As part of SCBI’s mission to educate and train the next generation of conservationists around the globe, two of the National Zoo’s science centers, the Center for Conservation Education and Sustainability (CCES) and the Center for Species Survival (CSS), have teamed up on a multi-year program to build capacity for conservation in southern Africa.
From 2002 through 2005, in partnership with the Cheetah Conservation Fund, our Zoo team conducted a series of training courses and workshops in Namibia, many of which included participants from around the larger region. In 2008, this team received a follow-up grant from the US State Department to continue to expand this program with a broader focus on the 15 countries within the Southern Africa Development Community.
In advancing this new effort, Dave Wildt of CSS is joined by Adrienne Crosier (CSS) and Joe Kolowski (CCES) as they begin to develop a vision for the coming years. This dynamic team of scientists is joining forces with Cheetah Conservation Botswana, a new on-the-ground partner in SCBI’s capacity-building effort.
Since its formation in 2003, Cheetah Conservation Botswana has quickly become one of the leaders in conservation education and research within Botswana. They have distinguished themselves in their commitment to working with landowners and farmers outside protected areas to promote not only cheetah conservation and mitigation of livestock-predator conflict, but also sustainable rangeland and livestock management.
Botswana is a prime location for developing this capacity-building program due to its central location in southern Africa, its strong civil and political infrastructure, and the fact that South African Development Community offices are based in the capital, Gaborone.
No one knows better the priorities and existing gaps in conservation training than those based in the region and working on these issues every day. The success of new training programs in the region will depend on strong collaboration with existing organizations, as well as local and national governments. So, with the help of Cheetah Conservation Botswana, the SCBI team organized a three-day workshop, held in Gaborone, Botswana from August 10 through August 12, to bring together representatives from the government ministries and departments, NGOs and research groups working in conservation in the country. The goals of this workshop were to:
In the end, a total of 32 participants from 26 organizations came together in Gaborone to meet, share ideas, and work toward finding the way forward for this SCBI program. SCBI was represented in Gaborone by Crosier, Kolowski, and Kim Terrell, a PhD student at SCBI.
“By all measures the workshop was a great success and an exciting first step for this program,” said Kolowski. “It was enormously helpful to our SCBI team to get a detailed perspective on the conservation training needs of the region, and what we can do to best address them.”
The workshop began by identifying priority training topics and associating them with particular audience groups. In smaller working groups, those participants most interested and experienced in the different topics worked to flesh out the preliminary details of what an effective training program for each topic should include.
Examples of some of the critically needed programs identified during the workshop included training for farmers and livestock owners in livestock and rangeland management, training for researchers and conservation practitioners in biodiversity monitoring techniques; and training for enforcement agents such as park managers, wildlife officers, and anti-poaching personnel in techniques for mitigating human-wildlife conflict.
Crosier noted that there was a strong message from the participants that this kind of training program needs to be more than just a one-time event; rather it must be designed to continue on beyond the life of a particular project or funding cycle.
“We feel strongly that the ultimate decision about our course of action, and the manner in which we implement this program, must be in the hands of those living and working in southern Africa. That’s why getting regional scientists, managers and conservation professionals together at the outset is so critically important,” Dave Wildt said.
Participants in the workshop, including our SCBI scientists, are hopeful about the future of conservation in southern Africa. Conservation efforts enacted or improved as a result of this project’s planned training programs will likely influence the long-term survival not only of predators like cheetahs, hyenas, wild dogs, lions, and leopards, but also of the unique ecosystems and habitats that make up southern Africa’s landscape.
“From the perspective of developing an effective and potentially self-sustaining conservation training program, we believe this project has enormous potential,” Kolowski said. “There was an inspiring amount of enthusiasm and motivation from the people we brought together in Gaborone, which gives us a lot of optimism about what we can accomplish in the coming years. The next step is for us to review the results of the workshop, and turn these discussions and ideas into on-the-ground training programs. We’re excited to get started.”
Keep an eye out on the National Zoo’s website for updates about programs that develop as a result of this workshop, and for reports about their implementation in the field.