January 2007 saw the arrival of 20 new conservation diploma students in the Kruger National Park (KNP). These are a group of specially selected third year Nature Conservation Diploma students from various learning institutions across South Africa.
This privileged group of students was selected from the initial application of over 130 students. The students come from as far afield as Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Cape Town, Tshwane University of Technology and Mangosuthu Technikon in Durban.
The students will be employed in the park for a year to gain work and practical experience, a requirement for the completion of their diploma. During this year, they will be treated as Sanparks employees, issued with a uniform and placed with different departments within KNP.
Kruger National Park has an obligation towards South Africa's tertiary institutions to provide the students with an opportunity to be employed as a temporary staff member, to assist in all departments and be included in the park system. Here they will receive "on the job training" while also being assisted by staff members in completing their projects and reports as part of their diploma commitment.
Students are taken through a rigorous and detailed induction course, over two weeks in early January, to prepare them for their working year in the Kruger Park. The induction course covers all aspects of park life. KNP staff from all departments are involved in passing on their valuable knowledge and experience to the new arrivals.
Presentations given during the induction included background on the mission and objectives of the KNP, management policies, ecological information, veterinary issues, biodiversity monitoring, technical services and tourism in the park. Students are also required to submit an assignment following the induction course, to show they have really understood and can use all the information presented to them.
But it wasn't all lectures and computers - the students visited the Veterinary Wildlife Services animal bomas, the Alien Biota Monitoring and Biological Control Breeding Centre, the Skukuza water purification plant and the waste management site. As the students will be assisting staff out in the field, they also learnt basic firearm handling. For many of the students this was the first time they had handled a firearm. Much emphasis was placed on important safety skills and they tried their hand at target shooting on the shooting range.
Students also participated in detailed biodiversity surveys which meant being out in the veld, setting traps and looking out for elephants and lions, both of which were spotted on foot. Sampling for fish in the river had its own challenges, but everyone was surprised by the number of fish caught. This type of "hands-on" training will provide greater insight into how the animals and plants live and work together. Conservation is not only restricted to animals and plants that we can see and hear, it involves the whole system, much of which is not visible at first glance.
By Michele Hofmeyr
Kruger National Park