Alex van den Heever, Tracker Academy

Alex van den Heever in this interview introduces us to the ancient art of wildlife tracking and explains how the Tracker Academy is creating employment and ecotourism opportunities in rural South Africa.

The interview is part of a special series with winners and finalists of the annual WTTC Tourism for Tomorrow award.

Learn about:

  • How the Tracker Academy teaches the ancient skills of wildlife tracking;
  • How the Tracker Academy achieves a very high success rate in student employment;
  • The main challenge the Academy has had to overcome;
  • How ecotourist behavior and expectations have changed during the last years;
  • How wildlife conservation is best approached;
  • How Tracker Academy has benefited as WTTC Tourism for Tomorrow 2014 award finalist.

Alex, early in your career you switched from a Marketing and Business Management graduate to a full-time reserve ranger – how did that happen? What triggered your passion for nature and made you decide to change your career?

I spent time with my grandfather on his game farm bordering the Kruger National Park. This certainly sparked my interest for wildlife. However, there was no specific event – I have always loved nature.

Do you remember your first encounter with the SA College of Tourism to “sell” your concept of wildlife conservation through tourism? How did it lead to the Tracker Academy?

Mrs. Gaynor Rupert approached me with an idea of starting a tracker training school. Since Mrs. Rupert is the chairperson of the SA College for Tourism (SACT), it was a natural step for the Tracker Academy to become a training division of the SACT.

In 2010, Mrs. Gaynor Rupert founded the Tracker Academy to ensure the survival of the ancient skills of wildlife tracking for future generations. Funded predominantly by the Rupert Family Foundations, Tracker Academy is a training division of the SA College for Tourism (SACT) which operates under the auspices of the Peace Parks Foundation.

SACT Tracker Academy is a non-profit organisation which trains disadvantaged rural people in the traditional skills of tracking.

With 94% of Academy graduates finding well paid work within ecotourism or environmental services, which do you think are the key factors for such a high employment success rate?

Tracker Academy is the only tracker training school to have its programme accredited by the Sector Education Training Authority in South Africa. In addition, organisations who have employed our professional tracker graduates have experienced firsthand their high level of skills.

Our trackers at lodges often find animals when others cannot. In anti-poaching units our trackers bring efficiency to apprehending poachers. We have run predator habituation programmes in South Africa, Botswana and Brazil with great success, which has brought the Academy much credibility.

The points above would be the combined reason for our high deployment success rate.

Interview with Alex van den Heever on Wildlife Conservation and Ecotourism in South Africa
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