Science Snippets: Half a Century of scientific discovery

How we know where we are needed.

Erin Adams and Lizanne Roxburgh, the EWT Conservation Planning and Science Unit


The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and we are reflecting on our contributions to scientific discovery over this period. Formed in 1973, the EWT was made up of species-focused working groups. These groups included the Vulture Study Group, the Carnivore Working Group, and the Elephant Survey and Conservation Programme (ESCP).

In the early 1980s, the EWT focused on elephant translocation into new reserves. The ESCP played a key role in relocating elephants from conflict areas in Namibia to the Pilanesberg National Park. Another study focused on the distribution and numbers of desert elephants in north-western Namibia. Towards the end of the 1980s, the EWT started working on cranes under the Highveld Crane Group. During the 90s, the EWT’s crane work expanded throughout South Africa’s important crane strongholds.

Cape Vulture-chick. Photo credit: P Richardson, P Mundy and I. Plug, 1986 (left), Desert Elephants. Photo credit: Clive Walker (center), and Gus Mills and Clive Walker conducting filed work in Kalahari National Park (right).

From the early 2000s, the EWT shifted its focus to carnivores, including Lions, Honey Badgers, Cheetahs, and Wild Dogs. Research on these species took place across southern Africa, including the Kalahari and Kruger National Parks. The EWT’s crane work has also expanded through a formal partnership with the International Crane Foundation, and the South African Crane Working Group became known as the African Crane Conservation Programme.

In the 2010s, research and publication of our results became vital for the EWT, resulting in approximately 130 publications. The species of interest expanded to include frogs, oxpeckers, Riverine Rabbits, and Ground Hornbills. The Threatened Grasslands Programme, which studied grassland ecosystems and species such as the Critically Endangered Blue Swallow and the Endangered Oribi, was also prominent during this time. Other important topics investigated were the threats to species, including road mortalities, livestock predation, wildlife poisoning, and animal-powerline collisions.

Even though it is only three years into the 2020s, the EWT has already recorded 99 publications since the start of 2020, highlighting the organisation’s commitment to conducting valuable research and ensuring the dissemination of information to our stakeholders. The focus remains on employing robust sampling techniques to benefit the survival of threatened species. The EWT provides biodiversity data for scientific research and action and reviews environmental impact assessments in South Africa. We have also studied ranchlands to understand their biodiversity and ability to sequester carbon. Furthermore, the organisation now places greater emphasis on addressing the illegal wildlife trade, the laws that protect wildlife and the environment, and the relationship between business and biodiversity. We are also expanding our focus into more cryptic but equally threatened species, such as Golden Moles, Dwarf Tortoises, Colophyton (succulents) and Colophon Beetles. Throughout its history, the EWT has consistently prioritised the conservation of vultures. These birds remain a primary focus through the Birds of Prey and the Vultures for Africa programmes.