Our Blog: Plants and other Stories
Women’s Month: Kaveesha Naicker, CREW KZN Node Project Officer
AUG 9, 2021 | Written by Zoë Chapman Poulsen, photos by and supplied by Kaveesha Naicker
Above: Kaveesha Naicker in the field as part of her work with the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW). Photo supplied by Kaveesha Naicker.
Sixty-five years ago, more than 20 000 women marched to the Union Buildings to protest the extension of pass laws for women. This gave rise to Women’s Day and Women’s Month in South Africa.
This is the time to honour those women who continue to make a difference today – women like Kaveesha Naicker, Project Officer for the KwaZulu-Natal Node of the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW).
Above: Angel’s fishing rods (Dierama erectum). Photo: Kaveesha Naicker.
Unlike those women in 1956, Kaveesha is in the midst of a different struggle: that of protecting South Africa’s threatened plant species, many facing almost certain extinction. Many parts of South Africa’s summer rainfall region, where she works, remain botanically relatively under-explored, and many target plant species are not necessarily documented in field guide publications.
Kaveesha is hoping to change that, and in so doing, conserve these species.
Her botanical career started in 2015 when she first joined CREW’s KZN Node as an intern funded by the Department of Science and Technology‘s National Research Fund (DST/NRF).
Here she began to build her extensive knowledge of plant conservation and was introduced to the various stakeholders of the South African National Biodiversity Institute’s (SANBI) CREW programme. This then led to a Project Assistant role at the KZN Node, before Kaveesha was promoted to her current leadership position, as the CREW KZN Project Officer, a position she has held since 2018. This role with CREW is funded by the Botanical Society of South Africa.
Above: Fragrant spear-leaved conebush (Leucadendron spissifolium). Photo: Kaveesha Naicker.
As Project Officer for the CREW KZN Node, Kaveesha plans and coordinates CREW activities across South Africa’s summer rainfall areas including KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo.
The main aim of SANBI’s CREW programme is to engage and train citizen science groups to monitor and collect data on threatened plant species across South Africa.
Kaveesha works with seven CREW groups and supports them with strategic direction of their work by identifying field sites and plant taxa of conservation concern that require data collection and monitoring.
Above: Kaveesha Naicker in the field with CREW at Monteseel Conservancy, Durban area, KwaZulu-Natal. Photo: Kaveesha Naicker.
Plant taxa of conservation concern are identified through the Red List of South African Plants as those that have a listed threat status of Vulnerable, Near Threatened, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild or Extinct.
Kaveesha has, to date, also created identification sheets to facilitate correct identification by CREW citizen scientists for an extraordinary 300 of South Africa’s threatened plant taxa. Furthermore, she has participated in over 200 fieldtrips across KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, collecting a total of 579 specimens.
These specimens are used to confirm species identifications and lodged in key herbaria to build our knowledge of what species are found where, thus feeding into conservation planning and action.
Above: Melanospermum italae (Vulnerable) in habitat in mistbelt grassland. This species is threatened by severe overgrazing. Photo: Kaveesha Naicker.
In addition, Kaveesha continues to work hard behind the scenes on a plethora of different tasks needed to keep the CREW KZN Node running smoothly. This includes applying for and making sure collecting permits are up to date, financial administration, ensuring vehicle maintenance takes place timeously and much more.
A highly prolific expert author, Kaveesha has published a total of 78 popular articles while she has been working for SANBI’s CREW programme. This has included the Botanical Society’s quarterly journal Veld & Flora, SANBI’s Plant of the Week series and Botanic Gardens Conservation International’s (BGCI) Roots journal.
Another key role Kaveesha has undertaken as part of her work for CREW is to reach out to, inspire and encourage youth to get involved with and consider a career in biodiversity conservation.
Above: Kranskop Cape primrose (Streptocarpus floribundus) (Vulnerable) in its scarp forest habitat in KwaZulu-Natal. Photo: Kaveesha Naicker.
This has involved providing mentorship, support and training to CREW interns, facilitation of ten plant conservation lectures at universities in KwaZulu-Natal and the representation of CREW at career exhibitions hosted by the BotSoc KZN Inland branch, which included participating in associated fieldtrips.
Over the last year, Kaveesha has worked under the supervision of Lize Von Staden on the Important Plant Areas (IPA) Project. This work is an output of the Botanical Society’s Conservation Strategy.
Above: Kaveesha Naicker.
The IPA project is an international strategy that aims to identify, monitor and prioritise areas for plant conservation by using a standardised set of criteria. This allows us to track progress towards achieving Target 5 of the Convention of Biological Diversity’s (CBD) Global Strategy for Conservation.
A conservation champion
During her career as a conservation professional, Kaveesha has undertaken extraordinary and impactful work as a champion of South Africa’s megadiverse flora and biodiversity and in encouraging others to consider working in the field.
As BotSoc, we wish her the very best as her career continues to grow.
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