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The Tony and Lisette Lewis Foundation has funded the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Poison Working Group (PWG) since 1997. This support has enabled the PWG to undertake valuable work in educating the public, creating awareness and fighting poison-related crimes against wildlife. The PWG was established in 1992, with the purpose of addressing the large scale poisoning of wildlife, and the detrimental environmental impacts of certain herbicides.

It is difficult to quantify the damage caused by the incorrect herbicide choice or application method, but the result is that numbers of non-target plants and other organisms are reduced and ecosystem functioning is disrupted.

In 2007 the Group expanded its activities to focus on all direct human and wildlife conflicts. While wildlife poisoning remains a large focus of the Group’s work, it now also addresses issues such as the illegal shooting and trapping of wild animals and the persecution of perceived problem animals. The Group has changed its name to the Wildlife Conflict Prevention Group to reflect this expansion.

The PWG has built relationships with the farming community and the chemical industry, major role-players in chemical use and supply in southern Africa. It also works closely with government departments, training their staff on the handling disposal of pesticides and pesticide containers. The PWG has two permanent field staff members based in Limpopo and Kwazulu-Natal, and also has volunteers in the Western Cape and Namibia.

The Group’s work however covers the entire country, and sometimes even extends into other African countries. The PWG operates under six major programmes, each consisting of a number of projects. The introduction of a pest-repellent gene into genetically modified maize and corn in South Africa. The PWG is operating as an independent, neutral third party in this long-term research project.

The animal and environmental health programme aims to achieve environmentally responsible animal husbandry, specifically around livestock production. There are three projects under this programme, namely Operation Oxpecker, Operation Dung Beetle and the Animal Health Helpline.

The wildlife–human conflict mitigation programme aims to achieve environmentally responsible wildlife-human conflict mitigation. Two projects currently exist, namely the Green Labelling Project and the Wildlife Conflict Management Helpline. The poisoning prevention programme aims to achieve environmentally responsible public health and safety.

Three projects make up this programme, namely the Gamebird Project, the Urban Conservation Project and an urban wildlife management helpline. Currently a vegetation management helpline is operated and the programme also offers training and consulting services to game and livestock farmers, on the best way to manage bush encroachment. The PWG was instrumental in bringing about the ban of Monocrotophos, a highly toxic organophosphate pesticide used to control crop pests.

The international environmental health programme aims to ensure South African compliance with international pesticides trends. Two projects run under the programme, namely the Malaria Vector Control Programme and the Africa Stockpiles Progamme. Subtle changes in the perceptions and attitudes of farming communities are hard to quantify, and it is difficult to pinpoint the extent of illegal poisoning before and after the PWG’s intervention. There are however a few key measurable successes.

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