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Over 1,500 people joined voices at iSimangaliso’s Lake St Lucia Estuary on Tuesday, 22nd September for World Rhino Day, chanting “iSimangaliso – my rhino, our future”.

The Department of Environmental Affairs Deputy Minister Barbara Thomson presided over the event together with iSimangaliso CEO Andrew Zaloumis and representatives of dozens of partner organisations, local leadership, non-government organisations, land claimants, school children, tourism business owners and media.

Andrew Zaloumis and Minister Barbara Thomson
Andrew Zaloumis and the DEA Deputy Minister, Barbara Thomson

Zaloumis gave a brief introduction on iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s first World Heritage Site. “iSimangaliso is a tangible example of how a park benefits its people, and how the people benefit the park,” he said. This was demonstrated by the presence of hundreds of beneficiaries who welcomed the opportunity to attend the celebrations.

“As one of the most significant rhino populations on the African continent, we take our role with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife as custodians of our heritage very seriously”. Zaloumis paid tribute to the late Herbert Mthembu, the Park Operations Director, whose idea it was to initiate the school campaign. “Herbert said that the key to change was in the hands of our children. We knew we had to make his dream a reality,” he said.

Nose painting for rhinos
Painting noses red in honour of rhinos
Rhino dance
A rhino dance

Deputy Minister Thomson, receiving signed banners from the schoolchildren, said that, “The youth, as the moral, economic, political and thought leaders of tomorrow, are key in the battle that is being fought. They are the future conservation leaders and the generation that will influence the continued existence of legal and illegal wildlife markets, this contributing to a decline in the consumption and demand for rhino horn”.

This critical role of young people as influencers and decision makers was a major factor in formulating the campaign to involve over 11,250 learners from 75 rural schools in a park-wide walk to raise awareness about the plight of rhino.

Children signing banners
Children signing banners

“We can blow the whistle on wildlife criminals!” she proclaimed. “These are our rhino, our future.”

Fun facts about iSimangaliso

1. iSimangaliso was inscribed as a World Heritage Site for three outstanding universal values: its biodiversity, eco-systems and superlative natural beauty.

2. The park is home to the Big Five as well as whales, turtles, sharks and more.

3. Over 526 bird species are found in the park.

4. iSimangaliso has been hailed as a leading global example of the new era of conservation.

5. iSimangaliso CEO, Andrew Zaloumis, recently received the 2015 WWF Living Planet Award.

6. iSimangaliso has four Ramsar sites (wetlands of international importance).

7. Over 1,500 learners come to the park annually as part of the environmental education programme​.

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iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park was listed as South Africa’s first World Heritage Site in December 1999 in recognition of its superlative natural beauty and unique global values. The 332 000 hectare park contains of three major lake systems, eight interlinking ecosystems, 700 year old fishing traditions, most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forests, Africa’s largest estuarine system, 526 bird species and 25 000 year-old coastal dunes – among the highest in the world. The name iSimangaliso means miracle and wonder, which aptly describes this unique place.