Xolani Funda, Chief Ranger and General Manager: Conservation in the Kruger National Park, was honoured for his contribution for conservation in the country.
Hailing from a humble background, he was born in the Transkei in 1967 and grew up as a herd boy looking after his father’s cattle. The herding introduced him to nature at a very young age, which subsequently led to his current career in conservation.
Prof Brian Reilly, HoD of Nature conservation said, “Our department is honoured to be associated with someone like Nic Funda and recognises his sacrifices and leadership in combatting rhino poaching and his general passion and enthusiasm for biodiversity conservation and played a small role in recognising his efforts and excellence in our field with this well-deserved award. “
Nic, the eldest of six children from parents who were totally unschooled - his father a mineworker and mother a domestic worker in Mthatha - has risen to the position of Chief Ranger and General Manager: Conservation in the Kruger National Park.
Even though his mother could neither read nor write, she inculcated the value of education in Nic and all her children by bringing any books she could find home and forcing them to attend school and read. The discipline of rural village community life established a sense of standards and work ethic in the young Nic. Youngsters were expected to herd livestock and undertake other chores and a strong spiritual background was created by the mixture of Christian and traditional beliefs.
Nic was schooled at Mchonco and Gxulu Junior Secondary Scools and finished his schooling at Nkawukazi Junior Secondary School in 1985. He completed High School at Nyanilizwe and Upper Corona Senior Secondary Schools, with the setback of having to repeat Grade 10. It was at high school that Nic was transformed by two events – the coming to the fore of his leadership qualities and the awakening of his political consciousness. The latter forcing him into conflict with the authorities.
He then went on to complete his National Diploma in Nature Conservation at Fort Cox College followed by the B Tech degree in Nature Conservation at Port Elizabeth Technikon. Nic joined the Eastern Cape Department of Nature Conservation and was able to complete his Masters in Environmental Management at Free State University.
He moved on to SA National Parks where he rose through the ranks to become Warden of the Marakele National Park. In 2005 he joined TUT’s Department of Nature Conservation as a lecturer and found himself Acting as HoD for the latter half of 2015. The industry still feels the effect of the mentoring that Nic was able to offer graduating students in their vocational placements.
However, the bush continued to beckon to Xolani and he resigned from TUT at the end of 2015 to take up his current position as Chief Ranger and General Manager: Conservation Management for the Kruger National Park. In this position, he applied his leadership skills in leading the regional and section rangers in their day-to-day management of Kruger and in particular coordinating the battle against rhino poaching. Nic continues to mentor students and likes nothing more than to give talks to visiting TUT student excursions.
It is common knowledge that Nic has created a cohesive force in mobilizing the rangers in their struggle against poaching. Mounting successes can be attributed to his ability to lead, which is underlain by his strong beliefs in conserving South Africa’s biodiversity. He is also actively involved in the expansion of anti-poaching initiatives in surrounding private nature reserves and joint operations in Mozambique.
Although Nic remains active in research projects, he has had to sacrifice the luxury of writing up a doctorate in his dedication to the conservation management task. Nic is an active member of the Game Rangers Association and has been a board member of the Southern African Wildlife Management Association.