First-hand Experience In Kruger
The close proximity of the South African Wildlife College (SAWC) to the Kruger National Park (KNP) provides excellent opportunities for practical excursions for the students. It also allows for meeting specialist conservation staff such as section rangers, and KNP scientists and learning from their experiences or sharing ideas.
In the last half of 2006 the diploma students visited the KNP as part of their landscape management module. The main objective of the three day field trip was to learn about the northern plains and its dynamics - what helped to shape this landscape and its associated mosaics, and over what time frame did this shaping take place. The students were very excited about getting away from the computers and theoretical tasks.
The bus left the college campus early in the morning and entered the park at Orpen Gate. They took a slow drive up to Mopani with the occasional stop to discuss the changes in landscape and the possible causes. At Mopani they received a fascinating talk and presentation by Johann Oelofse (Mooiplaas section ranger). Johann covered the impacts of drought, fire and herbivory on the Mooiplaas section. The group then moved up north to the Shingwedzi Research Camp where they stayed for two nights.
The next day they had a talk by Diba Rikhotso, who heads up the Shingwedzi research camp. He accompanied the class to the roan enclosure north of Shingwedzi and explained the camp and impacts water provision had in the park. On the third day the group departed for Letaba, where Johan Oosthuizen spoke about diseases in the park. The diploma class loved their visit to Kruger and have suggested that next year's class spend more time in the park and even have some of their 'formal' lectures there.
In the landscape ecology module the students also learn about different ways of managing natural resources and investigate a variety of environmental frameworks that can be implemented such as biosphere reserves. Once again the location of the SAWC is perfectly situated, as it is right in the middle of the largest biosphere reserve in world: Kruger to Canyons (K2C) Biosphere Region. The students were able to use the K2C as a case study. All the students agreed that this landscape ecology module was one of the most important modules in studying natural resource management, but it was also the toughest.
The assessments required a thinking "out the box" approach as there are so many dynamics influencing the patterns of landscapes and the management of natural resources. Fortunately, Ron Thomson, another guest speaker in this module, helped the students to start thinking beyond the (self imposed) boundaries. Ron discussed resource utilisation options with the class.
After the challenging landscape module the diploma class went straight into the next module, tourism development and management. This consists of four very busy weeks in learning about tourism development in conservation (and communal) areas. The students spend a lot of time in small groups discussing key issues pertaining to tourism and then presenting back to the class. They covered topics such as identifying potential impacts (positive and negative), mitigating and enhancing these impacts, customer care, management of tourists, and best approaches for community based tourism enterprises as well as different tourism products for protected areas.
This year, 12 additional students joined the class as shortcourse participants. There were four employees from KNP: Ezrom Mathumbu, Wesley Mabasa, Albert Msimango and Mirriam Rapoo, all involved in the hospitality management in the park. In addition to the four locals there were two men from Ethiopia, three ladies from Lesotho, two from Mozambique and a teacher from Welverdiend, a rural community bordering the Kruger and Manyeleti protected areas.
These additional participants really contributed to making the class even more like the United Nations as there were already six South African Development Countries (SADC) countries represented - Zimbabwe, Zambia, Swaziland, RSA, Malawi and Botswana.
The Ethiopian students, lecturers at a university in Ethiopia, were particularly interested in learning about eco-tourism and specially wanted to visit the KNP. The KNP employees came to the rescue and were great ambassadors of South Africa. Ezrom and Wesley went out of their way for the Lesothan and Ethiopian visitors, taking them on drives and excursions over the weekends and organising accommodation in the KNP.
Although the tourism module is not as difficult as landscape management, the students find the work load very challenging as they have to prepare a marketing and tourism development plan in a relatively short period of time, so the field trip was very welcome.
The students went white water rafting on the Sabie River, near Paul Kruger Gate, and visited Shangana Cultural Village near Hazyview, Tintswalo Lodge in the Manyeleti, Matumi, Gwala gwala and Pezulu (the last three are in conservancies off the Guernsey Road). The highlight for nearly every one of the students was the rafting experience.
By Jen Newenham
In Kruger National Park