News24

2017-09-04 06:30 –

Cape Town – After some 20 years of outstanding leadership and a career dedicated to people-centred conservation, Andrew Zaloumis has stepped down as CEO of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. He will pursue his studies in sustainability at Cambridge University UK and continue to contribute to Southern African conservation and development.

On Sunday, 3 September Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa confirmed Zaloumis is retiring, recognizing the instrumental role he has played in “establishing and transforming iSimangaliso Wetland Park into a renowned and world class conservation tourism destination that today occupies prime status as a World Heritage Site”.

SEE: #EcoTravel: Tap into nature’s healing at iSimangaliso

Molewa expresses her appreciation to Zaloumis, who has received 15 clean audits for South Africa’s very first world heritage site, calling his contribution to conservation efforts “pioneering and development focused”.

Recognised in the international and domestic arena as a visionary in his field, Zaloumis has also received a host of global awards for the implementation of a conservation model for protected area management that puts communities at the centre of conservation strategies.

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Issuing a statement announcing the news that Zaloumis is stepping down, iSimangaliso states, he is “respected by his staff and people who worked with him as a leader who translated ideas into tangible life-changing benefits to the lives of the communities he served”.

“Andrew leaves behind a living legacy that few South African’s would have had the courage and strength to pull together. He met his mandate and proceeded to do more.”

Not only was he instrumental in the establishment of South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, he also transformed the region from a declining tourist economy into a flourishing and growing tourism destination capable of competing with some of the finest global attractions.

During the early days of setting up of iSimangaliso, the area was infested with malaria. 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.

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Zaloumis also ensured the restoration of the iSimangaliso eco-system, with the recent reintroduction of game last seen a century ago on the banks of St Lucia; the separation of commercial forestry plantations from the park as a way of ensuring that these two businesses operate without negative impact in one another and the systematic rehabilitation of the Eastern and Western Shores of iSimangaliso.

SEE: A pair of rare servals released into iSimangaliso

“All this work in iSimangaliso has translated into positive gains for the local tourism industry. These programmers have increased the number of tourists visiting the area, which has proven to be higher growth in the  Kwa-Zulu/Natal as a destination, both in terms of numbers of domestic and international arrivals, and average tourist spend.”

These include the construction of the Hluhluwe to Mozambique road, upgrades to the N2, the implementation of a malaria programme that reduced malaria incidence by 96% in KwaZulu-Natal, as well as the listing of iSimangaliso on the World Heritage role and the promulgation of the World Heritage Convention Act, the consolidation of 16 parks under one banner and management system, the investment and construction of Park roads, bulk services, tourism accommodation and day-visitor facilities in the 320 km long iSimangaliso.

iSimangaliso says most of the land rehabilitation work is undertaken using labour-intensive methods, creating a significant number of temporary jobs in the area, and some 8 000 permanent tourism jobs have been created.

“There are three community-owned tourism lodges in the Park, as well as community-owned and operated boat cruises, turtle tours, game drives, and other excursions in the Park under licence. The Higher Education Access Programme has provided 87 young people with financial and other support for their university studies. The first 50 graduates are charting a path for themselves in conservation-related fields.

SEE: Rewilding iSimangaliso: Lions, cheetah and wild dog projects bloom in time for summer holidays

“The Rural Enterprise Programme has mentored and supported 215 small businesses, 106 of which have been given seed capital and 3 000 odd crafters, artists, and tour guides have been trained.

The awards given to Zaloumis and iSimangaliso include the SAICA 2015/16 award for Public Sector Audit Excellence, the WWF Living Planet Award, Mail and Guardian Greening the Future Award for youth leadership and job creation, the National Heritage Council Golden Shield Award for World Heritage Site of the year, and the KFW Grizmek (for people-centric conservation practices). iSimangaliso was also a finalist in the World Travel and Tourism Council Tourism for Tomorrow Awards and in 2016, Andrew was given the honour as a John P McNulty Laureate for the Rural Enterprise Programme.

“He is a legend in our lifetime”, says Buyane Zwane, Chairperson of the iSimangaliso Board.

“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. 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!” says Zwane.

Molewa wished Zaloumis well for the future.