Special Sessions and Hot Topics


The list of Special Sessions and Hot Topics identified below,  whilst not exhaustive, have seen prominence in local media over the last year, and have as such captured the Southern African Public’s interest. By foccussing on these topics, the symposium hopes to provide a more holistic discussion platform which will contribute positively to the national debate.
Scientific Authority Highlights – Working towards a Sustainable Trade in Wildlife
Monday 4 November 2013, 15h30 – 17h30


The Scientific Authority, established in terms of Section 60 of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, is mandated to provide scientific decision support that will assist government with regulating and restricting the trade in specimens of listed threatened or protected species. The Scientific Authority also has a very specific role to play in South Africa’s implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), particularly in relation to the undertaking of non-detriment findings. This session will highlight some of the key issues currently being addressed by the Scientific Authority.

The Fox and the Hound or High Noon: Legal Considerations to Safeguarding Protected Areas and Biodiversity
Tuesday 5 November 2013, 08h30 – 13h00
The environmental law session, which is spread over a plenary and a breakaway session, focuses on a variety of legal issues (both domestic and international) which are relevant to the conservation of biodiversity. The speakers for this session have been drawn from academia, legal practice and government, and the session will thus present a broad spectrum of perspectives on environmental law and its implementation in South Africa.
The session will have a particularly strong focus on legal issues concerning protected areas management, such as land reform in protected areas, sustainable tourism in transfrontier conservation areas, and the determination and management of buffer zones. Other topics to be covered include the wrestle for environmental control over mining rights; transformation in the context of environmental authorisations; the legislative authority of local government to conserve the environment; the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act; and the international regulation of bioprospecting activities.

Biodiversity Stewardship
Tuesday 5 November 2013, 14h00 – 17h30
The Department of Environmental Affairs’ Protected Area Expansion Strategy, under the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act (Act 57 of 2003), aims to promote the longterm security of important biodiversity areas falling outside of the formally protected area network through the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme. A series of case studies presented in this session will showcase the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme, illustrating the value of this tool for conservation, and highlighting the broad successes, benefits, risks and challenges that exist for its effective implementation and long term viability.



Wildlife Management Ethics and Welfare
Tuesday 5 November 2013, 16h00 – 18h00
Currently, wildlife treatment in captivity is regulated by national statutes that have their origins in the early 1970s with an agricultural animal focus. In addition, some provinces have limited animal welfare provisions in their legislation, but these, as with the national legislation, have their origins in the 1970s or earlier. Concern has been raised that these legal tools are outdated, parochial, fragmented and lack the gravitas to address the increasing welfare challenges faced by the wildlife industry (e.g. canned lion hunting, elephant–back safaris, wildlife petting, circuses, intensive and crossbreeding, introduction of extralimital species, humanwildlife conflict, etc.). There is clearly a need for South Africa’s legislation to evolve to address such challenges. However, it is recognized that the development of new law must be rooted in empirical research and sound and logical reasoning that reflects the morals of modern-day society. It is further recognized that changes to the current thinking regarding wildlife welfare, and ultimately to South Africa’s welfare related laws, are most likely to come through collaboration and networking amongst relevant stakeholders.
This special session aims to address these issues with case studies from practitioners representing the NSPCA, Wildlife Poisoning Prevention & Conflict Resolution, EKZNW and uShaka Marine World. We will leave 30 minutes for discussion in which we will introduce the Wildlife Welfare Science Forum (WWSF), and prepare a summary statement for publication, based on lessons learned during the session. The session will be co-chaired by Mandy Lombard from the University of Cape Town, Andy Blackmore from EKZNW, and Michael Harris from Friends of Animals and the University of Denver. A specific invitation is extended to legal professionals at the Symposium, to contribute to the discussion and the summary statement.

Wildlife Welfare Science Forum: The Wildlife Welfare Science Forum (WWSF) aims to address wildlife welfare concerns in South Africa with evidenceand
research-based arguments and actions. The Forum invites environmental/agricultural/social scientists; economists; legal, policy and ethics experts; and tourism and animal welfare professionals to join our online discussion forum, by emailing info@publicwatch.org.za with WWSF in the subject line.



Rhino Conservation in a Poaching Crisis
Wednesday 6 November 2013, 09h00 – 10h30
According to IUCN’s Species Survival Commission’s (SSC) African Rhino Specialist Group Rhino, poaching increased by 43% between 2011 and 2012, representing a loss of almost 3% of the population in 2012. In 2012, at least 745 rhinos were poached throughout Africa – the highest number in two decades – with a record 668 rhinos killed in South Africa alone. In 2013, the rate of poaching has been higher than in 2012, with 688 rhino poached as at 21st September 2013 (South African Department Environmental Affairs). This is the crisis we face, and if the current escalating rate of poaching and organised syndicates is not stopped, it is expected that African rhino populations could face a decline as soon as 2015/16 (AfRSG Report, 2013).
This session will comprise four formal presentations followed by an extended discussion period. Richard Emslie (IUCN SSC AfRSG) will provide an overview of rhino conservation globally and in Africa. Tony Conway (Chair of the KZN Rhino Management Group) will provide an update on poaching in South Africa and law enforcement successes, particularly in KwaZuluNatal. Simon Naylor, manager of Phinda Private Game Reserve, will provide the perspective of rhino conservation on private land. Ken Maggs’ (SANParks) presentation will look at the different management options being implemented and explored.

Wildlife Trade and Crime Update
Wednesday 6 November 2013, 10h30 – 11h00
Wildlife crime takes many guises: from the illegal use of local wildlife populations for subsistence livelihoods, to unregulated (over)utilisation of commercially harvested species, to highly organised rings smuggling wildlife specimens across international trade routes to support multibillion
dollar global industries. However, one thing is certain: across the globe, wildlife crime is on the increase, with significant negative consequences for biodiversity across a multitude of natural landscapes. A Special Session on Wildlife Crime was held at the Symposium of Contemporary Conservation Practice in 2012. This session brought together experts on wildlife crime to showcase the diversity of crimes that are committed, draw parallels across a multitude of systems and identify various tools for combating wildlife crime and illegal trade. A workshop process drew on the expertise of symposium participants to identify the biggest challenges preventing the effective mitigation of wildlife crime and to identify urgent actions needed to address this
scourge. At the 2013 Symposium, we revisit some of the most pressing issues in wildlife crime, discuss emerging proactive and reactive instruments to combat crime, provide an update on progress made over the last twelve months, and encourage feedback and suggestions on mechanisms to improve our effectiveness at various scales.

Technical Aspects of Selective and Intensive Breeding of Game
Wednesday 6 November 2013, 11h3013h30

A lucrative trade has developed in South Africa for rare colour mutations of indigenous antelope and carnivores. Breeding these rare mutations requires selective and intensive breeding practices,which often adopt methods quite opposite to conservation breeding, including use of inbreeding. An additional emerging practice is that of selective breeding for other characteristics such as body size and horn length, to produce trophy quality animals for hunting. At one extreme, hybridization across sub-species boundaries is being used to get desirable traits, but the main area of concern for regulatory authorities is to determine the risk to biodiversity of the spread of genes into the broader populations from animals which have been selectively bred for certain traits. Presently, it is not clear what deleterious genes may be linked to the genes coding for the ‘desirable’ traits. There are other ‘softer’ issues at stake in terms of reputational damage to the South African ecotourism and  hunting industry, impacts of predator control to protect these high value resources, as well as animal welfare issues.


Regulatory authorities have to consider the impacts within the framework of sustainability principles as embedded in environmental legislation of South Africa such as that “economic opportunities must be compatible with, and complement conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity”. It is therefore critical for government to understand the impacts of activities such as intensive and selective breeding in terms of its economic, social and environmental impact. The South African government requires guidance from scientists to produce policy and regulatory frameworks that appropriately balance these impacts.


The purpose of this session is to present scientific evidence on certain identified issues and impacts, followed by a panel discussion which will inter alia discuss and explore mechanisms for a sustainable game industry, while at the same time preventing undue risk to biodiversity (however, this is a technical session and not a platform for formal engagement with the industry).


Marine Biodiversity Assessment and Conservation Planning
Thursday 7 November 2013, 11h00 – 13h00
Friday 8 November 2013, 10h30 – 11h30
This session focuses on recent developments and future work in the marine biodiversity planning arena. Recent planning products, South Africa’s Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas and new developments in marine protected area expansion will be shown. The special discussion session will focus on moving towards the identification of Critical Biodiversity Areas in South Africa’s marine environment.



Marine Science for Management
Thursday 7 November 2013, 14h00 – 17h30
In order to facilitate responsible conservation decision making, the links between science and management need to be reinforced at regular intervals. This two-way communication should firstly focus scientists on the burning issues, and secondly inform management on current and future issues based on empirical data. This special session will address threats like temperature and microplastics, across habitats like coral reefs and the intertidal zone, using biological indicators ranging from invertebrates, fish and turtles.

Conservation of Cultural Heritage
Thursday 7 November 2013, 14h00 – 17h30
Protected areas are often foci of cultural heritage as such as they are of biodiversity. Several sets of legislation require the management of Protected Areas to include the management and protection of cultural heritage resources. The digital documentation of the Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift battlefield sites using modern mapping techniques will not only provide a useful management tool, but also a valuable new way of interpreting cultural landscapes within protected areas. Extending the management of cultural resources in to the ocean, Vanessa Maitland will introduce the audience to Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage, highlighting the importance of including this resource in the integrated management of the marine environment. The protected area management planning process requires participation from specialists during the various stages of plan development and implementation and it is hoped that this session will assist in introducing protected areas management to the various specialities within cultural heritage. This will also sensitise managers to highlighting particular heritage resource issues within their area of control. Heritage Resource Management also makes out part of the EIA and EMF processes and one of the speakers will relay her experience in dealing with Cultural Resources Management (CRM) in this process as in terms of the National Environmental Management Act (No.107 of 1998) environmental impact assessment (EIA) Regulations, various activities within Protected Areas require environmental authorisation before they may commence. Cultural Heritage Resources also includes institutional memory and Dr van Vollenhoven will provide insight into his 14 year research project in the Kruger National Park. Controversial topics such as dog hunting and incorporating the Sandescendents of the Drakensberg in to the management of rock art will provide food for thought, while we usher in the future of CRM with presentations on the 3D scanning of rock art and the online database SAHRIS.

Road Ecology in South Africa
Friday 8 November 2013, 08h00 – 10h00
Despite recognition of roads being a threat to biodiversity, roaddensity continues to increase and huge budgets are devoted to construction and upgrading of roads with little or no allocation to mitigation measures to protect biodiversity. Much information exists on human road casualties, but very little on animal road deaths. Research on roads is fairly ad hoc and largely reflects the interests of individual researchers and not the broad spectrum of adverse impacts on wildlife populations. Mitigation of the impacts of roads on wildlife populations is long overdue and research is essential to guide the implementation of mitigation strategies. Growing concern about the ecological effects of roads has led to the emergence of a new scientific discipline called road ecology. The goal of road ecology is to provide planners with scientific advice on how to minimise or mitigate negative environmental impacts of transportation. Despite this being a growing field of study in the USA and Europe, the extent and impact of the transport sector on wildlife is largely unknown in South Africa. In 2012, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) hosted two Road Ecology workshops and
identified a number of actions and research projects that ought to be undertaken. This special session will enable us to: i) Increase awareness of the state of road ecology in South Africa amongst nature conservation officials and other stakeholders; ii) Outline how the data gathered will be incorporated into a Sensitivity Map which can be used to guide road developments in South Africa; iii) Discuss issues associated with the development of an improved road network for local and national development versus conservation issues; and, iv) Examine how road ecology can be mainstreamed into provincial nature conservation offices, and what constraints might exist.

Managing the Famine Weed Parthenium hysterophorus Threat


Friday 8 November 2013, 10h30 – 11h30


Invasive Alien Species represent the second greatest threat to biodiversity after land transformation. The increase in disturbance of natural ecosystems, massive increase in international travel, and effects of climate change are exacerbating the problem of the introduction, competitiveness and spread of alien species. However, managing alien species receives little attention in the policies, strategies and operational guidelines of conservation agencies, as evidenced by a comparison of budgets allocated to law enforcement compared to alien species control. In addition to hundreds of other established invasive species, Famine Weed (Parthenium) represents a massive threat to the biodiversity and socioeconomic wellbeing of people in southern Africa. The second half of the Invasive Alien Species session focuses on presenting the status quo in terms of the extent of Famine Weed within KwaZuluNatal, highlights the potential devastating socioeconomic impacts, reports back on recent progress in the development of a national strategy and a protected areas strategy, and explores recent developments and prospects for biological control. Participants will come away from the session with the best current information on the status, threats and management efforts directed at this species, and will have an opportunity to contribute ideas to managing the impact.

Fracking for Shale Gas
Friday 8 November 2013, 12h30 – 13h45
The controversial topic of fracking for shale gas will be explored in this session, providing technical information as well as insights into the disparate perspectives that have emerged in this debate. An update on the regulatory framework for fracking will be provided by the Department of Environment Affairs, and technical information about the geological aspects of fracking will be presented by the Council for GeoScience. Key inputs will be the views of the Treasure the Karoo Action Group that has been highly vocal on the matter, as well as an industry perspective on exploration presented by a representative from Shell South Africa. The presentations will be followed by a panel discussion. It is expected that this session will provide a cutting edge update about potential risks and benefits, and the arguments for and against fracking, as well as progress with regards to regulation.