iSimangaliso Wetland Park CEO Andrew Zaloumis will leave his position to pursue his studies, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said on Sunday.
Zaloumis, who is completing his studies in sustainability at Cambridge University in the United kingdom, has been an outstanding leader in the field of conservation for over 20 years, she said.
He was instrumental in the establishment of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in Northern KwaZulu-Natal and its transformation into a renowned and world class conservation tourism destination that today occupied prime status as a World Heritage Site.
The park was internationally recognised for its model of protected areas management that put communities at the centre of conservation. The consolidation of 16 parks under one banner and management system had enabled government to deliver significant development benefits for the area through both the Lubombo spatial development initiative and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority, Molewa said.
During the early days of setting up iSimangaliso, the area was infested with malaria and Zaloumis implemented an anti-malaria programme that reduced malaria incidence by 96 percent in KwaZulu-Natal. Other successes included promotion of investments to the tune of more than R200 million in roads, bulk services, tourism accommodation, and day-visitor facilities in iSimangaliso.
“Under his tenure, Mr Zaloumis pioneered and institutionalised development-focused conservation at the park,” Molewa said.
Examples of this development-focused conservation, due to the restored eco-system, were the recent reintroduction of game last seen a century ago on the banks of Lake St Lucia; the separation of commercial forestry plantations from the park as a way of ensuring that these two businesses operated without negative impact on one another; and the systematic rehabilitation of the eastern and western shores of iSimangaliso.
Much of this work had been undertaken using labour-intensive methods, creating a significant number of temporary jobs in the area. A total of 87 young people had received support for their university studies; some 3000 crafters, artists, and tour guides had been trained in different fields to support the continuously growing tourism industry in the area; and 215 small businesses had received mentoring and support. Of these,106 were given seed capital, she said.
The total number of establishments in the iSimangaliso region had grown by some 86 percent. There were currently three community-owned tourism lodges in the park, and communities had been supported in the acquisition of a tourist boat and now had also been licensed to operate boat cruises, turtle tours, game drives, and other excursions in the park.
Under Zaloumis’s leadership, iSimangaliso had achieved 15 consecutive unqualified audits. Molewa expressed her appreciation to Zaloumis for his contribution to conservation efforts in South Africa and wished him well for the future.