Letaba

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Letaba

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20 March 2017

I am delighted to be here on a number of fronts. My discipline background is in geography where I have research interests in wildlife ecology and the use of remote sensing technology for habitat assessment and management. So being in Kruger is very special to me.

The University of the Sunshine Coast is Australia’s youngest public university. We celebrated our 20th anniversary just last year. We’re ambitious and growing our scale and profile at a rapid rate. By 2020 we’ll have 20,000 students and be ranked as one of the top 100 universities in the world under 50 years of age.

As a university, USC sees itself as an engaged institution and increasingly this engagement is at international scales. We are also dedicated to sustainability, so involvement with Kruger National Park and the Letaba Elephant Hall is a very comfortable fit for us. And, it mirrors some of the things we are doing elsewhere, like: our work with sun bears in Sabah, Cambodia and Laos; the fisheries and forestry work we’re doing in the South Pacific; our activities in the Galapagos; and at our own Dilli Village Field Station on the World Heritage listed Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island.

For us, the Letaba project is a jewel in the crown. The partnership with SANParks provides our staff, and particularly our students, with experience and experiences that are available to very few. We are very grateful for the opportunity and, as our university grows, I trust we will be able to make additional contributions to the stewardship of this iconic place. For example, through our recently introduced animal ecology degree, I would see future cohorts of staff and students contributing to wildlife research and management here. We’ll further develop the design programs that have helped create this wonderful display and will expand what we’re doing in the tourism, science communication and interpretation fields which are so vital to national park management across the globe.

We had a preliminary launch of a selection of materials from this display back in Australia on 1 December 2016, so that our local community could get a taste of what would be happening here. There are a few things I’d like to say about this:

  1. The launch took place in the University’s Art Gallery and it created enormous interest, however, a display like that pales into insignificance once you experience the Letaba Elephant Hall itself. It is a superb resource for promoting conservation and recording the proud history of Kruger’s elephants. And the Hall is also a thing of beauty that will be appreciated and loved by generations of tourists and locals for years to come.
  2. We were very fortunate to have Kevin Morris represent SANParks at the December event. Kevin spoke passionately about: the vision of SANParks; its commitment to the maintenance of this internationally significant place; and where the partnership with my University of the Sunshine Coast fits into this bigger picture. We loved having Kevin there at our campus and he really is a wonderful ambassador for SANParks. As an educator, I found his appreciation of the crucial nature of education and communication to the future viability of wildlife in South Africa quite inspiring. Kevin left many of us thinking about what we were doing, or perhaps not doing, in our own back yard and how sharing experiences and knowledge from South Africa could help conservation in Australia. So thank you Kevin.
  3. And lastly, I would like to mention some of the terrific staff and students from USC who have driven this incredibly important initiative over the last six or so years, and some special guests. Kevin Todd has been the design mastermind, ably supported by lots of talented students. Some 40 design students have contributed to the project along with students studying science, journalism, tourism and public relations. Many of these students have now graduated and are working all over the world. I hope they all get back here to witness how their contributions have led to the final product. And the latest generation of our students are here today who have been very privileged to have worked on the final stage and to share this celebration. For the students who have been here in particular, I am sure it will always be a highlight of their university experience. We also have Sunshine Coast printer Steve and Christine Hall here making sure everything turns out the way it’s supposed to. Many other USC staff have played crucial roles. Sheila Peake has tirelessly promoted the opportunities this partnership presented within the University and she has facilitated our on-the-ground involvement in the Park since day one. Professor Robert Elliot, Pro Vice-Chancellor (International and Quality) has championed the relationship and facilitated student and staff travel and engagement. Universities are cumbersome animals and getting people to do new things is not always easy – but between them, Sheila, Robert and Kevin have stuck to their guns and created wonderful opportunities for the USC community.

And I want to also mention the attendance here today, of Bob Irwin. Bob is a conservation hero in Australia and a founder of Australia Zoo.

I would also like to acknowledge the presence of Mr David Eggleston, Frist Secretary, Australian High Commission. Government funding is crucial in supporting travel costs for our students, so David, please convey our thanks and let the government know the results of the investment.

Congratulations to all involved. I am in awe of what you have achieved.

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