Building Sustainable Communities: South Africa

Building Sustainable Communities: South Africa


Penn State has a
really interesting and growing relationship it’s
evolving with communities and a number of agencies
within the Eastern Cape region and generally across
South Africa. We’ve been working with
students through the Parks and People study abroad
program for several years. We also have faculty
doing independent research and we have evolving
partnerships with other agencies in the area. Parks and People is a
journey from urban spaces in South Africa through
different landscapes, through the rural spaces,
looking at the different ways in which humans engage
with the environment, looking at different challenges, looking at the different
opportunities, and being able to put students at the center
of that so that they can look at global issues through
a South African lens. A very unique aspect of
working in South Africa is that it really is at the
forefront of different kinds of ways in which
conservation is manifest. So you have the big National
Parks, you have State or Provincial Parks and you also
have a really booming industry in the private game industry. You’re on a private
game reserve, which means that the
land is owned privately and our economic model requires
us to look after the land and the wild animals purely
from the income that we make from visiting tourists. I would like to welcome
you guys to Amakhala. It is a privilege and an
honor for me to be able to take you out on a safari. The reserve was previously
farmland until the late 1990s early
2000s and the families who owned the land were battling
to make ends meet economically and so they made a
decision to come together to form one large
wildlife area and move into the wildlife industry
and namely with tourism to provide a place for people
to come and see wildlife and still use the
land responsibly. We are a small game reserve, and
so the ecosystem is not going to balance itself
and work naturally because we don’t
have enough space. So to allow it to operate as
naturally as possible we need to put certain management
steps in. How do you count them
if it’s like a big area, especially the animals
that are nocturnal? How are you able to keep track? We track our predators. They have radio collars and we
track them with telemetry sets and basically what we want to
know is how much they’re eating. Amakhala Game Reserve while it’s
fenced to protect the wildlife and and keep them in the right
area we believe that we’re part of the whole community
that surrounds us. It has happened in the political
sphere of South Africa at times where game reserves
and game farms are seen as pushing people off the land and just making huge
tracts for wild animals. In fact our situation we’ve
found quite the opposite. In changing from
agriculture to wildlife and tourism we’ve increased
the number of people that are employed in
this area significantly. I grew up in a place
called Kirkwood. Similar vegetation
to this place. Growing up in this
area is challenging. As you know Eastern Cape is one of the poorest provinces
in South Africa. Addo Elephant National Park
is the closest National Park to my hometown, which means
I am working in my area. For me as I grow up I
see animals I see food, but now that has changed
ever since I was introduced to the industry of conservation. Conservation for
me– it was WOW. I didn’t know what
conservation was. Conservation has been
primarily about mammals, but over the years it’s all about the environment
itself now. Not only talking about we
protect animals we also protecting the flora species. Whereas in South African
National Park we’re only keeping animals that are native
to the particular area. For instance, you don’t
have giraffes in Addo because we know the
vegetation is very low. So giraffes won’t survive
long in area like this. We don’t just bring animals because tourists
want to see animals. We bring animals that we
know the park can sustain. Something that someone
might see as a simple fence that you know even though
it’s covering a vast amount of area it can still
really impact nature. I’m actually reading a book
right now called A Game Ranger Remembers and something
that the author stated in his book was just
putting up a fence around wildlife even though they
can roam freely in the fence that fence cuts off paths
that are intuitively in certain animals’ minds. I analyze the roads a lot
because the roads are the way that humans engage
with the animals, and the animals are coming
across and you see people, like a person literally pulled
to the side and almost got out of their car leaning
out to take a picture but if something were to happen and if the animal
was frightened, if the elephant decided
to attack the human, the elephant would have to die. I wanted to get out of there
because I want the animals to be able to be able to
live in their environment without being bothered
or potential threats of danger from me, I’m a human. But at the same time, I had
this really selfish view because I wanted to see them, I wanted to touch them,
I wanted to hug them. It was definitely like a
battle of like selfishness and then the idea that I know
moreso about conservation now and I know the effects
that I could have on animals that I love. The Eastern Cape Parks and
Tourism Agency is in charge of managing approximately
35 nature reserves or protected areas. And what their mandate
expects them to do is to understand the
ecology of these spaces from the different species that
live in these spaces all the way to the species that move
across these spaces. This is Cindy the spider. Her front like four legs are
all feelers for out front and it looks like she
walks with the back two. This is a scorpion,
we just caught it. This is very conflicting
because we just removed it from its home, it was resting, in the name of conservation
for us. And the positive side of it is that now we’ll have more
information on the landscape. We’re doing a biological
survey, which is simply to understand what are the
species that are here to be able to make management decisions
and further scientific inquiry. We always find spiders,
sometimes we find scorpions. I’ve loved going out into
bush since I was very young, and I never had a doubt what
I want to do when I grew up so conservation was the
thing I wanted to go into. Penn State University has
been playing a critical role, in my opinion, from the start
in coming in every year, having students available
to help us, because this is quite
a lot of hard work that you need lots of hands for. It’s really exciting to see how
exactly they set up everything and how long it takes
and how exhausting it is and how many people you need. Because this is all kind of
going on behind the scenes and when you come to a nature
reserve they don’t really tell you how they figure
out all these things, so it’s been enlightening to see what happens
really behind the scenes. In South Africa conservation
changed a lot from 1994 when Apartheid became
a thing of the past. It went from a very rigid
protective type of stance to a more people oriented
kind of conservation set up. When I started in conservation
twenty years ago things were quite mellow where these days some of our protected
areas is a war zone just to keep our rhino alive
for example is quite a job and it costs a lot of money. Unfortunately it’s worse
and worse every year, and the resources is
becoming less and less. Some people need to stand in the
front line and protect species and plants and animals. And that’s kind of
what gives me a kick, is to know that I stand
there and I protect things so that my kids’ kids and the
future generations also have the benefit that I had
when I was young. When I first came to South
Africa when I thought of biodiversity I thought of
the diversity of plants and how that type of diversity leads
to resilience in a landscape, but there’s also different
types of biodiversity. Converging of biomes,
converging of climates, converging of soils,
high diversity. It’s quite special to be
in such a diverse place. You have to think of animals and why you need many different
types of animals to contribute to the landscape
working perfectly because they all affect
one another in one way. This is food, all the little
raptors, and everything wants to eat these things
all the time. And you also have to think
about the soil, and how it’s under your feet so you
kind of don’t think about it all the
time, but diversity of soils is also
really important. Eastern Cape is quite diverse. It’s got seven biomes just in
one province and it’s got many of the biodiversity hot
spots in South Africa. So our protected areas,
we try to cover as many of those hot spots or
important areas as possible. Right now I’m working
in the forests here in the Dwesa-Cwebe
Reserve to try to understand their
biodiversity and also to measure how much
carbon is in these forests. And that’s very important
because we don’t know a lot about how much carbon
forests in Africa have. So far what we’ve discovered is that these forests hold
a substantial amount of carbon compared to some of
the areas outside the reserve. So, that’s pretty interesting
and important in terms of the kind of service
that this forest provides. This forest provides water,
it provides the biodiversity, it provides the medicinal
plants, it provides carbon and that’s one of the suite
of services that we need to consider when we’re
evaluating the role of a conservation area. Over the years when I was
growing we used to come and get different tree
species for different things. We make sort of basket with this
a sledge basket, big basket. The fruit of this is very nice. It’s just like a strawberry. This is a thatch grass and
the stronger one is the best when we thatching our roofs. This also can assist or help you when you have some
problem of the ears. We still do that but restricted
because it is a reserve now. It’s conservation not allowing
us now anymore access to in. It’s good thing if
the government and the conservation office
can link with the communities. It will be better because
if we can given the chance of learning how to
manage the conservation to the community it will
be very very much good. If they don’t involve community,
really, I’m not talking lie. It won’t grow further because
the communities are becoming angry, cutting off the fences because they demand their
access into these bushes. So, if the conservation can give
that access, permitted access to natural species
to natural resources like fishes, all
the stuff inside. For many of these forests
in the Eastern Cape the use of traditional medicinal
plants is very important and it still remains
important in the absence of more modern medicine. So there is a very
direct relationship between communities
and these forests. One of the groups
that we’ve begun to engage more deeply is
the Donald Woods Foundation. Its goal is to have
every community and every hut receiving
adequate medical care. [ Speaking Xhosa ] As a community health
worker I’m getting in each and every household to look
for health in every hut. [ Speaking Xhosa ] We check blood pressure. We do HIV testing and counseling and also we do pregnancy
testing. And then we check that the
child are immunized and then if they don’t get immunization
we refer the children to the clinic. [ Speaking Xhosa ] Because our clients
are far from clinics and hospital we need quick help. [ Speaking Xhosa ] It’s because it’s because of
her belief, belief in ancestors. So they come to her,
nightmares, like nightmare and tell her you must go to the
forest and bring this and that. What is important to us is
to check their health and go to the clinic and then she
can take her medicines. Yes. We respect her belief
of ancestors. It’s really important
to remember that everyone has an agenda even
if it is a conservation agenda. People are always going to have
conflicting ideas and especially when it comes to
conservation, not everything that you think is right is going
to be something that you want to follow, because it’s
not always convenient. And so I think coming
into contact with those real-life situations
has definitely fine-tuned my ideas of conservation. It’s important that Penn State
keeps coming back to this area and that we have been invested
in this area for many years. We are educators. And so once we’ve
learned the story of this landscape
we can go and work in the schools, which
we’re doing. We can write scientific papers
and we can start to communicate about the work we’re doing. The work we do here
tells a story as every landscape
tells a story. And that story can help
inform other stories and people can learn from
each other at a global level.

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