Word from the CEO

Yolan Friedmann, CEO

On behalf of the Endangered Wildlife Trust Board of Trustees may I welcome you all, on this chilly autumn evening, to this prestigious event, a celebration of 50 years of conservation in action.

Good evening Minister Creecy, Minister for Fisheries, Forests and the Environment. Welcome to David Freeman, First Secretary for Environment, Science, Technology, Health, and Minerals, U.S. Embassy Pretoria.

Good evening to the EWT founders that are here with us tonight Clive Walker and James Clarke and our previous CEOs Dr John Ledger and Prof Nick King, all the way from the United Kingdom.

To our Board of Trustees and the Chairman of the Board, Muhammad Seedat and

To all past Trustees who have played such a pivotal role in forming the EWT, some of whom have travelled many miles to be with us tonight.

Welcome to the many donors, associates, colleagues, friends, members of the media and our highly valued partners who are with us tonight.

And last but never ever least: welcome to the staff of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, past and present. Our greatest assets.

You are all welcome.

Tonight has been in the making for 50 years. I used to think that 50 years was an inordinate amount of time until I too turned 50 just before the EWT did. I can now assure you that 50 is the new 21 and this is not a celebration of a coming of age, but of a youthful spirit, blended with wisdom, a touch of maturity, a dash of streetsmarts, a helping of hope and a LOT of energy still to be spent to realise dreams that are still big enough to scare us, in the words of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

 Tonight has been a very special gathering of many remarkable people and a celebration of many remarkable achievements.

The EWT prides itself on instilling hope, and sharing a vision of what our future can be. We do not like to instil a sense of fear, loss or hopelessness when we talk about our natural world. Instead, we prefer to show, with evidence, the difference we can all make when we work together. You’ve seen firsthand how our work, and with your support, has turned South Africa into the only country in Africa with an increasing population of Cheetah. How Wild Dogs now flourish in Malawi and Mozambique where they had previously gone extinct. How lost species like the Amatola Toad and de Winton’s Golden Mole have been rediscovered and can now be protected. How rivers can flow when invasive plants are removed and how communities can use this water for their livelihoods, their crops and their general wellbeing.

How populations of Blue Cranes and Cape Vultures have been downlisted due to concerted and targeted conservation effort, and how the Brenton Blue Butterfly was the first species to trigger the declaration of a nature reserve to save just one species. How communities now run conservation-friendly enterprises on their land, and rangers, ecowarriors and businesswomen have been borne out of rural children and their mothers. How hundreds of thousands of hectares of critical habitat are now protected, spanning biomes from the Succulent Karoo to the Soutpansberg and covering the lifegiving rivers, grasslands, wetlands, forests and deserts in between.

In 1973, the world had a human population of 3.9 billion. We have now come to remember the 1970s as a time of activism and the birth of multiple social movements that galvanised action and created momentum for stimulating social change for the decades to come. The environmental movement benefited from this period of awakening and the United Nations Environmental Programme was born, as was CITES, the global wildlife trade convention, the RAMSAR convention for the protection of wetlands and the landmark Endangered Species Act that was passed in the USA. World Environment Day was kickstarted and of course the globally significant UN Conference on the Human Environment was held, catapulting the world towards a slew of environmental agreements that would attempt to safeguard our natural resources and our climate for decades to come.

President Richard Nixon said it for us all when he stated in 1973 that “Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which America has been blessed.” It was at this time that way down on the southern tip of Africa, the Endangered Wildlife Trust was born.

Despite all this activity, fast forward to 2024 and the WWF tells us that populations of globally monitored mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians have declined by an average of 68%. In Africa alone, the percentage is 66. Our Freshwater systems show the worst, and most rapid decline in quality and species loss. 2023 was the hottest year on record, with extreme weather events causing devastation, globally.

And the world human population has reached 8.1 billion, and is still growing. That is a more than 200% increase in the number of humans and a more than 2 thirds decrease in the number of wild animals left on our planet today. The EWT has done well over the past 50 years. But we have to do more.  

Right now, in the safe havens of our national parks and in our remote wilderness areas and mountain ranges, snares are being set, poisons are being planted and rifles are being loaded. From the African savannahs and deep into our oceans, land is being ploughed up and plastic is being dumped. Rivers are being choked and skyways are stolen from the winged creatures that really do own them.

Every night the EWT staff go to bed dreaming up ways to do more to stop the harm and reverse the trends. Every day they get up and channel every heartbeat into actions that will fight extinction. For 50 years, we have pushing back the tide and finding solutions; this is the thread that binds us and which continues to blur the generational lines, to form one united EWT.

As you have witnessed, the EWT staff, volunteers and trustees have, for 50 years, been the most tenacious, innovative and energetic, and we are defined by an unbreakable spirit that binds us like a steel thread and ignites our purpose. We have literally saved species and changed lives.

To the EWT staff past and present: you are all a force of nature!  Thankyou for the years of unimaginable hard work, sacrifice and souldeep commitment that comes from place that makes you special people, and a privilege for me to serve. Having stepped into the EWT myself, around midway into its story, I look both backwards and forwards from this halfway mark and see many extraordinary people on both sides, that have not just shaped the EWT’s life but my own too. Thankyou to you all.

To those extraordinary EWTers that will come next and to what we have termed #TheNextFifty. The world will not be an easier place for much of the planet’s human and wildlife populations. The EWT needs to write a new chapter now, and this book will come with new challenges and opportunities. Many of us here tonight will not be here to witness the commemoration of the EWT’s centenary but our impact MUST still be felt. We owe it to the next generations of brilliant EWTers to continue in the footsteps of our giant founders and to stay connected to the dreams of what we know can be achieved tomorrow, as we sit here tonight.

This we can all do by leaving our future teams a legacy that goes beyond another doubling of the human population and the loss of more species, but through the establishment of a Fund for the Future that will secure the EWT, our people and our impact, for the wildlife and the communities that they will serve, for decades to still come and for generations not yet born.  

The EWT is launching – in its 50th year – our Fund for the Future to ensure that the EWT never faces the risk of shutting its doors and ending our story, which in many ways, has just begun. On behalf of the EWT’s FirstFifty founders, CEOs and Chairs of our Board, we invite you to join us to continue our story and make your pledge tonight to the Fund, to secure forever, together. Pledge cards are on your tables and can be handed to any EWT staff member.

Thankyou to the Meterman, The Elizabeth Wakeman Henderson Charitable Fund, Trappers and the Oppenheimer Family for already making their pledges to this fund.

A powerful, impactful conservation strategy, underpinned by financial security and implemented by high performing teams of the best talent. This is the three-pronged approach that will define the next few decades for the EWT and we are developing what we are calling our Future Fit strategy for the NextFifty. This strategy will ensure that we channel our efforts into achieving targets that stretch us and will achieve high impact; that will galvanise cohesive, collective action towards achieving global, and national conservation priorities and which will benefit a maximum range of species, and humans, realistically.

Our Future Fit strategy will simplify our approaches, catalyse new science, engage new partners and embrace a new way of thinking. It will take the EWT into new regions where we will support new partners, and scale our impact. And building on our strengths, our Future Fit strategy will remain firmly rooted in the core principles of the EWT which are to save species, conserve habitats and benefit people.

We will build resilient systems, and develop nature-friendly businesses; we will safeguard the habitats that protect all life, we will prevent more extinctions and we will bring peace to human-wildlife conflict. We WILL halt the loss of biodiversity. 

Our planet may be ailing, but our spirits are not. We are powerful, passionate and energetic. We have solutions and knowledge and we CAN turn the tide.

In the words of António Guterres, Solidarity is humanity. Solidarity is survival.

In the words of the EWT: together we CAN protect forever.

Thankyou for making our birthday so special and for being part of our story.


Yolan Friedmann,

CEO, Endangered Wildlife Trust