KEYNOTE SPEAKER: ASSOC PROF JORIS CROMSIGT – Conserving Africa’s mega-diversity in the Anthropocene: the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park story

(Tuesday 7 November 2017)

The book that resulted from this study, “Conserving Africa’s Mega-Diversity in the Anthropocene“, will be launched this evening.

Centering on South Africa’s Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP), this talk synthesizes a century of insights from the ecology and conservation management of one of Africa’s oldest protected wildlife areas. At a mere 950km2, the Park is relatively small in comparison with well-known protected areas elsewhere in Africa. Moreover, its boundaries are completely fenced. Despite these constraints HiP may be viewed as a successful example of how Africa’s mega-diversity can be conserved within a remnant of formerly vaster ecosystems. Its story is therefore of great interest to the many other parks increasingly facing similar issues. HiP covers a wide range of environmental conditions: rainfall ranging from 600mm to almost 1000mm over only 35km, vegetation representative of four biomes, and a diversity of substrates and soils. Moreover, HiP is the only park in Africa with a full representation of mega-herbivore species at ecologically meaningful densities, together with a diversity of other ungulates and smaller organisms. This, combined with the presence of all five large mammalian carnivores, provides an exceptional natural laboratory for research on savanna ecosystem functioning, and the role of top-down and bottom-up determinants of ecosystems. In this talk we will discuss the turbulent conservation history of the Park since its proclamation at the end of the 19th century. More specifically, we will go into how science has guided “process-based management” interventions such as re-introduction of elephants and large carnivores, ungulate population management, applications of fire, disease control programs and eradication of invasive plants. We will also highlight some of the globally influential science that has come out of HiP, such as the mega-herbivore concept and new views on the role of fire and herbivores in shaping ecosystems. Finally, we reflect on the role of humans in African ecosystems, and how the perceptions of this have influenced management approaches and conservation achievements. The land enclosed by HiP has been subject to anthropogenic influences for many millennia – including hunting, iron smelting, livestock herding, and agriculture. Nevertheless the “Wilderness Philosophy” of viewing nature as separate from human actions was also very influential throughout the Park’s management history. We discuss how humans have played, and continue to play a clear role in shaping the “Zululand Wilderness” that we now want to conserve.

Dr. Joris Cromsigt is an Associate Professor in wildlife ecology at the department for Wildlife, Fish & Environmental studies of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Umeå, Sweden and a Research Associate at Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Originally from the Netherlands, where he obtained his M.Sc. (1999, Wageningen University) and Ph.D. (2006, University of Groningen) degrees, he has lived and worked around the world since 2008, including long periods in Poland, Norway, Sweden and South Africa. He studies the ecology of large mammals and their role in the functioning of ecosystems and his research spans diverse disciplines such as trophic ecology, behavioral ecology, plant-animal interactions, predator-prey dynamics and community ecology. As a savanna ecologist, with over 16 years of experience in South African savanna systems, he also studies European temperate and boreal ecosystems through ‘savanna glasses’.

His co-authors are Assoc Prof Sally Archibald and Prof Norman Owen-Smith, both from the University of the Witwatersrand.