The rest, as they say, is history. After a very successful international conference with 1600 delegates attending from over 100 countries, we bedded down in the Eastern Cape province, grew from two people to over fifty and developed an extraordinary team of professional colleagues and board members all of whom I feel privileged to be able to work with. We developed many new programs and projects and have grown to become one of the larger conservation NGOs in South Africa and the region. WFA’s achievements are numerous, with a few milestones worth noting during this 50th Anniversary year.
- We have helped to add over a million and a half hectors to the formal conservation landscape in South Africa;
- We have played a key lead role in helping to create three World Heritage Sites – iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve (South Africa), and the Okavango Delta (Botswana);
- We have raised and deployed over R100 Million in rhino conservation, protection and related awareness projects;
- We have enabled over 85 000 South Africans from previously disadvantaged communities to experience nature and wilderness, often for the first time;
- We have graduated over 550 students from our yearlong residential and vocational training academy (Umzi Wethu) and helped to place them in jobs in the eco-tourism and conservation sector.
We have always used nature as a positive force for social change by bringing disadvantaged youth, as well as political and community leaders on trails (of various lengths and duration) to experience wildlands and wildlife, rediscover cultural identity, and build self-esteem and leadership skills.
These have resulted in an understanding of the potential for personal growth and experiential education within wilderness. We have seen time and time again how people return from experiences in nature with not only something they need for inner growth, but also with a gift to give their community: the knowledge and respect for life and nature.
We are living in a time in our history where our earth is in a state of flux, and we are facing environmental challenges unparalleled in our time on this earth. We are one of more than 13 million species that make up our planet. It is commonly accepted that by the year 2050, 20% of the species that currently inhabits the earth, will either be extinct or on the brink of extinction.
This is due in part to the perfect storm of population growth, unsustainable resource utilisation and the human impact on climate change. Another way of seeing this is that our life support system, which is everything that makes up our living ecosystem, is going to be 20% depleted. Can we survive as a species in the same way that we are now, with 20% less? What will this mean for our everyday living?
I would add that the rhino poaching saga is also an indicator of the greater environmental crisis facing our world. These problems supersede all political problems because all of us are dependent upon the environment for our survival. I am reminded of the poem by W. H. Auden with his chilling words that could foretell the result of ignoring our ecological problems.