Photo copyright: Paul Elkan and J. Michael Fay/National Geographic
In a few weeks I'll be off to South Sudan for a new job, new country, new adventures. Since I'm sure I'll get a lot of questions about this, I thought I'd write up a post of FAQs!
A. South Sudan... where is that?
Q. The Republic of South Sudan shares borders with a bunch of neighbors: Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, DR Congo (much farther north than where I was), Central African Republic, and Republic of Sudan. I'll be based in the capital, Juba.
South Sudan voted for indpendence from the Republic of Sudan in a referendum in January 2011. The vote was part of a peace agreement that ended the war that begain in 1983. The country officially became indpendent in July 2011, making it the world's newest country!
The BBC has a pretty good country profile of South Sudan with a short history, some basic facts and photos.
Q. Who are you going to work for?
A. I'll be working for Wildlife Conservation Society. It's a US-based organization, you may also know as the folks who run the Bronx and Central Park zoos! It's one of the oldest zoological societies in the world, and a leader in both ex-situ and in-situ conservation as well as wildlife research. WCS has a page on their website describing the South Sudan program, which has been active on and off for many years.
Q. Isn't it just, like, desert there?
A. Actually, not so much. The Nile river flows right through South Sudan, and there is an enormous flood plain of wetlands and swamps called the Sudd, as well as grassland on both sides. There are also mountains, forest and lots of savannah. That makes for a diverse country both biologically and culturally.
In 2007, after the war ended, WCS confirmed that massive numbers of key species still exist in South Sudan. Hundreds of thousands of kob and tiang (types of antelope), gazelle, elephants, and other wildlife make an enormous migration across a number of national parks and unprotected area. Check out this gorgeous slide show on the New York Times of photos from WCS and National Geographic.
WCS is doing a number of different things in South Sudan to support conservation of this amazing phenomenon and resource including policy work, supporting management of national parks and conducting surveys and research to better understand the needs of the wildlife. There is a video of GPS elephant collaring here on Reuters.
This video from WCS gives a good overview of the unique wildlife and important opportunities that exsit to conserve it right now.
Q. That's awesome! So what are you actually going to be doing?
A. My main role will be to work on management plans for the various national parks in which WCS works and supports the government. Because the national parks are in a new country, the planning and management must be done from scratch, along with the development of enviromental policies and agencies. I'll be based in Juba doing a lot of work on my computer, but also organizing workshops and having loads of meetings with stakeholders in order to build the strategies and write the planning documents. I hope I'll get a chance see some of that wildlife too at some point!
Q. Wait, don't they have a war there? (See also: What about Ebola? Aren't you scared?)
A. I am no expert on the political situation in South Sudan, but the short answer is yes to war, no to ebola, not really to scared.
After decades of war, South Sudan gained independence in 2011, followed by a period of relative calm and hope for the new nation. Unfortunately, long standing internal differences and political rivalries came to a head this past December, 2013. Serious fighting between army and rebels broke out across much of country, including Juba, and thousands were killed. Violence continues in many areas, although not, for the most part, in Juba itself. While peace talks are now underway in Ethiopia, the situation is still very insecure.
To manage the situation for staff, WCS, like other organizations that work in insecure locations, has solid security protocols in place. These protocols mean life in Juba will be pretty restricted, but I feel very confident that I'll be safe.
Q. When do you leave?
A. I'm not sure yet but probably mid-month... I will try my best to post updates!