Clemson Researchers Explore Tourism and Conservation in South Africa

July 19, 2019

Clemson PRTM faculty and graduate students on their trip to South Africa.

Clemson PRTM faculty and graduate students on their trip to South Africa.

Clemson Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management (PRTM) faculty and graduate students were recently invited to South Africa to share their expertise, research human/wildlife experiences in Africa’s longest standing national park and explore new potential collaborations.

The group, led by Department Chair Wayne Freimund and consisting of Associate Chair Lori Dickes, faculty members Lauren Duffy and Aby Sene-Harper, and graduate students E’Lisha Fogle and Temitope Arogundade, took part in the Insaka international research symposium about how Africa can best meet the multiple societal and ecological challenges that come with transformative conservation, conducted a visitor research project for Kruger National Park and explored the possibility of a promising new collaborative project focused on Garden Route National Park.

The Insaka Symposium

The Insaka Symposium brought together experts in a wide variety of disciplines, such as social science, tourism, human rights, community development and environmental science to try to better understand and address rapid social and ecological changes in South Africa. According to Freimund, the multidisciplinary makeup of the group provides a richer and more thorough understanding of challenges throughout the country.

“South Africa’s conservation issues are complex, multidimensional and require all hands on deck, with everyone working together to find workable solutions,” says Freimund. “It’s rewarding to work as part of a collective of international leaders in their fields, collaborating on possible solutions we can share with the country’s decision makers.”

Clemson PRTM Chair Wayne Freimund speaking at the Insane Symposium in South Africa in June 2019.

Clemson PRTM Chair Wayne Freimund speaking at the Insane Symposium in South Africa in June 2019.

Most of the team presented at the symposium, with Freimund and Dickes delivering keynote speeches. Their presentations shared findings from research conducted by the department in national parks throughout the United States and parts of Africa, and applied those learnings to a South African context. PRTM’s different areas of focus, including parks, community recreation, youth development, tourism and public administration, makes it well-suited to address the rapidly evolving social and ecological challenges the region is facing.

“We had a great scientific exchange and social capital building experience at the symposium, with the collective experiencing the breadth and depth of what Clemson had to offer and how a department like ours can fit into these large-scale problems in a constructive way,” continued Freimund.

The collective is now working together to apply for a National Science Foundation network collaboration grant involving the Insaka Consortia, Clemson and Montana universities, and potentially the University of Botswana, the Nelson Mandela University and other African partners. The grant proposal is focused on the Kafue River basin in Zambia, part of the Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) Trans Frontier Park, which is the largest in the world.

Kruger National Park

After the symposium, the PRTM group traveled to Kruger National Park, one of the longest standing parks in Africa, to develop a study on challenges associated with human interaction with wildlife.

A female lion walking along the road in Kruger National Park.

Clemson PRTM faculty and graduate students researched visitor wildlife encounters, such as this one with a female lion, at Kruger National Park.

International and domestic tourism to the park is increasing, which brings a number of opportunities to the region, but also creates a tension between the park’s natural space and the humans wanting to experience it. Wildlife is migratory, making it difficult to create experiences for tourists. Human interaction can also pose challenges when animals feel at risk.

The group conducted research in the park to get a sense of wildlife interactions from a visitor’s perspective, and to better understand the complexities – and possible solutions for – human and wildlife experiences over time. The group is developing an app-based experience sampling method, where visitors send data throughout the day during their visit that describes where they are, what they are doing, how they feel about it, their perceived quality of their experience, among other questions. This will give researchers a better understanding of how to better manage incidents and create a better code of ethics for visitors, while also taking steps to enhance their visitor experience.

“Right now, the visitor experience at the park is based on the luck of the draw. For example, you could have an awesome experience of nature if your car drives beside a lion next to the road, or you could stumble into a long traffic jam if dozens of people get there before you,” says Freimund. “The first is a very positive experience. The second isn’t. Developing a visitor app for the park can help flag some of these issues and help help us better understand how the positive and negative episodes affect the overall experience and impression of the park.”

Garden Route National Park

The group’s final visit was to Garden Route National Park, near the town of George, where they explored the possibility of a new research collaboration with the Sustainability Research Unit at Nelson Mandela University, the Knsyna Basin Project and South Africa National Parks.

The group is exploring a number of key opportunities and challenges facing the park and region, such as municipal park development, tourism as an economic generator, youth development and conservation.

“The area’s national parks are open access, similar to national forests throughout the United States,” says Freimund. “There are opportunities to help visitors explore the health and cultural benefits of nature and expand the park’s recreational use and community engagement, while also managing its conservation. We have a great deal of experience in managing those issues, making a partnership a good fit.”

After a successful first meeting, the collective is working together to explore potential opportunities for collaboration, including research projects, student and faculty exchanges and a possible visit to Clemson. The group has struck a committee to look for ways to facilitate an exchange moving forward.

Watch the video below for more pictures of the group’s experiences!