The Southern African Wildlife Management Association (SAWMA) first gained momentum in the late 1960s and was formally constituted in August 1970. Their initial goal was to represent the growing number of wildlife management and research scientists in the country at the time. While continuing these efforts, their vision has since evolved to include the dedicated conservation and management of wildlife resources in South Africa.

SAWMA recently hosted its 50th anniversary conference at the Berg-en-Dal Rest Camp in the Kruger National Park. This was their fourteenth conference and took place from 5 to 10 September 2021.

Eugene Greyling and Allison Muller, MSc students of conservation ecology at the University of Stellenbosch.

Besides celebrating the halfway mark to its centenary, the conference offered various opportunities for students and industry members. Students found the conference an ideal platform for expanding their all-important network of industry connections, while conferences such as this are also imperative to furthering research.

During the conference, researchers were afforded an opportunity to present their research to fellow scientists, demonstrating how it is being applied to further wildlife management and conservation efforts.

Wildlife management in the 21st century

The conference theme focussed on wildlife management in the 21st century and whether it will likely adapt or not. Speakers addressed this theme, along with SAWMA’s vision, from various perspectives, such as humans and conservation, conservation challenges, opportunities and success stories, and the future of wildlife management and conservation.

From left to right is Elma Marais, one of the conference organisers, Jessica Comley, a conference speaker from Rhodes University, and Dr Helet Lambrechts, Senior lecturer in animal physiology the University of Stellenbosch.

The conference was hosted as a hybrid event with delegates attending in person or online. The total in-person attendees were 143, of which 55 were students from fifteen local and seven international universities. Locally represented universities included the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, University of Cape Town, Nelson Mandela University, North-West University, Rhodes University, Tshwane University of Technology, University of Mpumalanga, University of Pretoria, University of South Africa, University of Stellenbosch, University of the Free State, University of the Witwatersrand, University of Venda, and the University of Zululand.

International delegates represented universities from Botswana, Namibia, Hawaii, France, Switzerland, and Germany. Another 250 delegates registered to attend the conference online. Members from 22 local and international organisations and private game reserves attended both online and in-person.

Student quiz winners crowned

A crowd favourite at the conference was the Plaas Media student quiz. The fifth instalment of the quiz covered a variety of topics related to wildlife management and conservation. Ten teams entered from various universities, both local and abroad.

Local universities that entered teams included Nelson Mandela University, with their teams Whiskeypedia and No Eye Deer, the University of Cape Town with The Naked Molerats and The Wildlings, and Tshwane University of Technology with Pegasus and Take Your Ur Time. The University of Mpumalanga’s team was UMP Woman Power.

Stellenbosch University’s team, No-Steins, included a team member from the University of the Free State, and the University of Witwatersrand’s team was called The Strays. The team from the University of Lyon in France named themselves The Frogs.

Two rounds were facilitated with 25 questions asked in each round. All ten teams competed in the first round but only three teams went through to the second round – No Eye Deer, The Naked Molerats and The Wildlings.

Team No Eye Deer came out on top in the student quiz. From left to right is Joti Daya, Mika Vermeulen, and Francis Martens-Brooks.

One of the reasons behind the popularity of the quiz is that the other conference delegates are allowed to participate in the second round. While only a student team can be crowned as the winner, researchers and industry members also battle it out among each other, alongside the students, creating an exciting and competitive atmosphere.

While it was a very close race between the students, the No Eye Deer team from Nelson Mandela University were once again the victors in this year’s quiz. The team members were Mika Vermeulen, Francis Martens-Brooks and Joti Daya. Mika has been a part of the reigning team since its first win at the first quiz. For Francis, this had been her third quiz and for Joti, her first.

The university of Cape Town shared the second and third place. The Naked Molerats – Lucy Smyth, Michelle Blanckenberg and Ayesha Hargey – took second place, while The Wildlings – Michael Ross, Gabriella Leighton and Joslyn Mormile – came in third. – Deidré Louw, Plaas Media