African Crane Conservation Programme

EcoRangers Project

For most people getting into a conservation career is not easy. Employers require both qualifications and experience and in most cases they also look for extra attributes or skills. In addition, conservationists are still battling to figure out how to transform the sector and how to make conservation more accessible for the majority of people in South Africa. There is certainly no shortage in conservation graduates in the country but what is so often lacking is field experience or the willingness to start at the bottom and get ones hands dirty. On the other hand there are hundreds more young people who would like to enter a conservation career but do not have the relevant training or experience.

The EcoRangers programme is an attempt to bridge this divide. The aim of the programme is to carefully select people with the potential to master skills required in today’s workplace and who are capable of performing practical tasks (often physically demanding) in the field. Within the ACCP the EcoRangers will be utilised to support landowners and stewardship sites in the Southern Drakensberg and East Griqualand post proclamation. Duties would include activities that have been identified in the conservation management plan for each property. This not only demonstrates our commitment to the landowners we have worked with on stewardship but also broadens our capacity and resilience to support the approximately 30 000 ha that will formally be proclaimed in the region.

In July 2014, eight EcoRanger trainees commenced a three month training period. The process of selection was probably one of the key success factors in the programme. Selection consisted of four steps. Firstly, as in any employment process, hundreds of Curriculum Vitae were received. Out of these 30 individuals were selected to attend a workshop. The workshop gave us the opportunity to take a closer look at candidates and to seize an opportunity for environmental education. This led to the selection of 17 participants for the interview round. We decided that the conventional interviews would be inappropriate and very intimidating to some of the candidates. As result we innovated the concept of “field based interviews”. The latter was a process of one on one discussions with participants on a variety of environmental topics taking place in the field in the Matatiele Nature Reserve. This method worked exceptionally well and enabled us to confidently identify the final candidates for training.

The training consisted of lectures on environmental topics, a variety of field excursions and practical field work with field staff. The EcoRangers were continuously assessed by way of tests, assignments and the evaluation of a detailed journal kept by participants. A wide range of experiences and exposure to different people and organisations ensured a well-grounded and holistic foundation in the basics of conservation practice.

The ability of the programme to deliver such an exceptional high impact training course was entirely due to the EWT’s own internal capacity as well as the wide range of partner organisations that were prepared to assist and share knowledge. Without our partners the opportunity to train the EcoRangers would have been impossible and far too expensive.

Training was completed in October 2014 and four EcoRangers were selected to take on long term positions within EWT. The road to developing these EcoRangers of course does not stop here. It is hoped that within an organisation such as the EWT, the EcoRangers will be exposed to a variety of experiences, skills and courses that will further aid their development.

While the past three months required an enormous investment in time I am of the opinion that the programme will bear fruit for the ACCP and will have changed the career trajectory of all of the participants by giving them the opportunity to enter the conservation sector.

Cobus Theron -