Image: (Supplied) Andrew Zaloumis and Thandi Mosaka grant handover
Image: (Supplied) Andrew Zaloumis and Thandi Mosaka grant handover
Image: (Supplied) Andrew Zaloumis turtle release
Image: (Supplied) Andrew Zaloumis turtle release
Image: (Supplied) Andrew Zaloumis addressing a group overlooking the lake
Image: (Supplied) Andrew Zaloumis addressing a group overlooking the lake
Image: (Supplied) Rhino Walk with school children
Image: (Supplied) Rhino Walk with school children

CAPE TOWN - The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa has announced the departure of Andrew Zaloumis as CEO of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

Zaloumis is stepping down from this position as he will be completing his studies in Sustainability at Cambridge University UK and has been a leader in the field of conservation for over 20 years. He was instrumental in the establishment of the park and its transformation into a world class conservation tourism destination that occupies prime status as a World Heritage Site.

The park is internationally recognized for its model of protected areas management that puts communities at the centre of conservation. He pioneered the consolidation of 16 parks under one banner and management system which enabled government to deliver significant development benefits for the area through both the Lubombo Spatial Development Initiative and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority.

Image: (Supplied) Andrew Zaloumis addressing a group overlooking the lake

According to a statement by the Department of Environmental Affairs, "These include the construction of the upgrades to the N2 highway and the Hluhluwe/ Mozambique road. During the early days of setting up of iSimangaliso, the area was infested with malaria. Mr Zaloumis also implementated the anti-malaria programme that has reduced malaria incidence by 96% in KwaZulu-Natal. Other successes include a promotion of investments to the tune of more than R200 million in roads, bulk services, tourism accommodation and day-visitor facilities in iSimangaliso."

Minster Molewa said: "Under his tenure, Mr Zaloumis pioneered and institutionalised development-focused conservation at the Park." A number of Zaloumis' work has been using labour-intensive methods, which created a significant amount of temporary jobs in the area.

"A total of 87 young people have received support for their university studies; some 3000 crafters, artists, and tour guides have been trained to in these different field, to support the continuously growing tourism industry in the area; and 215 small businesses have received mentoring and support. Of these,106 were given seed capital," the statement stated. The number of establishments in the iSimangaliso region in total has grown by 86%.

Image: (Supplied) Rhino Walk with school children

Currently there are three community-owned tourism lodges in the park, communities have been supported in the acquisition of tourist boat and now have also been licensed to operate boat cruises, turtle tours, game drives, and other excursions in the Park.

The work in iSimangaliso has changed into positive gains for the local tourism industry. Not only did these progammes increase the number of tourist visiting the area, but has also proven higher growth in Kwa-Zulu Natal as a destination in terms of numbers of domestic and international arrivals as well as average tourist spend.

As an acknowledgement of his contribution to the conservation and the tourism industries he has received awards like the SAICA 2015/16 award for Public Sector Audit Excellence, WWF Living Planet Award, National Heritage Council Golden Shield Award for World Heritage Site of the Year, and the 2017 KfW-Bernhard-Grzimek-Preis Award.

Minister Molewa expressed her appreciation to Zaloumis for his contribution to the conservation efforts in South Africa and wished him well for the future.

iSimangaliso Board Chairman, Buyane Zwane described Zaloumis as a legend in our lifetime.

Image: (Supplied) Andrew Zaloumis turtle release

"Not many in our nation have demonstrated selflessness, dedication to grooming leaders, managers, professionals, and entrepreneurs in rural settings to world standards with unquestionable love for the country as recently retired founding CEO of iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority. He remains a towering gentle giant despite his size. He is a walking encyclopedia on whom conservationists, researchers, media, conservation enthusiasts, amateurs, professionals and others will continue to call on. We are privileged to have worked with him as a board over the past two years and are professionally richer and wiser for the association," Zwane said.

"I know I speak on behalf of many that in Andrew we have a patriot, professional, and a dedicated South African whose contribution will outlive him and many generations to come. There are many lives that have changed for the best forever because Andrew touched them. We wish you greatness as you venture into an even broader world beyond the confines of iSimangaliso and KwaZulu-Natal to the global stage. You're a hero – go shine!," Zwane concluded.

Also read: iSimangaliso’s Zaloumis hailed for conservation work

- BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE