Cape Town - The newly appointed CEO of CapeNature, Ashley Naidoo, has stepped into the proverbial fire as he gets to grips with the organisation’s myriad challenges, not least of which is the fire season that the Western Cape is currently in.
CapeNature, a government entity responsible for managing and maintaining 31 nature reserve complexes comprising 112 nature reserves, of which 106 are terrestrial and six are marine protected areas, totalling 828 506 ha in the Western Cape, offers a variety of eco-tourism products at 25 of its nature reserves.
As custodian of the province’s natural environment, CapeNature is tasked with nature conservation and awareness, preserving biodiversity, and providing facilities for education, research, and training.
Looking after these vast areas is where challenges lie, but Naidoo said he was getting to grips with it.
“What attracted me to CapeNature was, in preparation for the recruitment process, I went through the annual report and the financial statements, and found that CapeNature has a great governance record and a clean financial bill of health.
“They met the performance targets. The governance processes in CapeNature is definitely working. So, any new creativity, innovation and attempting larger ambitions has a very solid foundation.”
Dr Naidoo said he was eager to engage with all stakeholders to get feedback on what needs improvement.
“What I’m keen to look at is, are we engaging stakeholders, are we getting feedback from stakeholders for the interventions that CapeNature is trying to do – and that ranges all the way from science initiatives to tourism initiatives. Engagement with local communities adjacent to protected areas and reserves will be a new area of work for me.
“Are we engaging, are we allowing ourselves to learn from both sides? We have information to offer, are we receptive to bringing information from people on the ground that are interacting with these issues?” he asked.
One of the key issues that he needs to get to grips with and find a solution for poaching and the encroachment of people onto protected areas. Some of these issues relate to poverty, religious and cultural beliefs and the ever-expanding population in Cape Town and the province.
“I’m a firm believer that diversity is an opportunity, and I want us to explore the opportunities that diversity presents. Natural science knowledge is one type of knowledge. We must be receptive to say there are other categories of knowledge and other ways of packaging knowledge and lived experiences.
“So, for me addressing poaching or environmental crime is not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution. While it is a crime and must be treated as such as per the laws of country; it is also an opportunity for engagement, understanding what the aspirations of the local people are and how these can be accommodated.
“Since I am still new in the post, I will have to get to grips with implementation in the entity. Engagement with people at all age levels in formal and less formal settings – younger children, primary school, secondary school, and university is vital as they will be ambassadors in communities.”
The Cape Floristic Region, located mainly in the Western Cape, has one of the highest levels of endemic biodiversity of any equivalent area in the world. This means that many species found in the Western Cape occur nowhere else in the world.
There are an estimated 10 778 species of plants across a total of 171 different vegetation types.
Preserving this unique floristic region for future generations and the role CapeNature can play in making young people aware of it, gives Naidoo hope. CapeNature already has several programmes geared at youngsters.
“We have programmes like the Cubs Club and the challenge is to increase the membership by rolling it out to bigger groups. CapeNature has just launched the group component of Cubs Club, where kids can join as a group to engage in environmental education and conservation action.
“So, how do we improve that, how do we maintain that, how do we grow the relationship so that it is more permanent. Options to be explored include providing easily accessible information on local ecosystems, plant lists, bird lists, insect lists, other biodiversity lists, so that people can have information to engage with. This must be provided in a range of ways depending on users – from webpages to printed materials.”
Naidoo said people should no longer be surprised by the effects of Climate Change and the resultant fires and floods. He said there needs to be planning to future proof against the effects of climate change.
“Extreme events are happening and are more intense. There are larger floods, frequent storm surges, and rivers bursting their banks, so we need to get out of the surprise phase of this.
“We know it is going to happen and happen more frequently. We need to look at how we prepare for that? And that goes to a whole range of interventions. One, specifically for CapeNature, how do we, when replacing infrastructure, replace it so that when an extreme event occurs, we future proof it in the design and construction.
“You can’t design and construct the way we have for the last 50 years, because the infrastructure is going to be exposed to more frequent fires and floods. So, take the surprise element out of it, let’s prepare for it.”