It is the end of an era for the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. After 20 years, iSimangaliso Wetland Park’s founding CEO Andrew Zaloumis has stepped down.Announcing his resignation on Sunday, the Environmental Affairs Department said Zaloumis’s departure was amicable and that he was going to complete his studies in sustainability at Cambridge University in the UK.Zaloumis was instrumental in the establishment of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and its transformation into a renowned and world-class conservation tourism destination. Today, iSimangaliso Wetland Park occupies prime status as a World Heritage Site. The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is internationally recognised for its model of protected areas management that puts communities at the centre of conservation.Zaloumis implemented the anti-malaria programme that has reduced malaria incidence by 96% in KwaZulu-Natal. His other successes include the promotion of investments to the tune of more than R200 million in roads, bulk services, tourism accommodation and day-visitor facilities in iSimangaliso.“Under his tenure, Zaloumis pioneered and institutionalised development-focused conservation at the park,” Environmental Affairs Minister Dr Edna Molewa said.Under Zaloumis’ leadership, iSimangaliso has achieved 15 consecutive unqualified audits.As an acknowledgment of his contribution to both the conservation and the tourism industries, he has received a number of awards, including the SA Institute for Chartered Accountants 2015/16 award for Public Sector Audit Excellence, the World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Award, the National Heritage Council Golden Shield Award for World Heritage Site of the Year and the 2017 KfW-Bernhard-Grzimek-Preis Award. In a statement, chairman of the iSimangaliso Board, Buyane Zwane, described Zaloumis as a “legend in our lifetime”.“Not many in our nation have demonstrated selflessness, dedication to grooming leaders, managers, professionals, and entrepreneurs in rural settings to world standards with unquestionable love for the country as recently retired founding CEO of iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority.”Zwane added that Zaloumis remains a towering gentle giant despite his size. “He is a walking encyclopedia on whom conservationists, researchers, media, conservation enthusiasts, amateurs, professionals and others will continue to call. We are privileged to have worked with him as a board over the past two years and are professionally richer and wiser for the association.”In May Zaloumis, and his wife, Tracey, stared death square in the face when a buffalo attacked and injured them during a bush walk in a remote part of the park. The incident left Zaloumis with cracked ribs, a bruised kidney, a broken collar bone and a deep cut on his temple. The buffalo also gored Zaloumis’ wife Tracey, in her thigh and knocked her over, causing her to fracture one of her vertebra. “In our incident, my 40 years of walking, working and living in Big 5 spaces did not help much,” he said.He said that they had taken the old buffalo bull, known as a ‘dagga boy’, by surprise and that the animal’s instincts obviously kicked in and he charged.Speaking to The Witness last night, Zaloumis said he could not miss up on the opportunity to study at Cambridge University in the UK. He said the work and research that he would be doing there would benefit conservation. “So I am not really leaving the field. I love it too much,” he laughed. He said his research would be consolidating 20 years of experience “and looking deeper”.“It is a good time to take a break and the research will benefit conservation and the generations to come.”He spoke highly of his team at iSimangaliso saying he enjoyed working with an excellent team. When asked what his fondest memory in his 20 years at iSimangaliso was, Zaloumis said it was watching his son, Emmanuel, crawl up a tree four years ago in an attempt to escape the jaws of a hippo. “Even my children have had the best times at iSimangaliso. Conservation is in our family and blood,” Zaloumis said, adding that his father was also a conservationist. “It really has been a great honour working at iSimangaliso and I will be available any time they need me,” he said. Spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Affairs Albi Modise said a new CEO would be announced soon.