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The role of Science and Scientists in KZN Wildlife

Conservation science has developed rapidly over the last 20 years in response to mans accelerating imprint on the earth’s surface, its natural resources and biodiversity.  Conservation science has emerged from the physical, biological, ecological and social sciences as a discipline of its own and which depends very strongly on the statistical, mathematical and information sciences.  We see the role of its practitioners in the organisation as being to:

Ensure that conservation management decisions are underpinned by sound ecological principles and the best available scientifically-based information.

Within the overall scope of the organisations vision, mission and strategic goals, the primary areas to which the scientific team can and is expected to contribute are outlined.

  1. Contribute to development of the philosophy, process and innovative solutions for the management of biodiversity
    - set biodiversity conservation targets (provincial level, protected area level)
    - Identify biodiversity conservation priorities and contribute to integration into strategic plans
    - advise on how best to achieve biodiversity conservation priorities
    - monitor progress towards achievement of biodiversity conservation priorities/targets
    - develop protected area management principles and philosophy
    - develop sustainable resource use principles and philosophy
    - develop decision frameworks for biodiversity management
    - contribute to the development of and interpret implementation requirements of national and international obligations

  2. Acquire, manage and facilitate access to biodiversity information
    - develop biodiversity/ecosystem monitoring programmes (thereby providing a means to evaluate performance and progress towards corporate goals)
    - undertake and facilitate appropriate research
    - developing an understanding of the value to society of biodiversity and associated ecosystem services
    - develop and manage biodiversity information systems
    - evaluating and reporting on biodiversity status and trend

  3. Provide professional advice to inform conservation decision making
    - provide advice to facilitate decisions that achieve a balance between biodiversity conservation and socio-economic demands
    - participate in the management processes as part of the decision-making team
    - interpretation and conversion of information to usable knowledge
    - recommendations on permit applications
    - ensure biodiversity conservation policies are underpinned by biodiversity information and ecological principles
    - improve efficiency and effectiveness of approaches

 

These roles when adopted by the organisation essentially define the function of the scientific community within the organisation.  Seen within the context of the adaptive management model (Figure 1), scientists and the information they collect (from research and monitoring projects and programmes) and disseminate, scientists currently in the organisation play important roles in:

• Advising on and developing management objectives and standards
• Developing monitoring and assessment protocols and programmes, processing and reporting the information.
• Evaluating the outcomes of biodiversity assessments and monitoring against management goals and objectives.

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Figure 1.  The adaptive management model.

Existing Science Structures

The existing structures which address the functions outlined above are serviced by units operating within the regions and centrally at Head Office (Figure 2).

Currently, the role of the Ecological Advice units is primarily (although not exclusively) to develop regional and local management objective and goals, incorporate these into management plans and work programmes, develop and undertake appropriate monitoring programmes, and based on the results and trends demonstrated in these activities, to advise on appropriate management.  The role of the Biodiversity unit is primarily to identify and monitor the status of important biodiversity at a provincial level, set biodiversity targets, develop spatial plans for the conservation of biodiversity and monitor the change in status of biodiversity in relation to management.  

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Figure 2.  Current structures servicing the scientific functions in KZN Wildlife.

The planning unit is primarily engaged with identifying and mitigating the impact of development on biodiversity, protected area expansion strategy, land use planning for biodiversity conservation, development of environmental management systems, and contributing to international protocols.

All units are responsible for the collection, management and dissemination of biodiversity data and information.  Much of this information is assimilated into and disseminated from the corporate biodiversity database and other regionally managed databases.

Characteristics of a Winning Science Team
For the organisation to achieve leadership in conservation, it will need to be supported by a highly professional science team, made up of members with the following characteristics.

• Appropriately qualified, well informed and up-to-date scientists
• Independent, innovative critical thinkers
• Goal/outcome orientated and focussed
• Motivated, passionate, enthusiastic, hard working and catalytic,
• Principled and ethical in their approach (of high integrity)
• Good communicators both with scientific peers but also with ‘client’ (management structures)
• Accountable and service orientated
• Flexible and adaptable in approach and implementation
• Must be able to work in a team/collaborative environment.
• Respected in the scientific community, recognised nationally for doing good science.
• A commitment to undertake good science and apply it to critical problems
• A desire to learn, grow and advance personally
• Well defined roles, responsibilities and reporting structures
• Demographically representative
• Adequately resourced and remunerated

The development and retention of such a conservation science team focussed on the agreed roles and responsibilities will be the subject of a focussed strategy.