Conservation and Wildlife Management Careers

The increasing awareness that the world's natural resources are vital for man's survival has led to a growing interest in conservation. In this context, the concept of conservation through sustainable utilization has become of major importance.

In South Africa:

  • provincial administrations are responsible for the conservation of the environment and of the fauna and flora of all areas outside national parks
  • the system of national parks is managed by the National Parks Board
  • the Department of Environmental Affairs has overall responsibility for conservation in South Africa
  • private game reserves are also becoming increasingly vital forces in conservation in South Africa
The provincial functions include:
  • management of conservation areas
  • enforcement of conservation laws
  • control of the utilisation of natural resources such as fisheries, game and wild flower resources
  • providing advice to landowners, local authorities and the general public on a variety of conservation matters

Likewise, the National Parks Board also offers similar career opportunities. As semi-governmental bodies, they also have a responsibility to incorporate local communities into the decision- making process. They even have to promote socio-economic upliftment through various programmes.

Various work opportunities exist in the different sections of conservation. Each of these sections has different requirements and working conditions:

Wildlife management : The management of state and private conservation areas, game ranches and other natural areas such as offshore islands, some State Forests and coastal areas, the primary objectives being the conservation and management of natural ecosystems, natural habitats and rare or endangered plant or animal communities.

The study and monitoring of plant and animal communities and their scientific management is the basis for this type of career. However, some staff may be more involved with practical aspects such as game capture, infrastructure development and maintenance, and tourism.

Extension:An important facet of conservation is the education of the public on matters such as:

  • possible negative effects on the land-use practices of farmers
  • game ranching
  • stocking of dams with fish
  • exploitation of wild flowers
  • problems with wild animals coming into conflict with farming activities.
It has now also become vitally important to be able to communicate effectively with local communities, including rural ones, and to gain their cooperation and participation in conservation projects. This requires someone well-versed in environmental anthropology.

Law enforcement: The policing of the public is an important function, especially where rare and endangered plants and animals are involved. Several major industries utilise natural resources directly and because of the possibility of vast financial gains, poaching is always a problem. Other industries may impact negatively upon the environment and must adhere to a strict environmental protocol.
These officers must have a basic knowledge of the classification of plants and animals. They must also have a sound knowledge of the relevant legislation, investigative methods and court procedures.

Environmental education: The future of conservation will, to a large extent, depend upon the education of our youth and creating the necessary awareness amongst them of how vital environmental conservation is to living a quality life, even in a city. Formal environmental programmes are offered to schools and adult groups at environmental educational centres. Informal environmental programmes are also offered at many nature reserves and other venues.

Members of the professional wildlife staff, preferably those with a teaching qualification or such experience, help to plan and execute the environmental educational programmes in association with communication specialists. Members of technical staff assist them in the execution of these programmes. Prospective candidates must not only be interested in environmental education, but also show the ability to work with groups of people.

Scientific services: Scientific services serve mainly to supply the knowledge necessary to improve decision-making in conservation. Examples of tasks performed are:
  • drawing up inventories of resources of fauna and flora
  • evaluation of impact assessments of proposed developments
  • the development of habitat and wildlife management programmes
  • drawing up and monitoring the effectiveness of such management plans for conservation areas, be they government or privately owned
These are usually university-trained specialists in their respective fields.

Publicity services: An important function of conservation is the production of published material in the form of books, pamphlets, posters, videos, etc. These are for distribution to the public and for displays at exhibitions and shows. Liaison with the media is equally important, as the public must be kept informed of the activities of the organisation and of the advances in the fields of conservation and management in general.

Professional and technical conservation staff, artists, photographers and journalists are all employed in this section. All of them must have appropriate qualifications or experience to qualify for appointment.

Administration: No organisation can function without the supporting role of administrative staff. The duties include the drafting of legislation, financial administration, the acquisition of materials and equipment, correspondence matters and other administrative duties.

Personal Requirements

  • have a passionate interest in conserving natural resources
  • love outdoor life and animals
  • have good health and physical fitness
  • be practical and self-sufficient
  • be responsible and self-disciplined
  • communicate well with people, be tactful
  • be able to use a firearm and shoot accurately
  • be dedicated to the work
  • knowledge of local customs is recommended especially when working in rural areas
  • knowledge of an African language
  • be able to organise
  • able to maintain good human relations
  • be willing to study further

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate (matric), or equivalent is the minimum requirement for entry into careers in conservation. However, most study paths in conservation require at least a Bachelor's Degree pass or a Diploma Pass.

Compulsory subjects: Check the admission requirements to see if you qualify for the programme you want to do.

What to Study

Degree: Special BSc or BTech courses in Ecology or Nature Conservation are offered at Wits, UKZN, US, UV, UNISA, UJ, UCT, NMMU, RU, UFS, UZ, UWC, Monash and UNISA.

Zoology and Botany are offered at all universities.

Post-graduate: BSc (Hons)(Environmental Management / Nature Conservation): UNISA, followed by MSc and PhD.

BSc (Hons) with an ecological approach, preferably in some applied fields such as Mammalogy, Ornithology, Limnology or Ecobotany, depending upon the student’s specific interest, particularly suited for the person interested in research.

BVSc.: Many veterinarians are active in conservation or wildlife management, for example, UP has a chart of wildlife diseases in its Faculty of Veterinary Science.

BTech Hons in Nature Conservation can be taken at NMMU, (George Campus), followed by MTech and DTech, which are research qualifications.

Diploma: N.Dip. in Environmental Health / Management or Nature Conservation is offered at CUT, DUT, CPUT, TUT and UJ, usually involving 2 years theoretical study and 1 year in-service training at an approved game ranch or game reserve etc.

Private colleges also offer courses.


  • government organisations, e.g. the Department of Environment Affairs
  • National Parks Board
  • provincial authorities
  • local authorities, such as municipalities and regional service councils
  • game ranching industry

The private sector also offers opportunities for a career in conservation. Game ranchers, the wild flower industry, the fishing, crayfish and perlemoen industries, and even the timber industry, have a vested interest in the management of natural resources. Many opportunities also exist for consultancy work within Southern Africa and further abroad.

Further Information

Further information can be obtained from the conservation agencies of the various provincial administrations or from the various universities and universities of technology mentioned above. 

The National Parks Board
643 Leyds Street
Tel: (012) 428-9111

Getting Started

  • try to obtain vacation work at a wildlife centre or private game reserve
  • make appointments to speak to a conservation officer about this type of career

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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