Nelisiwe Vundla is dedicated to creating lasting relationships between communities and their environments.
A remarkable young woman working with the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa is taking a new approach to wildlife conservation.
Nelisiwe Vundla is the community development and learning lead at the organisation’s Wildlife Programme and she recently spoke at the 50th-anniversary fundraising dinner at the Hilton Hotel in Sandton.
Vundla, who has a Master of Philosophy in Environmental Management from Stellenbosch University, believes that conservation efforts should be multi-pronged and focus on traditional African values to emphasise the importance of conservation.
As a child growing up in Emandeni in KwaZulu-Nata, Vundla spent much of her childhood playing with goats on the open plains. From a young age, she was interested in a variety of subjects including marine life, climatology and community development. It is this connection to nature that she believes every child is born with and inspires her to connect communities with their environment and wildlife.
“Let us not deprive future generations of the opportunity to experience the beauty of wildlife and diminish our African identity, we cannot be separated,” she said.
“For conservation efforts to succeed we need to understand people and their relationships with our protected areas and how people live and interact with wildlife and natural resources.”
Vundla added that historically some communities have felt that rhino conservation has been prioritised over people as the animal have access to healthcare, food and water and protection while the communities do not.
However, she added that it is important to understand how people live in the environment, what challenges affect them and possible solutions to those challenges. In opening up a dialogue and engaging with the public about opportunities for wildlife conservation, she hopes it will result in an approach which embraces both the social and natural sciences.
“I have learnt that we need the environment more than it needs us. Without land, water, air, oceans and wildlife, we will soon learn the hard way that our assumption of superiority cannot sustain our lives,” concluded Vundla.
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