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Kian Barker has played a significant role in conservation and eco-tourism in the St Lucia Wetlands area
I met Kian by chance. I was researching South Africa's World Heritage Sites, and the St Lucia Wetlands had just been awarded WHS status. My contact was disappointing, a self-publicist jack-of-all-trades and I ventured into the ultra-conservative town to find someone more conservation focused (see story St Lucia: a Town Transformed by Eco-Tourism).
I found a man with a giant 4x4, a Unimog, with the phrase 'discover your inner tribe' written on the back. A man with a dry sense of humour who called himself 'Shaka Barker'. Here was a man at home in Africa, and it soon became clear that beneath his easy-going style he was passionate about eco-tourism and the St Lucia wetlands.
Kian has degrees in Zoology, Botany and Ichthyology (fish). He was General Manager at the exclusive Mala Mala wildlife reserve and at Tuli Safari Lodge in Botswana. He left lodge management to seek a role in South Africa's first non-racial elections in 1994 and he was appointed the election co-ordinator for Johannesburg and Pretoria, a massive responsibility.
After '94, developments at St Lucia, an ecologically-rich area in KwaZulu Natal, drew him back to environmental work. Conservationists had successfully stopped mining, promising that eco-tourism could do more for the area. Kian came to St Lucia to prove that could happen. Since then, he has been at the forefront of making the wetlands a great success, popular with tourists, abundant in life and linked by ambitious migration corridors to other regional parks.
Kian's commitment has helped bring an eco-tourism boom to the area and his own business has grown immensely. He is actively involved in training guides from the local community and works closely with the park authorities. He has appeared on Discovery Channel, domestic television and in print. He is an outstanding guide and a pioneer in finding ways to conserve nature, benefit local communities and create jobs.
Author: Roddy Bray
Published Date: 07 Apr 2010
Location: Southern Africa | South Africa
Themes: natural world, travel | conservation, parks and trails, safari guide