Scientists from South Africa and the United States of America (USA) have collaborated on a book that they hope will enhance the capacity of protected area organisations to respond to changing demands, especially the challenges that arise in the social contexts within these areas.
According to the project proposal, these challenges involve interacting with communities, managing tourism and visitors, understanding the deep-seated values protected areas represent, developing management plans and understanding the social acceptability and legitimacy of uses and actions.
Drawing on their experience of the last 10 years, about 15 researchers attached to the Treehouse Research Programme for People and Conservation adopted a systems approach within which the central thesis of the book can be presented.
The authors strive to illustrate the value of systems thinking by focussing on a better understanding of integrating three major subsystems - managing competing demands, managing relationships with constituencies and managing learning - to develop enhanced conservation capacity. Although the book has a long history of development going back to the late 90s, the conceptual foundation was initiated at a meeting in Skukuza's Treehouse facility that led to the establishment of the Treehouse Research Programme for People and Conservation programme.
The programme is based on an appreciation that parks are conceptualised as social-ecological systems. At a meeting in Skukuza last year, the members reviewed their progress. This included feedback on topics such as the impact of HIV/Aids management strategies for conservation, the implications of community resettlement, organisational learning, legitimacy of resource use, park values, collaboration and relationship management.
The book collaborators are from the University of Montana in the USA, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, SANParks, the South African department of environmental affairs and tourism and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The authors fine-tuned their contributions at a workshop held in Nature's Valley in mid-March.
"We hope to go to print at the end of this year," says Dr Stefanie Freitag-Ronaldson, science operations manager, scientific services in Kruger and the Savanna Parks Cluster.