A BRILLIANT APPROACH TO CONSERVATION

Talifhani Brilliant Mashao is a Master’s student undertaking a study with the EWT’s Wildlife and Transport Programme (WTP). Brilliant started with the WTP in 2018 and is due to graduate next year. Below he talks about how his passion for conservation began, and where he would like to be in the future.

“I grew up in a dusty but green and mountainous village called Mulima in Makhado, Limpopo. This area inspired my love of the environment and I enjoyed learning about nature from an early age. My passion for the environment stayed with me and I am currently studying for a Master of Science (MSc) degree in Environmental Sciences at the University of Venda in collaboration with the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the University of Mpumalanga. I am also a GreenMatter Fellow and supported by Trans African Concessions (TRAC N4).

Tourism is one of South Africa’s biggest revenue earners, with almost two million people visiting the Kruger National Park each year. Clearly, with this number of visitors, traffic volumes will increase in the park, with the outcome often impacting negatively upon wildlife. In my study, I am focusing on one of these negative impacts, namely wildlife-vehicle collisions, more commonly known as roadkill. Despite numerous reports on social media about roadkill incidents in protected areas, very little has been done, to date, to quantify the extent of the problem. My two-year study will undertake a spatial and temporal assessment of roadkill in the southern section of the Kruger National Park, on both paved and unpaved roads. For each roadkill detected, factors such as, the surrounding habitat and proximity to a water source will be recorded as well as traffic volumes and vehicle speeds on the study roads. These data will provide us with an understanding of where roadkill is most likely to happen – effectively producing a predictive map of roadkill occurrence. This ‘Roadkill Risk Map’. can then be applied to other protected areas, not only assisting in identifying roadkill hotspot areas, but ultimately producing a cost-and time effect model of roadkill predictions.

Once we have predicted roadkill occurrence, we can then determine what is the most appropriate roadkill-reduction measure to apply, resulting in a reduction of roadkill incidences in protected areas and protecting biodiversity.

I believe that one of my most important roles, not only for this study, but for the future of conservation, is to engage with visitors to parks as well as the communities adjacent to protected areas; more awareness needs to be raised about the impacts of reckless driving on wildlife, particularly when speeding, and seek implementation of effective solutions to minimise these negative impacts.

One of my proudest moments with the EWT, was receiving the Conservation Achiever Award. This is presented each month, and I felt incredibly honoured when Yolan Friedmann, the CEO of the EWT presented me with the award; it really is great to see our work as students being recognised. Working with the EWT has inspired me to continue in the conservation industry and I would, one day, like to see myself as a director of one of the conservation bodies in South Africa.

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities and support provided me by my supervisors at the University of Venda, University of Mpumalanga and the EWT, as well as the logistical support provided by South African National Parks (SANParks – Kruger National Park). None of my research would have been possible without the financial support provided by TRAC N4, National Research Foundation (NRF) and GreenMatter.”