After 32 hours of traveling (with a 12hr layover in Heathrow), I finally set foot on African soil, South African soil to be exact. Not only am I excited as I’ve come closer to my goal in visiting every continent in the world (too bad there are no crocs in Antarctica), as well as seeing Nile Crocodiles in the wild for the first time, but it’s time to reconnect with friends and colleagues of the IUCN/SSC-Crocodile Specialist Group (CSG for short) once again for their biennial working meeting.
What is the CSG you ask? Simply, the CSG is composed of international experts in various fields of science, industry, government, and NGO’s who strive to ensure the success of crocodilian conservation. We work closely with various stakeholders on all aspects of legislation, sustainability and community outreach (for more information, head to www.iucncsg.org). Do you know who wrote the laws for crocodile trade (amongst other reptiles) in CITES? Who worked and decided on the IUCN Red List Status on crocodiles? Who the leaders are in crocodile biology and conservation management? Well, if you would like to meet them, head to the next meeting because they are all members of the CSG.
The meeting started off for me with a 2-day workshop for 8 members of the Future Leaders Working Group, aka, FLWG. This workshop focused on getting us “youngin’s” up-to-speed with the knowledge and success of the more “distinguished” members of the group who participated. We talked CSG history, politics, our role in the IUCN, CITES, and various other organizations. Overall, the workshop was a success and a great step forward to ensure that the success of the CSG in the conservation world continues for years to come.
Thinking I would have a “day off” in between the FLWG and Steering Committee meeting, I was asked at 11:46pm to attend the Executive Committee meeting the next day. Well, given my curiosity on how the Executive Committee works and my curiosity how to better lead the CSG in the future I of course attended. Another 8hr meeting day where various topics were discusses, such as possibly trying to revive crocodile networking and research in Central America. This was something I was going to discuss with the Regional Chair of Latin America as past researchers in this region are no longer in contact or pursuing crocodile research. To me, its become a Black Hole of crocodile research. Luckily, this topic was discussed among the appropriate stakeholders and I am positive that by the next CSG meeting, I will have good news to discuss at the Steering Committee meeting in 2018 about crocodile research in Central America.
The Steering Committee Meeting- what truly kicks off the start of the CSG meetings. A 8-9hr day where Chairs and Regional Chairs of the various regions and working groups get together to discuss any significant news or concerns. This was an entertaining one as Graham Webb, the Executive Chair of the CSG, was on fire and saucy! I think his best comment in discussion a certain situation was, “They are like a dog eating their own vomit!” ‘Nuff said about that meeting
The next 4 days were all day presentations on all things croc- biology, physiology, community outreach, industry…. with some side committees in the mix. I am an active member of 3 of the subcommittee meetings so my days usually started at 9am and ended around 7:30pm. I of course mixed in some Game Drive time as how could I not given the meeting was in Kruger National Park! I saw the Big 5 (elephant, rhino, leopard, lion, cape buffalo), jackal, warthog, giraffe, Nile crocodiles (of course!), hyrax, and heard hyenas. It was disheartening to hear about the rhino poaching, but kudos to all the great effort Kruger and the surrounding communities are making in fighting against poaching.
The last 2 nights of the CSG meetings are always the most entertaining- auction night and the Closing Ceremony/dinner night. Auction night we raised $12,000US for Nile crocodile
research in south Africa and for the Orinoco in Venezuela. The auctioneers were always entertaining as usual. This night as well we learned about a change in the Executive Steering Committee. Perran Ross was added, as well as Christine Lippai, which was a surprise! The 1st woman ever to be nominated to be on the Exec Committee. Well deserved Christine!!!
The final night ended with a beautiful dinner in the bush- the people who first arrived to this dinner actually saw hyenas walking around the dinner tables! Great local music and entertainment, and the prestigious Castillo Award went to Alison Leslie who has been a champion for croc conservation in Africa. After dinner, we headed back to the conference center… and that’s where the majority of us said our good-bye’s until 2018.
Words can’t really describe the comaraderie that exists within this group. There are 563 members of the CSG and we are ALL friends and some, even an extension of family. We help and collaborate amongst each other without hesitation, we share our laughs and tears of life, and we are beyond blunt if we need to be. Needless to say looking forward to seeing everyone in Argentina in 2018 for the 25th Working Meeting. Until then, take care friends!