Time for youth to step up, says Venter

For better or for worse, a young Andrew Venter got hooked by conservation biology at Wits University. In 1993, the opportunity to shape his PhD in the Kruger National Park was the perfect way to tie the knot on his Master’s, writes Laura du Toit.

A passionate, idealistic 25-year-old, Venter set out to establish unprecedented links with people outside the park, looking at how it could drive economic development in the neighbouring poor communities. “I thought I was going to change the world [but] crawled out of Kruger after two years, shattered”, he says.

Slightly more cautious, yet just as energetic, Venter and his wife, Andrea,  moved to St Lucia, where they continued to work on community engagement and economic development in what later became the iSimangaliso World Heritage Site.

His meeting the late conservationists, Ian Player and Andrew Ewing, was a turning point in Venter’s career.  Venter convinced the two legends of South Africa’s need for an environmental NGO that focused solely on community-based conservation.

He became the first chief executive officer of the Wildlands Trust in 2000, which was initially founded by Player in 1990. He subsequently led the merger of the Wildlands Trust with the KZN Conservation Trust to form the Wildlands Conservation Trust in 2004.

Recently renamed the WildTrust, it is today one of the largest not-for-profit organisations in South Africa. It employs almost 4 000 “Green” and “Blue” team members who drive a wide range of terrestrial and marine conservation and sustainable development projects.

This has included Trees for Life, Recycling for Life, Food for Life, Khuthaza Business, Greening your Future, Adopt-A-River,  the Blood Lions film and campaign and several Blue Fund supported projects, including the Ocean Stewards programme and Ocean iMPAct which lobbies for increased protection of the oceans.

Of his future, Venter says he wants to have “another bash at changing things” by nurturing the growing youth movement in the conservation sector. – Laura Du Toit, Roving Reporters

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