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The spread and maturation of strategic adaptive management within and beyond South African national parks

Stefanie Freitag, Scientific Services, South African National Parks
Harry Biggs, Conservation Services, South African National Parks
Charles Breen, School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, University of KwaZulu-Natal


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Natural resource management is embedded within social-ecological environments and requires decisions to be taken within this broad context, including those that pertain to protected areas. This realization has led to South African National Parks adopting a strategic adaptive management approach to decision making. Through narrative, we show why and how this practice has progressively spread and evolved both within the organization and beyond, over the past two decades. A number of catalytic events and synergies enabled a change from reactive tactical management approaches to more inclusive forward-looking approaches able to embrace system complexity and associated uncertainty and change. We show how this long period of innovation has lead to an increased appreciation for the heterogeneous social-ecological system, and for the importance of constructing relationships and colearning, such that organizational transformation has enabled more legitimate and effective operation within an expanding and diversifying constituency.

Key words

adaptive management; colearning; Kruger National Park; protected area stewardship; social-ecological systems; systems thinking

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087