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FOSTERING SUSTAINABILITY AND SECURITY FOR BOTH CONSERVATION AND COMMUNITIES IN THE SOUTPANSBERG MOUNTAIN RANGE

Judy van Schalkwyk, Enterprise and Skills Development Officer, EWT Soutpansberg Protected Area
judithvs@ewt.org.za

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) is at the forefront of habitat protection in northern Limpopo, purchasing and managing 2,733 ha of the Soutpansberg Mountain Range. The brave and passionate EWT field and water rangers protect this biodiversity hotspot, vital water catchment, and safe haven for solitary animals such Leopard. The field rangers perform anti-poaching activities such as the location and removal of snares, preventing illegal collection of plants, removing illegal fishing nets in the Sand River Gorge, and patrolling vast areas of mountainous terrain. The rangers also regularly conduct snare patrols of the neighbouring communal land, which protects the wildlife but also helps to safeguard the community’s cattle from being caught in snares. The water rangers clear thirsty alien and invasive plants such as eucalyptus and Black Wattle trees out of the crystal-clear mountain streams and wetlands. This increases the flow of water and life to the streams and replenishes the groundwater supply to boreholes that provide the only source of clean water for surrounding communities.

EWT field rangers taking a well-deserved break during snare patrol and enjoying the magnificent view of the Soutpansberg Mountain Range

The rugged cliffs and valleys of this little-known mountain range call to the adventurous, and those who love to discover remote and mysterious wilderness. In support of the sustainability and economic growth within this protected area and surrounds, the EWT is planning the development of an epic multi-day guided trail, spanning the length of the western Soutpansberg. The EWT, with generous funding from the FE van Pletzen and L Steynberg trusts, started a pilot project in 2020, training two SPA Field Rangers and two Water Rangers to obtain the Field Guide Association of South Africa’s (FGASA) Apprentice Field Guide qualification. This course consists of 17 teaching modules, covering a broad range of topics required for creating interesting and meaningful guided experiences, and for helping to conserve the area and the wildlife within. Examples of topics include geology, climate, wildlife, ecology, conservation management, and historical human habitation. Once qualified and registered with the National Department of Tourism (NDT), the rangers will be able to operate legally as competent guides to conduct guided nature experiences in the Soutpansberg Protected Area for clients. The remainder of the nine rangers attend some of the sessions, subject to the completion of their reserve management duties, to supplement their knowledge of the environment in which they work, and better equip them to complete the course themselves at a later stage.

Rangers learning about food chains for their Field Guide qualifications
Rangers identifying butterflies

The EWT is committed to developing our field staff, as they are the face of conservation in the area. The establishment of the protected area, on Medike Nature Reserve, by the EWT and its partners created 18 new job opportunities for local community members. The employment of rangers from local communities is one of the most effective and sustainable ways to invest in the livelihoods of these communities. This investment enables the rangers to build reputable careers, support their families, and put their children through school; and the EWT continues to achieve our conservation goals of saving species, saving habitats, and benefiting people.

Rangers developing their practical skills through (a) learning to find direction using the sun and the shadow it casts on a sundial, and (b) determining the accuracy of the sundial method using a GPS device.

This multifaceted project was made possible by the financial support of (in alphabetical order) the Coca Cola Foundation’s Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), FE van Pletzen and L Steynberg Trusts (RSA), Fondation Franklinia (Switzerland), J. Douglas Wilson (USA), Nissan South Africa, Rainforest Trust (USA), the Roberts family (Australia) and the Weeden Foundation’s Quick Response Biodiversity Fund.

If you wish to make a lasting impact for conservation and communities, consider supporting the expansion of our protected areas. You are welcome to contact Oldrich van Schalkwyk, manager of the EWT Soutpansberg Protected Area at oldrichvs@ewt.org.za or on WhatsApp at 078 373 0288.