By Michele Hofmeyr
With fresh faces and new uniforms, this year's intake of 18 students studying for a diploma in conservation joined the ranks of SANParks staff in January. Each year the Kruger National Park (KNP) hosts conservation diploma students from various learning institutions around the country for a year of 'experiential training'.
This year of 'hands-on' exposure to conservation in action is part of the requirement to complete the Nature Conservation Diploma. The year starts off with an induction course that provides the students with all the necessary background for working in the KNP.
For two weeks the students are given a series of lectures and practical demonstrations by SANParks staff on a whole host of issues from water management to vehicle maintenance.
The course is designed to provide the students with information on all aspects of the KNP so they can answer queries from guests and visitors, as they will often be working in the public arena. Students are placed in various departments within the KNP from People and Conservation to Scientific Services.
Students are appointed SANParks mentors to assist with their tasks and assignments throughout the year and to ensure that they gain the maximum benefit of working in a world-renowned national park. The students are also required to write a detailed assignment on what they learnt during the induction course and are also given practical firearm training.
Students also get to participate in the biodiversity surveys currently underway in southern KNP, which means learning more about the smaller creatures that live in the veld that also play a crucial role in the ecosystem. The course is run by Vanessa Strydom, manager: conservation interpretation and training from SANParks Conservation Services, based in Malelane.
'It's important that we take the time to train our students properly at the beginning of the year so they are well-equipped for the year ahead' says Vanessa. Hosting these students for a year is SANParks commitment and investment in helping to provide well-trained young people who have the potential to become the new leaders in conservation science and management.