The perilous 1,000-mile journey to save Africa’s endangered black rhinos
28 Oct 2022
Litnet’s Naomi Bruwer interviews Theresa Sowry, Executive Manager: Training of the Southern African Wildlife College, seen here at the 2008 graduation ceremony.
What is the Southern African Wildlife College (SAWC)? What training do you provide and how many students are involved?
The SAWC was established in 1997 by the World Wide Fund for Nature, South Africa (WWF-SA) with money obtained from the German government, and with the support of major conservation stakeholders both within South Africa and regionally across the Southern African Developing community (SADC). The College is a Section 21 company (not for profit) and operated initially with financial support mainly from WWF-SA and other donor agencies.
The establishment of this College was due to the ever-increasing need to have an institution dedicated to the training of protected-area managers within the SADC region.
The aim of the College was to meet SADC training needs within the sphere of natural resource management, and from its inception, the College offered full-time qualification course programmes, which ran for a full year. The curriculum covered a broad range of conservation management skills as well as a range of specialist short courses which included a wide range of wildlife management, nature-based tourism, community-based natural resource management and other environment-related topics.
Custom-made short courses were also developed for those organisations wanting specialist training courses designed to meet specific needs. The courses taught at the College were all designed with input from conservation organisations across SADC and remain relevant to training needs identified across the region.
However, the establishment of the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) and the realisation of transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs) developing across the SADC region led to the SAWC and the Southern African College of Tourism (SACT) becoming training institutions primarily focused on training and capacity-building staff of these TFCAs.
The SAWC is now dedicated to the empowerment, upliftment and capacity building of the conservation sector throughout SADC, specifically to the capacity building of those communities associated with TFCAs. The SAWC has become an SADC-recognised centre of specialisation and continues to work closely with conservation organisations across the SADC to train according to current training needs both within formal protected areas, as well as to train according to the needs of communities surrounding these natural resource areas. The Peace Parks Foundation is now the main fundraiser for the SAWC; however, WWF-SA still plays an active role in this important function.
Over the past ten years, over 450 students from 17 African countries have graduated from SAWC with a formal qualification. Most of these students have returned to their organisations and been promoted to a higher level of authority in their workplace. Management of SAWC keep in contact with past students and monitor their progress when they are back in their workplaces.
The Toyota Enviro Outreach enables the SAWC to visit their graduates in their places of work. Where are these students situated and what kind of work are they doing?
They are situated in Kasungu and Cape Maclear in Malawi, Mana Pools, Hwange, Gonarezhou and Mushandike College in Zimbabwe. The type of work they are doing will be established on this outreach.
What is the purpose of these visits? In other words, what do you hope to achieve?
This outreach has three main objectives:
Firstly, to meet with past students and evaluate the impact the College training has made on their careers and how it is aiding them and their organisation.
Secondly, to identify training needs on the ground, as well as ways in which the College can improve its offering to southern African wildlife organisations.
Thirdly, to expose communities to environmental education and capacitate past students to train the EE programmes once the outreach has left their country.
Will you also be recruiting new students on this Outreach?
I do not think so.
This is not the SAWC’s first collaboration with the Outreach. What was the previous Outreach’s most memorable moment?
The information sent to the SAWC before last year’s trip was that only one student would be in Gorongoza (Cesar) and would be available to meet with the delegation, as he was the only past student currently stationed in Gorongoza.
It was with great delight that on the morning of the 4th August, a number of other students were waiting to meet us. Jose Zavale travelled from Limpopo National Park, Samson Mabulambe from Pomene National Park, and Enoque from Zinave National Park to meet the delegation and discuss training needs.
When we reached Mosi-oa-Tunya, we met with two students that had travelled all the way from Sioma Ngwezi (Mirriam Namushi and Patricia Kalipa).
One other surprise was still to be uncovered. Henry Siseho, from Liuwa Plains, had travelled with the ladies from Sioma Ngwezi!
The rest of the Mosi-oa-Tunya team of past students, namely Moses Kaoma and Lisa Mwiinga, made up the rest of the group for what developed into the highlight SAWC day of the entire trip. Nine past students from five different wildlife areas sat and shared how the SAWC had changed their lives.
This was the most rewarding part of the trip. Friends were reunited, successes and challenges were openly discussed, and it became crystal clear that SAWC is having an impact in conservation beyond what we had ever imagined. Wardens from both sides of a border helped one another with legal matters and problem animals because they had met and become friends at SAWC.
Each one of these nine past students had been promoted since attending SAWC. Their roles and responsibilities are vast and diverse. It became clear that SAWC graduates are essentially running the middle management domain of ZAWA!
What will make a success of this year’s Outreach from the SAWC’s perspective?
Meeting as many past students as possible (last year we met 26!). Developing training plans to help these organisations identify skills needed to competently manage wildlife areas; successful environmental education programmes; seeing new places, meeting new friends!
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