‘Humble and compassionate’ prof wins WWF Living Planet Award

Prof Timm Hoffman was given the WFF Living Planet Award on Tuesday night.
Image: Supplied

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has announced leading arid zone ecologist Prof Timm Hoffman as the winner of its prestigious Living Planet Award for 2020.

The award was given to him for his contribution to both conservation and helping the people who are dependent on the land to make a living in some of the driest parts of South Africa.

The Living Planet Award is an annual award made to exceptional South Africans who, through their contribution to the conservation, inspire people to live in harmony with nature.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and the country’s lockdown regulations, this year’s award was made during a special online ceremony on Tuesday. The ceremony also showcased the splendours of the Succulent Karoo.

The Succulent Karoo is a semi-desert biome (or ecological region) that stretches from the Little Karoo to southern Namibia and is home to more than 6,000 plant species, making it the most bio-diverse of its kind in the world.

WWF South Africa CEO Dr Morné du Plessis said: “Timm is not only one of South Africa’s foremost arid zone ecologists but is also one of the humblest and most compassionate people you will ever meet.”

Du Plessis said through the award WWF-SA acknowledged an individual whose work exemplifies how conservation truly can benefit both people and nature.

Hoffman, who hails from the Eastern Cape, has spent a lifetime working on dry land ecology, most recently as the director of the Plant Conservation Unit at the University of Cape Town.

He is also a long-standing member of the Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust, which is administered by WWF, and celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

Hoffman has co-authored over 130 scientific articles, contributed to more than 30 books, supervised numerous students, and added to the development of new knowledge and insights into both the Fynbos and Succulent Karoo biomes.

He also led the national review of land degradation for South Africa and has contributed significantly towards the understanding of the impacts of land use and climate change. Using fixed-point photography, his work has highlighted massive changes occurring in South Africa’s ecosystems over an extended period.

Beyond his ecological research, Hoffman also works to understand the complex ways in which rural social, cultural and economic livelihoods interact.

According to Du Plessis, in the village of Paulshoek in Namaqualand, in the Northern Cape, Hoffman has contributed positively to the community by creating a long-term contract job, other occasional employment and training for community members, as well as funding for development projects.

Hoffman has served as a trustee of the Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust (LHSKT) since 2001.

The trust supports WWF in the expansion of conservation land both through land acquisition and biodiversity stewardship agreements where landowners and communities continue to be the stewards of the land.

Hoffman has helped guide the trust, enabling WWF to secure nearly 290,000 hectares of land for formal conservation areas in the Succulent Karoo. This land includes the Namaqua National Park, the Tankwa Karoo National Park, the Knersvlakte Nature Reserve and several strategic stewardship initiatives.

Last year the award was won by Sissie Matela and Nicky McLeod, from Matatiele, who are behind a non-profit social enterprise organisation Environmental and Rural Solutions.

Accepting the award, Hoffman said: “I feel honoured to have my contribution to conservation and sustainable development recognised in this way and I am humbled by the company I share among the previous recipients of this award.

“Something of this nature doesn’t only reflect the work of one person. I am very grateful to everyone involved.”

BY Mpumzi Zuzile

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