Foreword from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife

Greetings Delegates,

I would like to extend a warm welcome to everyone for this tenth sitting of The Conservation Symposium this year. It is important to mention that The Symposium has evolved and grown tremendously with time, from that small gathering of Ezemvelo scientists at Queen Elizabeth Park to the participation of professionals, both locally and internationally. This surely creates an opportunity for diversity of thoughts and opinion which would further assist The Symposium in the quest of learning. I am thankful for the diversity of participants and I am also proud that The Symposium continues to evolve and adapt to the changing dynamics of life. As such, I am delighted to welcome you to a symposium that is embracing our new operational normalcy, i.e. interacting and sharing ideas in times of virtual gatherings.

Hosting of The Conservation Symposium under this Covid-19 dark cloud provides all of us a time to reflect on the notable conservation events for consideration. This year, 2020, has been extremely challenging thus far with the virus dictating a new way of life. The impact has been far and wide for many people affecting all sectors, including conservation. The negative impact on travelling, movement of people, and the tourism sector has affected our ability to conserve biodiversity effectively. The abrupt stop of the tourism industry has been devastating to institutions whose source of funds for conservation efforts is derived from the tourism sector. I can confirm that this crisis has eroded our ability to mobilise resources for reinvestment in conservation operations including protecting critical biodiversity species. Other conservation aspects such as the securing of critical species, undertaking essential biological monitoring, and deployment of seasonal workers to fight fires and eradicate alien invasive species were enormously impacted. I'm sure I speak for many in South Africa when I say that our management effectiveness of protected areas around the country was consequently dealt a huge blow.

In the words of Dalai Lama, "whenever there is a challenge, there is also an opportunity to face it, to demonstrate and develop our will and determination", and my take is that the Covid-19 pandemic is no different. Whilst humanity has been presented with many challenges, humankind has been provided with an opportunity to look at and reflect upon the means by which our carbon footprint could be reduced. The world has eased with heavy traffic, both aviation and road. We are no longer making as many road trips as we used to. We have reduced our flying frequency from one city to another, country to country, contributing to the reduction in CO2 levels in the atmosphere. We must use this as an opportunity to interrogate and engage further in ways that could enable us to accelerate our global path to attaining sustainable development goals.

Coming back to The Symposium, this gathering and the success we're witnessing in hosting it in this era during the pandemic, reflects our maturity in embracing the changes that we have come to appreciate and the need to rethink the business of conservation. It is also important to note that the global conservation world has taken the Covid-19 pandemic in its stride. The use of technology has defined a number of engagements nationally and throughout the globe. In our region, our sister conference annually hosted by the Grassland Society of Southern Africa held its 55th Congress earlier this year, and as a consequence gave us an assurance that much as connectivity in a developing country may be too expensive and in some instances inaccessible, The Symposium could, in this very country, nonetheless be held together with resounding success. We congratulate them for a successful event.

Internationally, we are at the foothills of one big biodiversity conference in the United Nation's Biodiversity summit that took place on the 30th September 2020, on the side-lines of the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly under the theme 'Urgent Action on Biodiversity for Sustainable Development'. One of the very powerful messages coming out of this gathering is summed up by a profound remark from the United Nation's Secretary-General, when upon opening the session, he highlights the need to realise that "Humanity is waging a war on nature", and that it is necessary for us all to make biodiversity one of the indicators for sustainable development, such that in financing large infrastructure projects, biodiversity becomes one of the cornerstones of what qualifies an applicant to be financed by financial multinationals. This biodiversity summit came about as one of the many preparatory meetings towards Congress of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD-COP) taking place next year (2021). Indeed, the year 2020 was meant to conclude with the adoption of a new ten-year set of global goals (SDGs) and targets to reverse the negative trend of biodiversity loss, and the CBD-COP was meant to be convened this very year. However, Covid-19 had its own plan. Amongst the very important events of this year is the recent publication by the World Economic Forum on Global Risk Report 2020. The report is very important to us particularly because the key global risks that are reported to be highly likely are within our (conservation) operating space. This report paints a bleak picture for the future of humanity with challenges such as climate change failure, biodiversity loss, extreme weather, and human-induced environmental disasters, to name but a few. All these are necessarily biodiversity and or ecosystem-based risk factors. We can therefore conclude that our efforts should be fully invested in turning things around, in the quest of building a resilient world order.

Exacerbating our challenges is the widening gap between the rich and poor. The distressing impacts of Covid-19 include massive job losses and business failures amongst others both locally and across the world. I, therefore, encourage delegates to use this Symposium to constructively discuss ideas about which conservation efforts could strive to find its voice and contribute towards providing solutions in these trying times. These issues must be tackled head-on through robust discussions where biodiversity becomes the central anchor, and the pivot from which sustainable development finds its grounding. I take solace in the knowledge that unlike the many other symposia, this one is made special by the fact that it brings together a diversity of practitioners, lawyers, scientists, academics, managers, law enforcement officials, extension workers, policy-makers, communicators, and generally young people across different geographic regions and diverse theoretical underpinnings to discuss conservation issues.

It is finally noteworthy to mention that this Symposium thrives on the back of an enduring partnership that continues to sustain this gathering. Bound together by the need to provide contemporary solutions to conservation challenges of today, these organisations are WildTrust, Universities of Zululand & KwaZulu-Natal, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the Nature, Environmental, Wildlife and Filmmakers Congress, and the Environmental Law Association.

With that said, I wish you all a successful conference and do look forward to the outcomes!

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