The Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI) Friend of the Month is Lona Gore, from South Sudan. Lona works for the Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism in Juba, where she is Director for Multilateral Environmental Agreements. She believes that, with relative peace, South Sudan one day will have a viable tourism economy, given its diverse fauna and flora
Was your career always focused on nature conservation?
I graduated in Wildlife Science from the University of Juba, and later worked at the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife Conservation and Tourism as a Research Assistant. After two years I took a Masters in Wildlife Management, at Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya. So yes, my career focus is conservation.
Did you face particular challenges as a woman in rising to a senior level in conservation? Do you have advice to women who want to follow your footsteps?
Working in a government institution such as the Wildlife Service, where men are the majority in senior ranks, one might have expected a lot of challenges, such as harassment, but luckily, I have had mentors, bosses and colleagues that encouraged, respected and valued my contribution and potential. They gave me space, involved me in decision making and lifted me this high.
In South Sudan there are few women with qualifications in nature conservation, but I encourage others to join. If you have passion, you will find colleagues who are ready to support and guide you through your journey.
What information can you give us on elephant numbers in South Sudan, and the situation on ground?
According to the last aerial survey done by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism in 2016, which covered five national parks, the minimum number estimated was 730 elephants. However, we were unable to reach almost 50% of important wildlife areas due to insecurity, so this was not a comprehensive assessment.
Could South Sudan one day have a viable wildlife tourism economy? What would you like the rest of the world to know about South Sudan National Parks?
Yes, with relative peace South Sudan one day will have a viable tourism economy, given its diverse fauna and flora. South Sudan has 18 wildlife protected areas (6 National Parks and 12 Game Reserves). In total, about 13% of South Sudan’s land surface is in protected areas. We host species of global importance such as elephants, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, pangolins etc, and the world’s second largest land migration, of the White Eared Kob and Tiang antelopes.
The People of South Sudan have been through so many challenges in recent decades. Is it a struggle to convince people of the significance of nature conservation?
South Sudanese communities living in and around protected areas depend on natural resources for their livelihood, (food and medicinal plants), and their cultures emphasise the protection of plant or animal species. Convincing them of the significance of nature conservation is NOT a struggle. At the same time, if we can provide alternative livelihoods and incoming generating activities, we can make people shift from totally depending on nature.
Finally, Lona tell us what in your ideal day relaxing away from the office?
I always find time to speak to colleagues working for conservation organisations and share experiences. Also, as a wife and mother, I run my personal errands.