The Environmental/Conservation Societies of South Africa

Information and Discussions on General Conservation Issues
User avatar
Global Moderator
Posts: 64097
Joined: Sat May 19, 2012 12:31 pm
Country: Switzerland
Location: Lugano

The Environmental/Conservation Societies of South Africa

Post by Lisbeth » Wed May 23, 2012 3:13 pm

Wikipedia defines Non Governmental Organisations, or NGOs, as legally constituted organisations, created by natural or legal persons that operate independently from any government. The term originated from the United Nations (UN), and is normally used to refer to organisations that do not form part of the government and are not conventional for-profit business.
There are NGOs involved in every form of human activity, especially where governments are perceived to have neither the will nor the capacity to do what society requires.
There are a whole raft of NGOs involved in environmental issues in South Africa, with many dedicated volunteers ensuring the protection and long term survival of our biodiversity. By giving your time, energy and skill to one of these NGOs, you not only meet a lot of like minded people, but have the satisfaction of doing something worthwhile for the system that supports you and future generations.
The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa[/b] (previously known as the Wildlife Society of Southern Africa) is arguably one of the country's oldest and larges

Although its origins go back to the 1890s, it has been in continuous existence since 1926, making the year 2011 the occasion of its 85th consecutive AGM.

The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) is a membership-based organisation that has, since its inception, always been non-racist and a-political.

It currently enjoys a membership of 13 000, although this is misleading as many members consist of schools, families, corporates and clubs, such that a conservative estimate of actual numbers of members (as opposed to computer addresses) is considered to be 40 000 - 50 000.

The members are grouped into 52 Branches throughout South Africa, which in turn are grouped into 8 geographical Regions.

WESSA's vision is to achieve a South Africa which is wisely managed by all to ensure long-term environmental sustainability.

WESSA employs approximately 100 permanent staff, but perhaps more importantly, and in line with its Mission statement of "promoting public participation in caring for the Earth", it provides opportunities for its thousands of members, school children and the general public, to become involved in environmental issues at local, national & international levels.

In addition to the two national magazines, African Wildlife, and EnviroKids, each Region produces its own monthly or bi-monthly newsletter which keeps members informed and up-to-date. WESSA operates from eight separate regions.

To learn more log on to


The original founder of the Society and Foundation was Dr Fried von Breitenbach who felt that the broad public should become more involved in the knowledge and conservation of our indigenous trees.

In 1979 when the Dendrological Foundation was founded, the terms "Dendrology" and "Dendrologist" were fairly unknown in South Africa.

However, there was a need for the creation of a competent body that would serve the particular requirements of a dendrological community in Southern Africa.

The Foundation was formed as an independent, non-profit, non-racial association aiming at the promotion of the knowledge of trees; in particular, the indigenous ones, their protection and planting and the preservation of tree-dominated ecosystems by way of research, publications and tree identification courses.

A project, which was of the highest priority, was the standardisation of the common English and Afrikaans tree names, a project started by the Botanical Research Institute in 1966.

A number was allocated to every tree species. No matter how often the botanical names might change in the future, the numbers and common names would stay the same and so help to eliminate any confusion.

Thereafter, the second step was to standardize the ethnic names, a task which took many years of intensive study in co-operation with various Universities.

As the result of some very successful tree identification courses, the Dendrological Society was formed during 1980.

The aims of the Society were to admit anybody as a member who was interested in acquiring a deeper knowledge of our indigenous trees. The two popular publications of the Dendrological Foundation were the "National List of Indigenous Trees" (1979) and the "National List of Introduced Trees" (1984).

The Tree Number Plates were first issued in 1981 with white numbers on green fibreglass plates for the indigenous trees and black numbers on yellow background for the introduced trees. At a later stage, they were replaced by high-quality ABS-material with the national tree number, the botanical and the common names in Afrikaans and English. They are also available with ethnic common names.

The Dendrological Society operates in eight regions. To find out more about the branch nearest to you log on to

The Botanical Society of South Africa was established in 1913, the same year that the now world famous Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden was started.

The land for the garden was granted by the Government on condition that an appropriate organisation was formed from civil society to support its development.

The Botanical Society has faithfully fulfilled this obligation as well as extending its support to the other seven National Botanical Gardens around the country. It has also become involved in flora conservation and education.

The Botanical Society is non-profit organization with a registered fundraising number.

The Botanical Society presently has a large and committed membership base in sixteen branches in South Africa and resident in 45 countries around the world. There are sixteen branches in South Africa.

Active conservation, education and publication programmes are also run under the auspices of the Society. A quarterly journal, Veld & Flora, is produced and sent to all members.

The first issue of the journal came out under the name of the Journal of the Botanical Society in 1914 and changed to the quarterly new look Veld & Flora in 1975.

The journal carries a wide variety of articles on the National Botanical Gardens, indigenous gardening, flora conservation, natural history and society news.


CREW stands for Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers and is s an initiative of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's (SANBI)

Threatened Species Programme which creates awareness of threatened plant species in South Africa. It does this by involving volunteers from the public, called custodians, in the conservation and management of the habitats where these plants occur.

Custodians are often based in areas where the threatened habitats and plants are found and it is therefore logistically easier for them to monitor factors affecting both the species and their habitats.

They often have well-established relationships with the landowners i.e. farmers, municipalities and tribal authorities of key sites in need of conservation, and can usually suggest the best method of approach. Data collected by CREW volunteers is used in updating the RED DATA list for plant species.

Volunteers visit the site with CREW and note the location and condition of the population. They provide a site evaluation and note whether there are any threats to the population.

This evaluation includes filling out a Field Data Sheet, including the number of plants, their reproductive condition, associated species, notes on soil, slope and moisture regime and directions to the site.

All of this information helps the conservation authorities determine the best strategies for protection.

The information is not overly scientific or complex, but accuracy and thoroughness are essential.

If you are interested in taking part in this programme you need commitment to indigenous plant conservation, good observation and navigation skills, a sense of adventure and a few free days over the course of the flower season which runs from September to April.

CREW has offices in Cape Town (Ismail Ebrahim,, 021 7998751) and Pretoria (Tilla Raimondo,, 012 8435283) as well as in KZN (Isabel Johnson, 033 8451806).

If you want to be part of this interesting programme, contact your nearest CREW office and they will put you in touch with a CREW volunteer group.


In 1973 Clive Walker was inspired to paint a watercolour of a Cheetah, to sell 250 signed, numbered copies and to use this money to help conserve the Cheetah that was and, in some places still is, shot as vermin.

This initiative was so successful that Clive, together with businessman Neville Anderson and James Clarke of the Johannesburg newspaper Star, registered the Endangered Wildlife Trust as an NGO focusing on endangered and threatened animals and began to raise funds from an office based out of Clive’s garage!

The first three projects to carry the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s logo focused on Cheetah, Brown Hyaenas and vultures. These projects dealt with population monitoring and human-wildlife conflict, issues still topical today.

Thus from the word go the EWT was all about action for biodiversity conservation and the founding vision of saving threatened species in a direct, hands-on way at minimal cost has never been lost.

It has however been broadened to include species, their habitats and ecosystems and the role of surrounding communities and landowners.

The key visual element of the EWT logo is the red Cheetah pawprint, a symbol of the origins of the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

The EWT fills the key niche of on-the-ground conservation action. Their specialist programmes and large team of skilled field staff are deployed throughout southern Africa and focus on applied fieldwork, research and direct engagement with stakeholders.

The work supports the conservation of species and ecosystems and recognises the role that communities play in successful conservation programmes.

EWT focuses on identifying the key factors threatening biodiversity and develop mitigating measures to reduce these.

Through a broad spectrum of partnerships and networks, EWT develops innovative methodologies and best practice guidelines that help to reduce negative environmental impacts and promotes harmonious co-existence and sustainable living for both people and wildlife.

EWT`s vision is a healthy planet and an equitable world that values and sustains the diversity of all life.

Their mission is dedicated to conserving threatened species and ecosystems in southern Africa to the benefit of all people.

Biodiversity Stewardship

Conservation in Landowner`s Hands

Biodiversity Stewardship is about you, as a landowner, using your land wisely so that the natural environment is protected.

Because this land is outside of the formal protected areas (e.g. National Parks), it needs to be carefully managed so that the natural ecosystems and the range of biodiversity within it are protected. This will ensure that the land remains a valuable resource for present and future generations.

You, as a landowner, can play an important role in the conservation of our natural heritage. At present the rich biological diversity of KwaZulu-Natal is not being sufficiently protected, and is therefore under threat. This is partly due to lack of resources, but also because 80% of the land that has important biodiversity on it does not lie within formally protected areas, but is privately or communally owned land.

This is where you can play an important role. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has launched a dedicated Biodiversity Stewardship Programme to assist landowners in the protection of natural land by offering a range of conservation options.

The BIODIVERSITY STEWARDSHIP concept is a new way of achieving this conservation protection. The Biodiversity Stewardship Programme aims to set up positive, proactive partnerships with you, the landowner, to support and encourage you as you take on the responsibility of managing and protecting the natural assets that are in your care. In order to support this management, appropriate benefits will be offered for land that has been set aside for conservation.

KZN Wildlife is offering four biodiversity stewardship options to landowners.

All options are voluntary.

Each one will be tailored to your needs as a landowner.

The higher categories offer more incentives (benefits) and support by EKZNW, but have more restrictions and require greater commitment from landowners.

It is important to note that you as the landowner retain title to the property at all times.

All existing types of informal protected areas (e.g. conservancies, Community Conservation Areas, Sites of Conservation Significance) can be accommodated within the options.


Recognising the inadequacy of proclaimed Protected Areas in the conservation of wildlife in Natal and the need to engage public support in conservation beyond the boundaries of these areas, the Natal Parks Board embarked in the 1970s on a programme to encourage the formation of conservancies on private land.

A conservancy is a registered (with the local Conservation Authority), voluntary association between land users/landowners who co-operatively wish to manage their natural resources in an environmentally friendly manner without necessarily changing the land-use of their properties.

A conservancy need not be vast tracts of land stocked with wild animals. Although there are many rural conservancies that have followed this form, biodiversity can be found in the midst of most urban and even industrial areas.

There is no set rule as to how large your conservancy has to be or where it may be. It may be rural, peri-urban, urban, marine, industrial or township. Educational institutions and townhouse complexes can also register as conservancies.

The conservancy programme was initially aimed at commercial agricultural land and the first conservancy was established in the Balgowan area in 1978.

As the concept gained support communities in urban areas joined in, with the first urban conservancy being formed in 1991 at Everton.

There followed a number of industrial, marine and educational conservancies, with the total number of conservancies registered with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife eventually growing to 277.Since then the conservancy concept has grown and is to be found in all provinces in South Africa and in other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, in a multitude of varying environments.

Over the years conservancies have grown or shrunk and some have ceased to exist. A survey of conservancies in KwaZulu-Natal in 2009 established that the number of conservancies now stands at 147. This large decrease is due partially to changes in land use and changes of ownership and to the land restitution and redistribution programme.

The positive is that the conservancy concept is now firmly established throughout southern African countries and in South Africa has been given legal status in the National Biodiversity Stewardship Programme.This programme requires commitment from landowners and provide long-term security to biodiversity.

The programme also requires that sites be managed for conservation and that they are regularly monitored and audite


Men on the Ground
The first conservancy was established in 1978 in the Balgowan district of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and was formed by local farmers with guidance from Nick Steele of the then Natal Parks Board. The concept of collective security, stock and game protection and the enhancement of wildlife in the area soon caught on and conservancies started to spring up all over the province.

One of the initial problems was how to obtain suitable staff to act as conservancy guards. Ex NPB game guards and security guards filled the early gaps, but as the concept spread it became apparent that conservancies needed a constant supply of properly trained guards to fulfil all their requirements.

By 1980, landowners that had formed conservancies, were desperate for suitable staff and prevailed on the Natal Parks Board to provide training for conservancy guards. The Board had already identified the need to train its own guards, who, up until that time, only received 'on the job training'.

The job of setting up the school up and devising a curriculum was given to Charles Wright, the Conservator Zones, who decided that Weenen Game Reserve was the ideal spot to house the school. Old storage sheds were quickly converted into dormitories, a dining room, kitchen and laundry and the new officer in charge, Senior Ranger Ivor Mathias received the first intake in January 1981.

There were a number of courses, specifically for conservancies, run each year, on which land owners could book their staff for a modest fee. Each course consisted of a month of intensive training which included firearm training, basic military drill, patrolling and game counting techniques, conservation management practices, standards of dress and personal hygiene.

At the end of this month there was a week long extended patrol in the Drakensberg where all the learnt skills could be put into practice, followed by a formal passing out parade where a certificate was awarded. This school ran successfully for some four years until the decision was taken to move it to Albert Falls, where there were much better facilities and the course could be expanded both in scope and number of trainees.

There are many stories of the trainees and their instructors and the antics they got up to, but my favourite is of the conservancy guard who returned to the school after a number of years to look for a job.

As he walked up the road from the main gate to the office he came across a rhino and tried to shoo it out of the way. Now at the time of his training he had become familiar with white rhino which would move out of your way quite easily.

In the interim black rhino had been introduced. They object strongly to being shooed!.

Ivor said that this individual arrived at the office, after some in a convenient tree, somewhat paler, with eyes like saucers, wanting to know what sort of rhino it was.

Ivor and his instructors were unable to answer as they were speechless with laughter. The guard insisted that he be taken back to the gate in a vehicle, wanting nothing more to do with rhino of any sort![/quote]

Return to “Other Conservation Issues”