With the graduation of its 2012 certificate course students, the Southern African Wildlife College this year celebrated 15 years of developing protected area management expertise across the southern African region and beyond.
Keynote speaker, Dr Bartolomeu Soto, Head of the Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) Unit in Mozambique and Board Member of the College since its inception in 1996, told the graduates that they are stepping into one of the most important professions in the world. "It is up to you to help find sustainable solutions to the threats facing not only the reserves in which you are employed but for the planet as a whole," he said.
"Globally species are being lost at a pace 1000 times faster than in recent geological times. In the 2011 update of the IUCN Red List of threatened species, 4192 species are listed as threatened in Sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, Africa has the world's fastest growing population increasing annually at a rate of 2.5%. The demand for resources such as timber, fuel wood, bush meat, fish and fresh water is ever increasing with more land being put to agricultural production rather than the protection of our natural resources," he said.
Globally, the IUCN at its World Congress held in Jeju chose "Nature Plus" as the theme for the Congress and identified the primary topics as climate change, sustainable food production, green growth, the role of conservation in poverty alleviation and the relevance of nature to our lives.
The 64 graduates of both the Higher and Advanced Certificates in Nature Conservation were encouraged to rise to the challenge and make a difference by making a contribution by serving protected areas, fighting poverty and supporting the development of people."You have joined over 8 000 people that have been trained by this College, 319 of them who are already making a difference in countries such as my birth country Mozambique, with several of them having taken up leadership positions in conservation", Dr Soto said.
The 2012 student group represented eight different SADC countries including Namibia, Malawi Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, with one student hailing from Israel. Having presented the first certificate course in 1998, the College has to date trained students from 18 different countries in the year-long certificate programme.
During the graduation ceremony, six students were recognised for their outstanding achievements during the 2012 year. The Rosie Sturgis Award for the Most Improved Student went to Tomás Chibale from the Mozambique Ministry of Tourism and National Parks, the WWF South Africa Award for the Most Outstanding South African Student was awarded to Khumoetsile Phala from North West Parks & Tourism Board, the Hans Hoheisen Award for the Best Protected Area Management Student went to Willem Ponahazo from the Wuparo Conservancy in Namibia and Kefilwe Maimane from North West Parks and Tourism Board was awarded the trophy for the Best Financial Management Student. The two top awards sponsored by Distell for the Best Student — Higher Certificate in Nature Conservation Leadership and the Advanced Certificate in Transfrontier Conservation Management went to Simba Sandram, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and Terry Njovu from the Zambian Wildlife Authority respectively.
In addition, amidst much excitement, three students from the Higher Certificate course were awarded scholarships made available by the Southern African Wildlife College Trust (SACET) to continue their studies at the Wildlife College. The scholarship recipients included Khumoetsile Phala, North West Parks and Tourism Board, Simba Sandram and Simon Muchatibaya, both of Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
Theresa Sowry, CEO of the Wildlife College said that apart from the Higher Education and Training students who graduated, over 1 600 students were trained across various programmes at the Wildlife College over the past year. As such, the College has demonstrated its potential to identify conservation training needs across the region and to respond accordingly.