Skills for nature's guardians

The college is the anti-poaching training provider for the Kruger Park. (Supplied)

The college is the anti-poaching training provider for the Kruger Park. (Supplied)

Since 1996 the Southern African Wildlife College has provided vital skills training in wildlife management and nature-based tourism to support the socio-economic development of southern Africa.

By the end of 2013, more than 10 480 students from 46 countries had been trained in natural resource management.

The college’s efforts are crucial for the future of biodiversity, says spokesperson Jeanné Poultney, because it provides “adequate training for the custodians of Africa’s dwindling wildlife populations and natural resources”.

“High priority is placed on co-operation with local communities living in the buffer zones surrounding game parks, who will play a vital role in the unified approach to the sustainable management of natural resources and sustainable development.”

The college, located 10km west of the Kruger National Park in Limpopo, enables students to gain hands-on experience in the bush.

One of its flagship programmes is the protected area management course, which has 50 graduates annually.

“The primary beneficiaries of the project are men and women already employed in the field of conservation who wish to advance their career at management level, but who do not necessarily have the means to study further,” says Poultney.

“The college has to date trained and helped fund more than 800 protected area management students from 26 different countries, mainly from countries within the SADC region.”

The college has also been active in the war against rhino poaching, by providing field ranger training to support stakeholders.

Poultney says the college has worked with the International Rangers Federation to “take the lead in developing training materials in consultation with various experts to standardise and professionalise ranger training across the region”.

“This is particularly relevant given the current rhino poaching onslaught in South Africa and the growing elephant poaching crisis in the rest of Africa,” she says.

The college has been appointed Kruger National Park’s in-house anti-poaching training provider. The national government has funded it to train community rangers who will work closely with communities and respond to poaching issues around national parks.

Poultney says education and training is needed to build resilience to climate change impacts in southern Africa, and to counter the many immediate and long-term threats to biodiversity.

“Historical events, including wars within the region, apartheid and human displacement, have led to extensive degradation. New economic development, driven partly by the urgent need to address high levels of poverty, is also placing pressure on natural resources.”

At least 750 students have completed full qualification courses at the college, and 9 700 students have been through targeted skills development courses, short course programmes and learnerships.

“Approximately 80% of the learners who have received training at the college are still in wildlife management, and most of the graduates have been promoted to more senior management positions,” Poultney says.

In early June, the college signed a milestone agreement with the USAid Resilience in the Limpopo River Basin programme, which will help with education funding for more natural resource managers.