A snapshot of conservation (science) in South(ern) Africa

Black-maned lion at the Kgalagadi Transfrontier NP, November 2013

As a first blog I wanted to explore the major threats to species across southern Africa, like habitat loss and exploitation – but I’ll come back to that. For now I’m interested in a quick analysis of where we are as conservation scientists and practitioners in Africa. That’s hard to quantify – and I’ll discuss extinctions in another blog. For now I’ll ask these questions: How many leading (conservation) scientists are there? What are the leading conservation and wildlife management journals? How many conservation NGOs are there out there? How much land is given to conservation? Tough call – but here’s a go, and I’ll look at southern Africa only:

So let’s start with leading scientists. I’m going to assume that most of the southern Africa’s leading scientists are based in South Africa. There are very good scientists based in Botswana and Zimbabwe, but most are affiliated with overseas institutions, for example the great work done in Hwange NP through the CNRS (http://www.za-hwange.org), or Oxford’s WildCru (http://www.wildcru.org). The National Research Foundation in South Africa classes ‘leading international scholars in their field’ as A-rated scientists – and there are only 4 A-rated scientists work within ‘Earth Sciences’. Of all rated scientists, only 98 fall under ‘Earth Sciences’. So we could crudely assume that there are less than 100 leading academics working broadly within Ecology/Environmental Science in South Africa. But that leaves out all of the collaboration with international institutions of course. Maybe another way of attempting to quantify the number of scientists actively engaged in ecology and conservation science in southern Africa is to look at the number of research projects undertaken at any one of the National Parks under South Africa’s SANParks (http://sanparks.org); in 2012, there were 800 active research projects across all National Parks … and of these 75% were undertaken by South Africans, and 25% by international scientists. Not bad really, and that’s only for one National Park, although Kruger is the flagship.

So how about the practical side of things? How do we quantify ‘practitioners’? Well let’s try ‘wildlife managers’. Hard to quantify – but how about the number of private wildlife ranches in South Africa. According to Wildlife Ranching SA (http://wrsa.co.za), there are ‘more than 10 000 wildlife ranches in South Africa, which covers about 17% of the country with game numbers in the vicinity of 19 million heads of game …. currently more than 100 000 people are employed in the game-ranching industry.’ Not that all game ranches are concerned with conservation – but it beats no private wildlife effort. And obviously all of the staff at regional and National Parks do a great job.

And how about the number of conservation NGOs and Govt Conservation Agencies? EarthDirectory (http://earthdirectory.net) lists just fewer than 100 ‘Environmental & Conservation Organizations in South Africa’ and 14 relevant ‘South African Government Environmental & Conservation Agencies.’ Again, most conservation effort and robust science is skewed toward South Africa.

As for scientific journals, there are two relevant journals that are actually based in southern Africa, viz. the South African Journal of Wildlife Research and Koedoe – I omit the South African Journal of Science, African Zoology and the South African Journal of Botany. A number of internationally based journals publish work focused on African conservation and ecology, including the African Journal of Ecology, the new African Journal of Ecology and Ecosystems – and then the more prestigious, highly cited consci journals like Conservation Letters, Conservation Biology and Biological Conservation. This excludes all the popular science publishing out there that raises a lot of awareness.

So in South Africa there are roughly 100 rated scientists working broadly within Ecology or the Natural Sciences (excluding international collaborators), about 100 conservation NGOs are actively working in environmental issues and apart from the many National and Regional Parks and Nature Reserves, there are more than 10 000 privately owned Nature Reserves. And South Africa manages to maintain a number of internationally recognised science journals. The picture is less positive for the rest of Southern Africa – but I do think that the next generation of young people are more aware of environmental and conservation issues – and given the great conservation science ‘infrastructure’ that we have in South Africa (scientists, practitioners, wildlife managers and NGOs), we have a good baseline to educate future conservationists and facilitate robust science.

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