Foreword by the CEO of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife – Dr Bandile Mkhize
At the outset, Ladies and Gentleman, what an outstanding representation of speakers and pertinent topics for this symposium! It is so rewarding to see Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife continue its distinctive history of attracting such a diverse body of scientific intellect to our province. The Symposium of Contemporary Conservation Practice 2012 is not new, but nevertheless indicates a notable change in a long and proud tradition of ‘Research Symposiums’ run by this organisation and its predecessors.
As you know only too well, Conservation is changing. Its scope is broadening and I for one have frequently argued that it is in need of being re-branded, if that is the correct term! Under the broad title of ‘African Conservation’ I continue to advance the cause of making this discipline both understandable and materially meaningful to our rural communities. This is so critical.
Having recently returned from the World Wilderness Congress in South Korea, my humanistic outreach appeared vindicated with the signing of a ‘CEO Declaration’ espousing the simple principle that conservation must serve people. It was abundantly clear that flora and fauna and the ecological and environmental resource base are there to serve humanity. Yes, bio-diversity conservation can only remain relevant so long as people understand and receive the benefits that accrue from it. Without this its hidden and visible resources will become more vulnerable and depleted.
Of course, this should never be construed as somehow neglecting bio-diversity conservation. On the contrary, looking after and promoting our natural heritage is merely fuelling the engine that provides and sustains the benefits that people receive. Equally, Science and scientists have long since provided the backbone on which our conservation operations have been built. It has helped forge direction and targets and provided a yardstick in reviewing the success (outcomes) of our operations.
This widening theme is supported by the greater and ongoing emphasis being placed on environmental issues, what we at ‘Ezemvelo’ have termed ‘Eco-System Services’; the identification, valuation and protection of critical areas of land and eco-systems that provide all citizens with those essential resources for our livelihoods.
What is particularly rewarding for me is that this symposium perhaps stands apart from others. It represents an important progression on previous approaches by not being purely a science symposium. Instead, it offers a platform for the fusion of ideas and knowledge between scientists, decision-makers and stakeholders. It seems particularly topical that the overall focus is one of making science work for the practical management of our natural resources and growing our economy.
I know that the human emphasis in conservation is sometimes perceived as disproportionately weighted against the traditional scientific corridors of bio-diversity study. Well, there is a balance and accommodation asked for here. And yet a brief study of this symposium’s topics would support this synergy, a belief that you are all trying to bridge the divide between science, policy and the actual practice of nature conservation in a rapidly developing and changing Africa.
Research and management needs to be multidisciplinary, co-operative and partnership-based. Partnerships in conservation are particularly critical for success and you need to be complemented on advancing an involvement with institutions of higher learning in KZN; national institutions, NGOs and development institutes. I note a specific focus on providing opportunities for those natural sciences students studying in tertiary institutions in KZN, for them to get feedback on their research and gain that invaluable experience of presenting their findings.
Collaboration between Ezemvelo and such researchers is crucial in providing information required to address the enormous challenge of conserving biodiversity in a changing world. I do hope this symposium heralds an increased interest in conducting research in Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife protected areas. They offer fantastic opportunities for study.
To this end I am pleased to announce the establishment of the KZN Premier’s Award for the best KZN conservation science student paper. I am heartened to see the strong participation of students at this symposium, from across the country, who will also be able to compete for Student Excellency Awards for the posters and presentations they share with us. We hope to be able to employ our future scientists from amongst those students presenting here.
Another significant development is the stated aim to try and revive the Lammergeyer scientific journal; for it to serve as a platform for presentation of research findings, biological observations from conservation managers, and for opinions and discussion documents on topical issues.
I started this foreword by expressing excitement at the array of speakers and topics assembled for this symposium. Well, let me say how grateful we all are to the partner organisations and sponsors that have made this happen. A symposium such as this would certainly not get off the ground without this level of professionalism. The organizing committee, comprised of many partner institutions, has done an extraordinary job, particularly Dr. Jean Harris, Ezemvelo’s Head of Scientific Services, who has led from the front to make this symposium a reality.
So, no matter how much I fly or am seen to fly the community flag, please appreciate my pride in your efforts encompassed in this symposium and the value I attach to your research. Certainly it represents a long-celebrated label of KZN conservation excellence, both nationally and internationally.