Exciting learning program breaks new ground in conservation

One of the persistent problems we hear about is the lack of qualified people in Seychelles to do the required jobs. In this context, what is baffling is the vast amount of training courses that are provided to our citizens both locally and internationally. So what is the problem? There are several issues here but one is that many of the courses are probably not immediately relevant or transferable to the job at hand.

Environmental protection is one of the work areas where some practitioners may not be up to speed with international norms and practices. But sometimes we just need different experts to work with to freshen thinking and help in resolving what to us may be nagging problems. Being far from Universities, research and other organisations we lack the professional interactions that people elsewhere take for granted. These are some reasons why foreign technical assistance is sometimes requested. However, one-off technical assistance is also not the answer because of the limitations of time and money.

Laura Seaton, the first exchange warden on Cousin, monitoring white-tailed tropic birds © H. Legge

An innovative, life-long learning program for conservation has now been started on Cousin Island Special Reserve. The program is designed to tap into the tremendous wealth of know-how and expertise available internationally but at little cost.  Called the Experience Xchange Program, or ‘EXP’, it is based on the concept of  “Learning by Doing”. Wardens or conservation officers with a certain level of education and experience are invited to live and work with the wardens on Cousin for up to three-months to share expertise, techniques and practices.

The qualifications of the overseas officers are examined carefully to see whether they are relevant to the program. Materials have also been produced to prepare the visiting experts for their stint in Seychelles. The expectations are that the local staff will benefit greatly from working alongside personnel with higher levels of education and a different knowledge base. But this is not only a one-way street because visiting personnel may also gain valuable experiences that may be transferable elsewhere. 

The visiting experts or their organisations pay for all costs and Cousin island Special Reserve provides only board and lodgings. The program began in May 2005. It has been advertised worldwide and has registered interest from over 200 practitioners in some 40 countries. Two female wardens, one for England and the other from Scotland, have already gone through the system. An Australian park manager is now here to take up where they left off.

This new and exciting scheme should not only help Seychellois acquire life long skills but also increase the profile of Seychelles in professional conservation organisations and national parks throughout the world.

by Nirmal Jivan Shah, published on the People Newspaper, Seychelles, 15th September 2005

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