Saving a species

2014-11-30 15:00

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Nature conservation veteran Fundisile Mketeni will officially become the chief executive of SANParks on Tuesday. He chatted to Herman Jansen

What is the one thing you hope to accomplish at SANParks that would make you feel your run was successful?

To reduce the number of rhinos that are killed.

What are your most important immediate priorities?

To accelerate interventions against rhino poaching, especially in the Kruger National Park.

And in the long term?

To establish SANParks as a leading private company – nationally, regionally and globally. We should ensure that science remains the cornerstone regarding decisions about park and species management and we need to attract more visitors to increase the national park’s income.

You are just back from the decennial World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia. What remains with you?

My conversations with park heads from all over the world (there were 1?400 delegates) on how parks can help mitigate the impact of climate change and help reduce the carbon footprint.

How do you feel about the possible legal trade in rhino horn?

It has to be considered to reduce poaching. Species around the world have become extinct because of illegal trade, but at the same time, others have survived because of well-regulated and monitored trade.

Some activists claim that the rhino horn stockpiles in Skukuza should be burnt.

Why? I cannot destroy something that the country has kept secure over many years. Those who advocate destroying these stockpiles must take into account the level of risk. It can make the horns rarer and could cause serious unintended consequences.

In July last year, only a handful of the estimated 1?400 nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) who claimed they collected money for rhino conservation attended a meeting you had arranged.

[It was] just 23. It is extremely confusing to donors as hundreds of NGOs say they are collecting money for the benefit of rhino conservation.

There are many opportunists?

Yes, it came out clearly at the meeting. There are well-respected, well-known organisations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Peace Parks Foundation. But there are many I absolutely know nothing about. About 100 such NGOs are now registered at the department of environmental affairs.

So there are still therefore about 1?300 that are not monitored?

It may now be even more.

Doesn’t the Kruger National Park have too many elephants? Should they be culled?

The question is not whether there are too many elephants, but their impact on the landscape. Their concentration in parts damages the ecosystem on which other key species depend. Our management team will talk about culling.

What are the world’s three most critical environmental issues?

How are we going to handle the conflict between the human footprint and nature? How are we going to harness science to give policy direction? How will we manage and improve ecological infrastructure and make it relevant to economic development?

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