a trip from Kabale to Lake Bunyonyi. On the second day, 126 cranes were counted during a trip from Kabale to Kisoro, comprising 12 pairs (one had a juvenile) and 101 individuals observed in flocks. Records of crane sightings taken during the two road trips provide a fascinating glimpse into crane populations that depend on wetlands around Kabale, one of the four focal areas targeted for conservation action in Uganda. Potential breeding sites and degraded wetland patches that could be restored through community-based actions were identified. Crane and wetland conservation activities around Kabale are being implemented as part of a collaborative initiative between the International Crane Foundation/Endangered Wildlife Trust Partnership and Nature Uganda.

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Flock of cranes foraging on an overgrazed plot

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The pair observed with a chick that was a few days old

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A view of Lake Bunyonyi showing the part of a wetland used by cranes for breeding

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Cranes foraging in a tea plantation are not easy spot!

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Conservation leader from South Africa wins 2017 Whitley Award

ian2

Prize awarded for protecting South Africa’s threatened grassland biodiversity

London, UK: 17 May 2017 – HRH The Princess Royal will tomorrow present a Whitley Award, a prestigious international nature conservation prize worth £35,000 in project funding, to Ian Little at a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society, London, in honour of his work to protect South Africa’s threatened grasslands.

Demand for fresh water is expected to outstrip supply in South Africa by 2025. The Eastern Great Escarpment of South Africa provides catchment services for three of the country’s largest rivers, making it a vital source of water for cities such as Durban and Johannesburg in one of the world’s most arid nations. As the world’s third most biodiverse country, these grasslands support a plethora of plants and animals found nowhere else, including golden moles and the sungazer lizard.  Despite their importance, less than 3% of grasslands in South Africa are protected. Intensive livestock farming, coal mining and gas exploration are inflicting untold damage – with fracking now an imminent threat.

Ian Little of the Endangered Wildlife Trust works with farmers to champion conservation of grassland habitat. Working with farmers and tribal leaders, Ian is building capacity for sustainable farming and introducing improved management practices, such as less intensive grazing and burning regimes to decrease pressure on grasslands and boost productivity. He has already secured 60,000 hectares of grassland for conservation purposes; a figure Ian plans to increase with his Whitley Award by creating a corridor of legally protected areas linking with others along the escarpment. In doing so he will safeguard these grasslands and the important source of freshwater they provide.

Edward Whitley, Founder of the Whitley Fund for Nature, said: “WFN focus on conservation success stories which give us a reason for optimism. The Awards Ceremony is about recognising progress – winning those small battles which cumulatively equate to change at the national level. In addition to the financial benefit of winning an Award, winners receive professional communications training to turn scientists into ambassadors, so they are able to communicate effectively with the public and inform change at the political level.”

Ian is one of six individuals to have been awarded a share of the prize money worth £210,000, winning the Whitley Award donated by the Garfield Weston Foundation.

Sir David Attenborough, a Trustee of the Whitley Fund for Nature, added: “It is now more important than ever to invest in those working to protect our planet. The Whitley Fund for Nature is at the forefront of supporting these heroic individuals.”

CONTACT:

Dr. Ian T. Little
Senior Manager: Habitats
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Southern and East Africa regional chair, Commission on Ecosystem Management: IUCN
W + 27 21 799 8460
Email: ianl@ewt.org.za
Web: www.ewt.org.za

Belinda Glenn
Communication and Brand Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398 ext 110
Email: belindag@ewt.org.za

Jana Fickerova
Account Executive
Firebird Public Relations Ltd
T: 01235 835 297
Email: jb@firebirdpr.co.uk
Web: www.firebirdpr.co.uk

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Hazardous power line removed by Eskom to protect Endangered Crane species

crane

As South Africa’s electricity needs continue to grow, power lines and other accompanying electrical infrastructure are expanding daily. Eskom and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) formalised their long-standing relationship by entering into a partnership in 1996 to address the problem of wildlife interactions with electrical infrastructure in a systematic manner on a national basis, and to establish an integrated management system to minimise negative interactions. Negative interactions between wildlife and electricity structures take on different forms including electrocution on electrical infrastructure and collision with power lines.

The Eskom/EWT Partnership has developed an incident management system (database) with various key performance indicators that help to track the status and progress of incident investigations and incident recommendation reports, as well as the implementation of these recommendations. With over 500,000 km of power lines in the country, it is inevitable that collisions and electrocutions will occur that will result in mortalities. The database includes over 2,900 incidents involving Eskom power lines, most of which were of mortalities on smaller distribution lines. With an average of around 1.8 individual animals per incident, nearly 5,500 individual mortalities have been added to the database over the past 21 years. Over 95% of these were birds, including 141 different species, and vultures and cranes comprise 25% and 24%, respectively, of all power line mortalities registered on the database. Crane species are heavily impacted as they often fly in low-light conditions when the line is less visible.

“Without landowners reporting wildlife incidents and high-risk areas, the partnership is unable to take steps to remedy the situation. Landowners play a vital role in this process as they are the custodians of their land on which the vegetation and the species that are dependent on it need to survive”, said Matthew Becker, EWT Field Officer. In the last year, there has been a push for a more proactive approach through identifying problem areas and structures through modelling exercises to use a targeted mitigation approach. Late last year a landowner near Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal, contacted the EWT to report an incident involving a Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum) that collided with an overhead Eskom line. The Grey Crowned Crane is an Endangered species and thus every individual is crucial to the population. Field officers went out with Eskom representatives to assess the line and compile a field investigation report.

After deliberations, recommendations, meetings and assessments between the landowners, Eskom and the EWT, the section of power line was removed by the Eskom team, returning the site partially to its original state. This was a major breakthrough for the Endangered birds, eliminating the risk of collisions in future.

“Another area has been made safe by the Eskom/EWT partnership and landowners. Great thanks must go to the landowners that reported the incident to the EWT, and to Eskom, specifically the KZN operating unit, for the quick response and determination to work together to safeguard the area for threatened species. This truly is conservation in action”, said Constant Hoogstad, Manager of the EWT’s Wildlife and Energy Programme.

The Eskom/EWT partnership would like to encourage landowners and members of the public to report wildlife and power line interactions and high-risk areas of concern. The importance of the public reporting incidents and high-risk areas cannot be emphasised enough, as it enables the EWT and Eskom to quickly remedy the situation. Any wildlife and power line related incidents or areas of concern should be reported to reduce the impact on our country’s wildlife. Please send information to wep@ewt.org.za or call (011) 372-3600 / Toll Free: 0860-111-535.

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Contacts
Constant Hoogstad
Wildlife and Energy Programme Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
constanth@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 the Endangered Wildlife Trust with New Ford Ranger

ford

The Ford Wildlife Foundation handed over a new Ford Ranger bakkie to the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and its Cheetah Metapopulation Project, which works to increase the range, numbers, and status of wild Cheetahs in South Africa. 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.

Established in 2011, the Cheetah Metapopulation Project tackles Cheetah conservation on all fronts, but predominantly focuses on increasing and preserving the Cheetah population. The EWT achieves this through translocations and reintroductions of genetically distinct male and female Cheetahs into new areas to establish healthy populations.

Currently, the project monitors Cheetahs in 54 reserves, and has created over 1 million hectares of safe Cheetah habitat. Since its inception, the project has conducted approximately 150 relocations, with the metapopulation growing to a stronghold of 350 Cheetahs nationwide. Because of the project’s efforts, Cheetahs in South Africa are listed as Vulnerable on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In all other countries in Africa, Cheetah will soon be uplisted as Endangered.

“The Endangered Wildlife Trust is very happy to announce our partnership with the Ford Wildlife Foundation. The acceptance of the vehicle will enable the project to continue to make positive global strides for Cheetah conservation” said Tammy Baker, EWT Business Development Officer.

How the Ford Ranger Will Support the Cheetah Metapopulation Project
The Cheetah Metapopulation Project requires a capable vehicle to conduct the translocations, visit potential new reintroduction sites, and to ensure that Cheetahs are managed effectively to prevent inbreeding. With the support of the FWF and a new Ford Ranger XLT bakkie, the EWT can conduct critical and vital conservation work, to ensure that the world’s fastest land mammal is protected well into the future.

“The vehicle will be used by the Senior Field Officer, Vincent van der Merwe, who coordinates the Cheetah Metapopulation Project to effect Cheetah translocations across South Africa by driving immobilised Cheetahs to their new safe homes,” says Baker.

“The opportunity to partner with Ford Wildlife Foundation is a massive step towards ensuring that we continue with the work we are doing for Cheetah conservation in South Africa, with ambitions to take the metapopulation approach elsewhere in Africa to ensure the global population of Cheetahs does not decline further,” she adds.

The locally-built Ford Ranger, which is one of South Africa’s top-selling vehicles overall and in the light commercial vehicle 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’s 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 cash donations to the conservation projects it supports; instead Ford’s partner organisations are equipped with very capable Ford Rangers. Ford Wildlife Foundation provides these vehicles 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
Vincent van der Merwe
Carnivore Conservation Programme Senior Field Officer
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

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

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Environmental organisations welcome Minister’s announcement of a new regional court to help combat rhino poaching

CentreOfEnvirorights

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) welcome the Minister of Environmental Affairs’ announcement that a new regional magistrate’s court has been established in Skukuza, in the Kruger National Park.

According to a statement issued by the Minister of Environmental Affairs on 24 April 2017, the opening of the new regional court is one of several measures being taken in terms of the Integrated Strategic Management approach to combat rhino poaching.

In a joint statement, the EWT and the CER described the new court as representing an important step in the fight against rhino poaching, and other biodiversity related crimes, as it will help to ensure the expedition of a larger number of prosecutions.

“A large number of rhino poaching incidents and rhino-related offences occur in the Kruger National Park. We welcome the move to establish a new court in Skukuza – not only because it places a court in close proximity, but also because a regional court has the jurisdiction to hear more serious matters originating from a larger geographical area than an ordinary magistrate’s court. We are optimistic that the establishment of this court will increase capacity, and hopefully speed up the criminal prosecution of all rhino related offences, including the poaching of other wildlife specimens.

“The effect of faster – and hopefully more efficient and, therefore, more successful – prosecutions, and the imposition of heavy sentences, should serve as a powerful deterrent to poachers,” the organisations said.

About the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER)

The CER is a non-profit organisation of activist lawyers who help communities and civil society organisations in South Africa realise our Constitutional right to a healthy environment by advocating and litigating for environmental justice. More about the CER’s work at: http://cer.org.za/

About the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT)

The EWT is a leading, high-profile player in the conservation arena, 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. Read more about the EWT’s work at: www.ewt.org.za

 

Contacts
Adam Pires
Wildlife in Trade Programme Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
adamp@ewt.org.za

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

Aadila Agjee
Attorney
Centre for Environmental Rights
Tel: +27 84 673 4442
aagjee@cer.org.za

Annette Gibbs
Communications Manager
Centre for Environmental Rights
Tel: +27 02 467 1294
agibbs@cer.org.za

 

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MPUMALANGA MEC APPROVES THE DECLARATION OF THE GREATER LAKENVLEI PROTECTED ENVIRONMENT

logo lakenvlei

13 April 2017

A major milestone for the conservation of South Africa’s water resources and threatened Highveld grass- and wetlands was reached on 7 April 2017, when the MEC for Mpumalanga’s Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs (DARDLEA), Vusi Shongwe, declared the Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment near Dullstroom. South Africa’s grasslands and wetlands are poorly represented in formal protected areas and this declaration will now add 14,305 hectares of important grassland and wetland habitat to the network of protected areas within the province. This momentous achievement was made possible through the collaborative efforts of Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) and their NGO partners, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and BirdLife South Africa.

These organisations have a long history of working together in the area, dating back to 1994, and began the Mpumalanga Biodiversity Stewardship Programme, which aims to secure privately owned land within formal protected areas, in 2010. Biodiversity Stewardship has been a critical factor in enabling cost effective protected area expansion. It ensures that land stays available for agricultural production while offering landowners a way to contribute to national biodiversity conservation targets in a sustainable way. MTPA Head of Protected Areas Expansion, Brian Morris, commented that the future of biodiversity conservation is in the hands of private, communal and corporate landowners and the MTPA has walked a long road with the landowners of the Greater Lakenvlei area to secure the site under formal legal protection. He is very hopeful that, in the future, the leadership in the provincial conservation agency and the Provincial Government will continue to support the declaration of more land for conservation.

The Greater Lakenvlei area is critical to biodiversity as it harbours all three of South Africa’s crane species—including South Africa’s National Bird, the Blue Crane, and the Critically Endangered Wattled Crane—as well as other threatened species such as White-winged Flufftail. Lakenvlei is also a peatland, which is a wetland with a particularly high organic matter content that is good at storing and purifying water, as well as sequestering and storing carbon in a pristine state, critical to preventing additional impacts on climate change. Furthermore, the Lakenvlei wetlands provide crucial ecosystem services, including the ability to trap nitrates, regulate stream flow, maintain biodiversity, flood attenuation, and to prevent erosion due to good vegetation cover.

The Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment falls within the well-known Dullstroom tourism hub that provides a large number of local tourism-related jobs connected to the scenic beauty and outdoor activities in the area. This declaration will enable the continued development of sustainable tourism opportunities within the area.

“We are excited about this conservation milestone, especially in the light of the development pressures this area faces. The EWT would like to extend its appreciation to our partners and to the MEC for his visionary commitment to biodiversity conservation and securing sustainable tourism areas in Mpumalanga,” says Ursula Franke, Senior Field Officer for the EWT’s African Crane Conservation Programme. “The objectives of the GLPE are to demonstrate the mainstreaming of biodiversity conservation into the agriculture and tourism sector by securing the conservation of the area and by promoting agricultural and other land use practices that are compatible with biodiversity conservation. The ultimate objective is to ensure ongoing grassland conservation whilst livelihoods from livestock farming and tourism are maintained.”

CEO of BirdLife South Africa, Mark Anderson, says: “This declaration is a vital achievement in protecting this important grassland area which hosts many threatened bird species, and is also important for water management, tourism and agriculture.” Daniel Marnewick, the manager of the Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas Programme (IBA) at BirdLife South Africa adds that “this declaration will protect the Steenkampsberg IBA through improved management and by minimising threats to this sensitive grassland and vlei habitat, such as from mining which could negatively impact on the water, natural habitats and thereby the bird species found in this system.” Marnewick further indicates that this declaration is another victory for biodiversity stewardship in the country, which empowers local landowners to become stewards of the natural diversity found on their land.

The Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment is an area of immense beauty and home to a wide variety of special plants and animals. The protection of the area also secures and enhances water and food production—our country’s lifeblood. The landowners’ commitment to Biodiversity Stewardship is especially praiseworthy. With assistance from MTPA and partners, the sustainable management of this special area will largely be in their hands.

Contacts
Brian Morris
MTPA
Tel: 084 579 7979
brian.morris@mtpa.co.za

Ernst Retief
BirdLife South Africa
Tel: 082 325 66080
ernst.retief@birdife.org.za

Ursula Franke
African Crane Conservation Programme Field Officer
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
ursulaf@ewt.org.za

Belinda Glenn
Communication and Brand Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398 ext 110
belindag@ewt.org.za

Notes to Editors:
• The Grassland Biome has high avifaunal significance, because it supports about 350 of the 846 bird species, 29 of the 125 Red Data bird species (Barnes 2000) and 53% of endemic bird species (Clancey 1986) occurring in South Africa. Consequently, 50 of South Africa’s 122 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas are in grasslands (Barnes 1998).
• The national Biodiversity Stewardship Programme aims to sign private and communally-owned land into voluntary contractual agreements that afford legal Protected Area status to sites of critical biodiversity importance outside of State-owned nature reserves and national parks.
• For information on the EWT visit http://www.ewt.org.za
• For information on BirdLife South Africa visit http://www.birdlife.org.za and Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), visit http://www.birdlife.org.za/conservation/important-bird-areas

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Karoo enters an uncertain future as government approves prospecting for hydraulic fracturing

Karoo

6 April 2017
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Minister of Minerals and Energy, Mosebenzi Zwane, announced on 30 March 2017 that government policy would make provision for energy companies to start prospecting for shale gas in the Karoo. This decision follows the release of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for Shale Gas in 2016, which aimed to provide a more holistic assessment of the impact of shale gas extraction on the economy, environment and people. Among the findings of the SEA report was that job opportunities within the shale gas sector would be less than what was widely proclaimed and that the availability of water would be a restricting factor for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the Karoo.

In August 2016, after carefully considering the available evidence, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) adopted the position that impacts from fracking are poorly understood and that the current regulatory framework is insufficiently equipped to properly regulate the activity. The combined effect would be an unquantified risk that could not be adequately mitigated and which would present a significant risk to people’s health, landscapes and biodiversity. This is still our position and, as such, we are deeply concerned about the ramifications of this announcement. While some people may argue that prospecting is not exploration we foresee the issues above manifesting in the prospecting phase and that the latter will inevitably pave the way for exploration.

It is also possible that factors such as the economic viability (extraction and transportation costs) and lack of water in the Karoo required for fracking will limit the scale of shale gas extraction. However, this simply makes the fact that companies want to continue with exploration so much more risky and uncertain and, as such, we do not consider these factors as sufficient reason to dismiss the threat of fracking.

In his statement, the Minister alluded to steps that will be taken to ensure the protection of water resources, agricultural resources and the environment. His statement was, however, not specific about what such steps will entail and does nothing to dispel current observations of poor compliance experienced in the mining sector in South Africa leading to ongoing environmental damage. As such, we are deeply concerned about the ability of government to manage and mitigate the risks of fracking.

South Africa’s leading science advisory body, the Council for Science and Industrial Research (CSIR) has urged the government to give serious thought to the potentially “devastating effects” on scarce water supplies before authorising widespread shale gas fracking. The Academy of Science of South Africa also cautioned that promises of quick economic riches seemed far from conclusive and that fracking could in fact lead to widespread job losses in rural areas such as the Karoo, along with polluted water, polluted air and “significant” earthquakes. The EWT is of the opinion that fracking will not result in broad based economic beneficiation and will devalue other sustainable economic activities in the Karoo such as tourism and agriculture.

Fracking is technically complicated, will require novel regulations, and trained officials to monitor and enforce compliance. Impacts will be irreparable and costly to rehabilitate to even a functional state. Currently our government departments are not equipped to deal with this.

The Karoo contains fragile ecosystems and the possible impact of fracking on water resources remains a great concern. Experiences in the Xolobeni mining dilemma on the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast demonstrate that a contentious development such as fracking can result in social “fracturing” and increased polarisation between different sectors of society.

The EWT will continue to monitor these developments and actively engage government and stakeholders where habitats and biodiversity are threatened. In particular, the EWT intends to, among other actions, develop a comprehensive response to the decision to allow prospecting for shale gas and to communicate this to government. We will also meet with partner organisations to develop a targeted grassroots action plan to address fracking in the Karoo and the rest of the country. We will also investigate and interrogate the validity of prospecting permits that have already been issued or that are in the process of being issued.

Globally, South Africa has developed one of the most successful government-private sector business models in terms of the renewable energy sector. Given the close ties between energy, water and food security – and the urgent requirement to protect the resilience of our natural capital under future uncertain climate scenarios – we argue that the country can, and should, develop an alternative energy vision that excludes the use of shale gas. While wind and solar energy development still have environmental and social impacts, these impacts can largely be mitigated and compliance can be governed and enforced.

The Karoo, and South Africa in general, is facing a renewed onslaught of mining applications. Worryingly, recent applications have also been made for mining within protected environments. This new trend seems to indicate that environmental protection has taken second place in government policy and potentially signifies the erosion of section 24 of the Constitution, which states that every person “has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing and to have the environment protected through reasonable legislative measures”. This is a significant concern, and environmental and social role-players will have to rise to this challenge to ensure the protection of our natural heritage and livelihoods.

For more information, please refer to the EWT’s position statement on Hydraulic fracturing

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Contacts
Cobus Theron
Drylands Conservation Programme Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
cobust@ewt.org.za

Lourens Leeuwner
Renewable Energy Project Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 21 788 5661
lourensl@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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Response to the Constitutional Court Decision Regarding the Rhino Horn Moratorium

rhino

6 April 2017
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The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) is one of the largest and most established conservation NGOs in southern Africa. With a long track record and interest in successful rhino conservation, the EWT has a passionate interest in all rhino conservation issues and therefore has a significant interest in the decision taken by the Constitutional Court on 30 March 2017 between the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and private rhino owners, Messrs. J Kruger and J Hume, two trade bodies, Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA) and the Private Rhino Owners Association (PROA).

On 5 April 2017, the Constitutional Court handed down an order dismissing the DEA’s leave for appeal. The DEA was appealing the 2015 order of the High Court, which set aside the national moratorium on the domestic trade in individual rhino horns or any derivative or product thereof. The national moratorium on the domestic trade of rhino horn, derivative or product, was put in place on 13 February 2009 by the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in terms of section 57(2) of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 10 of 2004 (NEMBA) (the moratorium).

The validity of the moratorium was contested in the North Gauteng High Court in 2012, by two private rhino owners, Messrs. J Kruger and J Hume, and two bodies, Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA) and the Private Rhino Owners Association (PROA). The rhino owners argued that the 2009 moratorium was not published by the Minister in a national newspaper, as is required by the public participation provisions in sections 99 and 100 of NEMBA.

The High Court found that the then Minister did not fully comply with the public consultation requirements of NEMBA and set aside the moratorium with immediate effect. The Minister then applied to the High Court for leave to appeal, which application was dismissed with costs. The Minister then sought leave to appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal, which court also dismissed the application. This resulted in the application for leave to appeal before the Constitutional Court.

The EWT took a decision in 2016 to apply to the Constitutional Court to be an amicus curiae (friend of the court) in this case and is disappointed that the case will not be going ahead. While the EWT did not, and continues not to, condone or support the procedural flaws in the DEA’s inadequate public participatory process, the EWT made the decision to apply to be amicus for the following reasons:

1. The EWT was, and continues to be, concerned about the High Court’s order, which was to effectively set aside the moratorium retrospectively. Given the serious nature of the rhino horn trade crisis and its far-reaching consequences for rhino populations, wildlife crime and international trade, the EWT’s concern is that the High Court erred when they set aside the moratorium ab initio, which means that it was declared invalid right back to its initial inception in 2009, instead of only when the public consultation was allegedly incomplete with the 2013 reinstatement. A worrying consequence of the setting-aside of the moratorium retrospectively is the application by two of the accused in a rhino horn syndicate criminal trial of at least 10 people. The accused have, subsequent to this judgement, applied for the bulk of the charges against them to be withdrawn as they were charged for, inter alia, illegal possession of rhino horns under provincial Ordinances at a time when the moratorium was in effect. This could also potentially have an effect on various pending large criminal trials.
2. The EWT believes that the High Court should have afforded the Minister the opportunity to address the public consultation procedural shortcomings of the instatement of the moratorium.
Unfortunately, the Constitutional Court dismissed the appeal without giving reasons for its finding, except that the appeal had no prospects of success.

As there is legal precedent, and courts have the judicial discretion, to allow government departments the opportunity to rectify procedural flaws, it is disappointing that the Constitutional Court did not suspend the operation of the High Court’s order.

The scourge of rhino poaching and illegal wildlife trade is decimating wildlife populations globally and South Africa is being particularly hard hit. It is vital that the full might of the law is brought against those who engage in illegal wildlife trade and profit from the decimation of our wildlife populations. The hard work of a large number of law enforcement authorities should not be undone by legal loopholes, and justice must be brought to bear against those who profit from wildlife slaughter and illegal trade.

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Contacts
Dr Harriet Davies-Mostert
Head of Conservation
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
harrietd@ewt.org.za

Adam Pires
Wildlife in Trade Programme Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
adamp@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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Victory for biodiversity in uMkhomazi River Valley

 

ewtbirdlife

31 March 2017

Conservation organisations, including the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and BirdLife South Africa, welcome the rejection of the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the proposed construction of a raw water supply dam in the uMkhomazi catchment, KwaZulu-Natal, by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). With passionate support from private landowners, these organisations, amongst others, challenged the proposal due to serious environmental concerns raised, and view the rejection as a victory for biodiversity.

swallow

Although the dam has been proposed by the Department of Water and Sanitation to supply water to the area’s people, its construction is deemed to be an unfavourable option by hydrologists and biodiversity experts alike, due to the pressing need for (less costly) improved catchment management in the area. Catchment management actions could include the protection of healthy grasslands and rehabilitation of overgrazed land and wetlands, which would increase natural vegetation cover and interception of rainfall, and prevent sedimentation, which, if not addressed would lead to siltation of a new dam over time. The experts also called for improved Water Conservation and Demand Management (WCDM) in this and the adjacent catchments’ existing water systems.

The proposed construction is intended to take place in close proximity to several known nesting sites of the Blue Swallow (Hirundo atrocaerulea), which is Critically Endangered in South Africa. These beautiful birds have experienced dramatic population crashes in recent years, and there are currently fewer than 100 birds left, and fewer than 35 nests in the whole of South Africa. With the biggest population residing in KZN, it seemed unthinkable that construction, which could put these birds at risk, would go ahead in this area and that threats and alternatives were not adequately researched prior to costly EIA development.

The environmental consultants for the project organised a dedicated Biodiversity Working Group, which included the national Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). DEA’s team noted that the proposed project has the potential to inflict detrimental impacts on various species of conservation significance, notably the Blue Swallow, with the possible result being the local extinction of that species. Of additional concern is the fact that the proposed site supports populations of Pennington’s Protea Butterfly (Capys penningtoni) and Riverine Keeled Millipede (Gnomeskelus fluvialis), which are found only in the uMkhomazi River Valley region, and nowhere else in the world. As no clear mitigation measures were included in the EIR, the construction of the dam at this site may result in habitat destruction and the extinction of these species. The EIR also did not adequately address the impacts on aquatic species and wetland habitats on and around the proposed site.

The applicants will have the opportunity to address these, and other, concerns raised by DEA in their rejection of the EIR, and should the applicants resubmit their application, we would encourage NGOs and the public to comment on the new document. However, the EWT and BirdLife South Africa, as well as private landowners who have been custodians of these birds and their nests for many years, are grateful for DEA’s swift response in dealing with these concerns. It is refreshing to see environmental, and specifically biodiversity issues, taken seriously when it comes to development, and we look forward to continuing work to preserve the species of this special region.
End

Contacts
Catherine Hughes
Manager: Threatened Grassland Species Programme
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
catherineh@ewt.org.za

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

Daniel Marnewick
Manager: Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas Programme
BirdLife South Africa
Tel: +27 11 789 1122
daniel.marnewick@birdlife.org.za

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