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Written by: Kaveesha Naicker, intern with the CREW Programme

Who are para-ecologists? What makes them special? I’m sure you may never have heard about para-ecology before now. Well, allow me to enlighten you.

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Snake handling training © Anri Marais

By definition, a para-ecologist is a specialist who has indigenous knowledge due to the experiences gained while working. They are multi-skilled and proficient in several fields of ecology. Para-ecologists are responsible for influencing scientific research as well as bridging gaps between the scientific communities and civil society.

They operate with the intention of creating environmental awareness, educating the public about conservation strategies, establishing relationships between local communities and scientists, and assisting with interactions between land owners and scientists.

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The Botanical Society hosting a para-ecologist training workshop © Catherine Browne

Para-ecologists assist with research and data collection when scientists are not in attendance. They also incorporate indigenous knowledge into research and get local communities involved with conservation. By doing so they gain much needed knowledge and insight from the locals, who may use unconventional methods to conserve the surrounding natural environments.

They convey relevant scientific information pertaining to particular areas with stakeholders, and they provide effective support when research is conducted. They also attempt to promote alternative lifestyles to improve living conditions and enhance capital development within communities.

CREWs Eastern Cape team at Addo National Park
CREWs Eastern Cape team at Addo National Park © CREW

The Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) programme, in partnership with the Botanical Society of South Africa, Rhodes University and Sustaining the Wild Coast, obtained funding in 2013 from the Groen Sebenza Programme to employ 10 matriculants in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape with the purpose of broadening our understanding of various aspects of ecology.

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The two year project focused on effectively equipping the para-ecologists with relevant training in terrestrial invertebrate biology, botany, environmental monitoring, iSpot, computing skills as well as aspects of indigenous knowledge. This educational experience did not just focus on academic development but also personal development by including soft skills such as building confidence and time management.

Groen Sebenza pioneers collecting arachnids.
Groen Sebenza pioneers collecting arachnids. © CREW
Mzukisi Beja collecting insects
Mzukisi Beja collecting insects © CREW

The two-year funded project provided the CREW programme with the opportunity to engage with, and upskill, matriculants that would not have had this opportunity. The Groen Sebenza funding has also ensured that the CREW programme operates in the Eastern Cape. By initiating the para-ecologist project, the CREW programme has adequately prepared the para-ecologists with the necessary skills to grow as conservationists and continue to pursue a career in conservation. We are proud that several of the para-ecologists have secured jobs and taken on studies in the sector.

Siphosethu Moshani observing a leaf-dwelling spider
Siphosethu Moshani observing a leaf-dwelling spider © CREW

The Botanical Society of South Africa hosted and funded two week-long training workshops to upskill para-ecologists on the Groen Sebenza programme. The growth witnessed in the individuals involved is commendable and we have great additions to the environmental sector’s workforce.

To support the work that the Botanical Society is doing in South African communities, get a MyPlanet card and add them as a beneficiary!

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