Giving Conservation Wings with Dale Wright

Nov 9 2015

Tracy Burrows from Latest Sightings chats to Dale Wright, Pamela Isdell Fellow of Penguin Conservation at BirdLife South Africa to gain some insight regarding her projects, favourite birding places and more... 

TB: What projects are you currently working on, and what are your responsibilities?
DW: Below is an outline:

  • Commprehensive technical assessments and revisions of the network of 23 Western Cape and several Eastern Cape IBAs,
  • Designing, fundraising and initiating conservation projects and socio-economic development projects at certain IBAs, including private landowner biodiversity stewardship and skills development projects for local communities,
  • Fundraising for projects at specific IBAs – using traditional grant, corporate funding sources and other approaches and managing donor relations,
  • Reviewing and commenting on Environmental Impact Assessments across the region,
  • Media and Marketing tasks including public presentations, writing semi-popular and popular articles in a variety of media, radio interviews, social network engagement and awareness events,
  • Linking with academic research institutions to implement research projects for key knowledge gaps in the programme,
  • Member of a number of steering committees and other management forums providing input with regards to bird and habitat conservation,
  • Developing and maintaining key partnerships with multiple stakeholders including government conservation agencies, other conservation NGOs, civil society groups and universities.

TB: What is your favourite bird and why?        
DW: Not a South African species, but my favourite bird is the Shoebill Stork. It’s a bizarre looking creature that exists only in the most inhospitable swamp-like habitats in central Africa. I like it because it’s bizarre and prehistoric, and one of a kind.
My favourite South African bird could be the Martial Eagle – due its majestic nature and beauty.

TB: Can you please share an interesting fact about the shoebill stork?
DW: The Shoebill’s scientific name is Balaeniceps rex kind of like T-rex due its dinosaur like demeanour. Its very rare and in urgent need of conservation. The Martial Eagle is one of the largest raptors in the world, and capable of catching small antelope as prey!

TB: What tip can you share with us regarding spotting an shoebill stork?
DW: For Shoebills one might need to travel to Zambia or Uganda and venture into the deepest swamps – putting up with a lot of discomfort! Martial Eagles are often visible in South African protected areas and one could look out for them in Kruger, Karoo or Kgalagadi National parks. The best bet is to scan the tops of large trees where they roost in-between hunting.

TB: Where is your favourite birding place?
DW: The area around Northern Kwazulu-Natal, in particular Mkhuze game Reserve, Hluhluwe game reserve and the st lucia estuary (isimangaliso wetland park) is probably my favourite as the enormous variety of habitats provides for many different bird species, and also since I don’t get to visit this area very often it is always exciting for me!

TB: What’s it like working for a bird conservation NGO?
It is extremely fulfilling and enjoyable work. I work within our strategic framework but am also given the freedom to create projects which I see as priorities. This sense of freedom in my work is great. Being able to contribute towards the conservation of something which I have loved for so long is really exciting. Birds led me into a career in nature conservation and so it is great to be able to give back.

TB: What are your acheivements to date?
DW: Graduated with a distinction in my MSc Conservation Biology degree (2011); Awarded Fynbos Forum Young Conservator of the Year award in 2013; Awarded scholarship to attend the Simthsonian Conservation Biology Institute short course on migratory birds (2013), received travel grant awards to attend the International Congress for Conservation Biology in France 2015; oversaw the confiscation of over 50 semi-automatic weapons whilst managing anti-poaching teams in Tanzania –reducing the number of elephants which would be poached; anti-poaching teams and individuals received outstanding performance awards as a result of this work (2008-9). 

TB: And lastly, what drives you?
My passion for our beautiful planet and all of its biodiversity, and a sense of urgency as I witness ongoing environmental degradation. At the same time journeying to beautiful wilderness areas and seeing nature still intact is a driving force to maintain these wild places and maintain areas as habitats for birds. The fulfilment which I get from my work, and being able to work alongside like-minded people are also huge motivating factors.

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