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Undergraduate Profile: Rebecca Nishida

This past summer I had the opportunity to study abroad in South Africa for three weeks. During that time, we collected water quality data and experienced a homestay in rural villages in the northeastern corner of South Africa. We also explored three conservation areas—Kruger National Park, Makalali Private Game Reserve, and Manyeleti Private Game Reserve where we learned how conservation practices have been influenced by political turmoil in South Africa during the past century.

The management of Kruger National Park evolved over the last century. Before apartheid (the period of severe oppression of black South Africans from 1948-1994), Kruger was managed to maintain a “balance of nature” (Carruthers 2008). With apartheid, new park authorities shifted Kruger’s management to one of “command and control” (Carruthers 2008). Black South Africans living in the park were forcibly removed and militaristic management strategies like elephant culling were enforced.

A female African Elephant and her calf beside our game drive vehicle in Kruger National Park.

A female African Elephant and her calf beside our game drive vehicle in Kruger National Park.

After the democratic election in 1994 and the end of apartheid, management in Kruger shifted to Strategic Adaptive Management (SAM), which is recognized worldwide as a visionary method taking root in self-reflective, scientific enquiry. Ecological heterogeneity is a hallmark of Kruger’s current management policy, which was noticeable as we drove through Kruger’s diverse landscape. Also, South Africa National Park staff currently work to create “benefit-sharing” opportunities with the communities of displaced people bordering Kruger.

While Kruger catered to wealthy white visitors during apartheid, Manyeleti was the only reserve black South Africans were allowed to visit. Manyeleti is connected to Kruger on its western side; however it used to be separated from Kruger by fences. Entering Manyeleti, the difference in its history from Kruger was apparent in its lackluster entrance and broken-down facilities. Owned by the Mnisi community, there are not many resources to invest in terms of infrastructure.

Facilities in Manyeleti were mandated to be below the quality of facilities in Kruger (Teversham 2013). Manyeleti was established with the discriminatory goal to change African attitudes towards nature to be more in line with supposedly superior white attitudes (Teversham 2013). Today, within Manyeleti there are three luxurious private lodges that make use of the land on a concession basis. Since day visitors are not allowed into Manyeleti now, more black South Africans actually visit Kruger National Park.

I am grateful that during this study abroad trip I experienced not only the rugged beauty of the South African bushveld, but also spent time with local people in impoverished communities near conservation areas. I appreciate that I learned about South Africa’s history and how it impacted conservation there. This experience in South Africa provided a realistic view of the challenges conservationists face while managing for biodiversity— poverty, natural resource shortages, climate change, urbanization, and political conflict. In my career, I hope to play an active role in wildlife conservation involving local communities and supporting human health and well-being.

Carruthers, Jane. “Conservation and Wildlife Management in South African National Parks 1930s-1960s.” Journal of the History of Biology. 41.2 (2008): 203-236.

Teversham, Edward. “The Nature of Leisure in the Manyeleti Game Reserve for Africans, South Africa, 1967-1985.” The International Journal of the History of Sport. 30.16 (2013): 1877-1887.



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