6 December 2011
This yearâ€™s graduation at the Southern African Wildlife College, which took place on 1 December, was both a jubilant and thought-provoking occasion. Not only did it coincide with the COP17 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban but the central theme focused on wildlife guardianship and the current rhino poaching crisis.
The 47 graduates of both the Higher and Advanced Certificates in Nature Conservation were addressed by Dr Joseph Okori, WWF Internationalâ€™s African Rhino Programme Manager, who said, â€śThe guardianship of Africaâ€™s wildlife resources has been bestowed upon you. As you all venture back to your countries within the SADC region, there is one thing that binds you all â€“ the plight of the African rhino. You have been empowered with the science of Natural Resource Management and the art of Natural Resource Protection. The protection and survival of Africaâ€™s threatened species is in your hands.â€ť
â€śYou are the leaders of tomorrow, you are our advance warning system; charged with the propagation of conservation best practices to ensure ecosystem integrity with support from and engagement with communities. As wildlife guardians, you are also the bridge that will strengthen regional conservation efforts. As ambassadors of the Southern African Wildlife College, it is your duty to share your skills and talents with your neighbours to ensure the protection of our natural resources,â€ť Okori said.
The 2011 student group represented seven different SADC countries including Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. For the first time in the 14 year history of the College, a South African student, Kefilwe Maimane, took top honours in the Higher Certificate in Nature Conservation Implementation and Leadership. Having been awarded scholarships for further study by the Southern African Wildlife College Trust (SACET), Maimane will return to the College next year together with James Mulomba of Zambia and Willem Nganga Ponahazo of Namibia to join the 2012 Advanced Certificate student intake to focus on Transfrontier Conservation Management. In addition, amidst much excitement, four students including Maimane were recognised for their outstanding achievements during the 2011 year.
The Rosie Sturgis Award for the Most Improved Student went to Mandla Qashu of South Africa; the WWF South Africa Award for the Most Outstanding South African Student was awarded to Kefilwe Maimane, the Hans Hoheisen Award for the Best Protected Area Management Student went to Gideon Chikanya of Zambia, the Distell Award for the Best Student â€“ Higher Certificate once again went to Kefilwe Maimane and the Distell Award for the Best Student â€“ Advanced Certificate went to Nashon Jere from Malawi. He was also awarded the trophy for the Best Student Financial Management.
Apart from the Higher Education and Training students who graduated, over 1200 students were trained in various short course programmes at the Wildlife College over the past year. As such, the College has demonstrated its potential to identify training needs and to respond accordingly. Also highlighted was the fact that the College has positioned itself as a regional and international partner that offers scarce skills of high value; skills that can make a very real difference to ever-increasing environmental challenges facing us. â€śThere is no doubt that the College is a melting pot for constructive regional engagement. It is well-placed to strengthen bi-lateral relations and to build future leaders in conservation at all levels,â€ť added Okori.
In closing, Mrs Theresa Sowry, CEO of the Wildlife College thanked Dr Okori and Dr Maria Kanjere, the Collegeâ€™s Executive Manager: Academic Affairs for addressing the students and for encouraging and empowering them to take up the challenge so that they may have a positive impact on the conservation of our natural resources for years to come.