iSimangaliso aiming to be 'Africa’s greatest conservation-based tourism offering'

accreditation
Andrew Zaloumis

The world recently celebrated those at the forefront of conservation, our brave and fearless game rangers. Those individuals who really care about our living planet, who often sacrifice life and limb to help make a difference - every single day.

One such individual would definitely be iSimangaliso Wetland Park head Andrew Zaloumis, who has been awarded the WWF SA Living Planet 2015 Award.

READ: 9 Bush salutes to game rangers on #WorldRangerDay

If anybody knows the efforts put into wildlife conservation, it would be Zaloumis who runs the 322 000-hectare iSimangaliso Wetland Park - South Africa's first UNESCO World Heritage site, declared back in 1999.

READ: PICS: iSimangaliso CEO shares brutal attack by buffalo known as 'dagga boy'

In his acceptance speech Zaloumis says that for wild places such as iSImangaliso to continue to exist, we have to think beyond the extractive values of economics and begin to recognise their real value – the contribution it makes to our souls.

"Rewilding brings back hope and inspiration, succour for the soul" - Monbiot

Zaloumis said his love affair with wild places and iSimangaliso started when he was a young boy accompanying his father Dr Nolly Zaloumis.

"One of my earliest memories of these trips is being left hanging on a bending pool net pole inches above crocodile infested water, while he chased off after an escaping pygmy goose. This deep connection with the area was reaffirmed years later when as a reckless pony-tailed university student, I plunged my claptrap VW Beetle into the Kosi Bay Lake. The Beetle turned rowboat and I were swept straight into the life of 75-year-old Mshwayisa Tembe.

"Mshwayisa, who would become a second grandfather to my children, taught me the value of kinship and friends and the inter-connectedness of all things. From him I came to have a different view of conservation - a view from the other side of the fence informed by 800 years of traditional practices."

We sent Zaloumis five questions to get the insider info on this wild place of superlatives and there are some exciting initiatives afoot.

These include the modernisation of day-visitor facilities and improving conservation infrastructure to the value of around R320 million as well as completely restoring all historically occurring game back into the world heritage. 

Added to this is a 254m Fig Forest Aerial Boardwalk, which is nearing completion - with a total of eight platforms and landings, linked by three suspended bridges, affording spectacular views and experience of the soaring trees. 

Have you been to iSimangaliso Wetland Park recently, we'd love you to share your experience with us. Email Pics@traveller24.com. 

Traveller24: What are some of the things that inspire you to keep doing what you’re doing for conservation in South Africa?

Andrew Zaloumis, "The real value of wild places is their contribution to our souls.  iSimangaliso offers hope and a new model of conservation to other wild places, so getting up in the morning is not hard. It is also a real privilege being able to work for the economic turnaround of a region and see tangible benefits for local people, while - and at the same time - restoring original game populations, ecosystems functioning and the natural wonders of iSimangaliso.

What’s been the most challenging part of running a World Heritage Site as vast and important as the iSimangaliso Wetland Park?

"As the second poorest area in South Africa, with some of the greatest local government service delivery backlogs, keeping momentum and keeping the majority of our 640 000 neighbours on board will always be work in progress. 

Can you outline two or three exciting developments taking place at iSimangaliso Wetland Park, that nature lovers should be aware of?

"In all aspects, iSimangaliso is making enormous, visible progress in indelibly positioning itself as Africa’s most exciting and relevant destination.

"Over the next two and half years we are building new and improved conservation and visitor infrastructure to the value of around R320 million, completing the return of all historically occurring species, and to continue work on restoring the natural functioning of Lake St Lucia. This forms part of our drive to create Africa’s greatest conservation-based tourism product driven by community empowerment.

"In the new financial year we will begin to rehabilitate and redevelop the Sodwana section of the Park, specifically to address ecological issues in and around the Sodwana Beach Node, modernise day-visitor facilities with a view to improving the visitor experience, and enhancing economic opportunities and job creation.

"In the oldest section of uMkuze, famous for its birdwatching, we completed the rebuilding of five new and existing  hides, kuMasinga, kuMalibala, kuMahlala, Nsumu Pan east and Nsumpu Pan west this year with  eco-sensitive structures that offering better viewing.  

"The final touches to the stunning 254m Fig Forest Aerial Boardwalk with a total of eight platforms and landings, linked by three suspended bridges, afford spectacular views and experience of the soaring trees is also nearing completions.

"In 2016 we intend to realise our conservation vision of completely restoring all historically occurring game back into the world heritage site. With the introduction of eland, the next and final species will be brought back.  Eland, who once trod on their ancient migratory routes from the heights of the Lebombo Mountains to the coastal plains will be able to do so once more.

"So far, iSimangaliso has introduced numerous species into various sections of the Park, including black and white rhino, wild dog, cheetah, lion, buffalo, oribi, tsessebe, giraffe, elephant and waterbuck.

Where in iSimangaliso Wetland Park would you recommend tourists head to first?

"The Eastern Shores of Lake St Lucia with its pristine snorkelling beaches, game viewing and wild vistas of lakes, dunes and grassland all in one.  And the Big 5 uMkhuze section with its Lebombo mountains, bushveld and pans.  Wild, intimate and original.   


What’s the best piece of life or travel advice you’ve received or given?
"Travel often, travel with passion and travel with an open mind."

Have you been to iSimangaliso Wetland Park recently, we'd love you to share your experience with us. Email Pics@traveller24.com.

Or come join us on our FacebookTwitter or Instagram accounts. 

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