September 5, 2017

Endangered Species Conservationist Chris Kelly

A Tribute to Chris Kelly - Wildlife ACT Endangered Species Conservationist

The Rhino Conservation Awards recognizes the significant role that conservationists play in rhino conservation and the protection of other endangered species. These people often do selfless and unrecognized work to save our natural heritage that is in danger of being lost forever. Sometimes this happens in the face of physical danger, political opposition and severe financial constraints. These factors make the contribution of each role player even more worthy of recognition – hence the reason for these awards. The primary objective of the awards is to give recognition to the winners, runners up and all nominees, and in doing so raise awareness of what is done in the war against rhino poaching. This will serve to motivate involved role players to keep fighting to ensure the survival of endangered species.

Rhino Conservation Awards 2017 Poster

Wildlife ACT co-founder, Chris Kelly, won 1st Runner up in the category "Special Award for Endangered Species Conservation" at the Rhino Conservation Awards 2017. Below is his nomination, which we feel is worthy of sharing and applauding. Keep up the good Chris Kelly!General Description of WorkChris Kelly has a diploma in Nature Conservation, and is currently the Technical Advisor for the KZN Wild dog Advisory Group (WAG) and the KZN Vulture Project, while being an active member of the SA WAG and the Cheetah Meta-Population Group. Whilst completing his practical training as a student he became interested in game capture and saw the importance of post-release monitoring efforts of the priority species they moved onto reserves. That led to Chris Kelly working as a researcher for the Center for the Reproduction of Endangered Species and post-release monitor of black rhino in conjunction with the WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project in Zululand.

Fitting GPS Ankle Collar. Photo: Kelvin Trautman

Enjoying the monitoring operations of his work he moved into a permanent post at uMkhuze Game Reserve as the monitor of the wild dog population. During this time he saw the need for properly managed and funded monitoring programmes on reserves that had threatened species. After funding was cut, he co-founded Wildlife ACT in 2008 to provide monitoring services to reserves which do not have the means to do so themselves; actively advancing conservation by initiating, implementing and managing monitoring projects of endangered wildlife species such as the African wild dog, cheetah, black rhino, vultures, elephant and lion. Currently Chris Kelly oversees 6 such projects - with teams under his guidance on Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, uMkhuze Game Reserve, Manyoni Private Game Reserve, Somkhanda Game Reserve and regional leopard monitoring team which covers additionally Ithala Game Reserve and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

Further to these monitoring efforts Chris Kelly gets his hands dirty working in the field and his game capture and practical bush experience has proved valuable in the active management of ground operations of the reintroduction, translocation or capture and collaring/tagging of the above mentioned species in and beyond the borders of KZN. In the last five years he has been involved in relocating 100 wild dogs, the tagging of over 60 vultures within KwaZulu-Natal and the annual reintroduction of black rhino to new reserves through the WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project, not to mention countless hours doing lion call ups and waiting patiently to help capture and collar cheetah.

Chris Kelly Collaring a Cheetah

Chris Kelly has been heavily involved in the development of anti-snare collars with reinforced plates and special rivets to prevent animals like cheetah and wild dogs from suffocating when caught in poacher's snares. Chris has been a huge driving force behind their evolving into such an effective product. uMkhuze Game Reserve (where these collars have been used and tested) has gone from a wild dog pack that has been wiped out on three occasions due to snaring incidents, to having two breeding packs due to the monitoring introduced by Chris.[caption id="attachment_14231" align="aligncenter" width="960"]

Old vs New Tracking Collar. Photo by Kelvin Trautman

Old vs New Tracking Collar. Photo by Kelvin Trautman[/caption]Chris Kelly has helped to identify release locations within selected WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Projects; the ordering, horn drilling and installation of monitoring devices, specifically the horn transmitters and ankle collars; implementing an intensive pre- and post-release monitoring training course to prepare reserves and all staff for black rhino management; implementing regular follow-up monitoring and evaluations on all BRREP sites. Since 2004 this project has seen the translocation of over 140 Black Rhino to re-establish populations on private and community land, which Chris has been involved with every step of the way. Chris Kelly is now actively helping to develop the tracking collars for rhino, so as to try and improve the real-time monitoring of individuals during this time of high pressure poaching.

Impact that the Nominee has had to DateGiven the extent of work that Chris Kelly has been involved with and the number of species and individuals that he works with quantifying the exact impact would be very difficult. This is largely because he coordinates the Wildlife ACT staff of over 14 field staff working with endangered and threatened species, while also actively working hands-on and helping provide critical funding, management assistance and advice for:

  1. one of the most successful rhino conservation projects, the WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project, for the last 13 years;
  2. the management of KwaZulu-Natal’s provincial parks with regards to their endangered, threatened and priority species for the last 9 years;
  3. the entire wild dog population of KZN, which is 1/3rd of South Africa’s remaining population through KZN WAG and active participation of SA WAG;
  4. the monitoring and tracking of all tagged and GPS tagged vultures in Northern KZN, and is now extending that influence provincially;
  5. the core populations of leopard across Northern KZN in the form of a camera trapping project in conjunction with Panthera, EKZNW and iSimangaliso World Heritage Site.
Wild dogs being put on the plane

Odds Against which the Nominee had to WorkChris Kelly is a very simple reminder to all that come out to the field projects he works on - “This is Zululand, NOT Disneyland!”. It really sums up how the all too often idealistic and romantic view people have of working in wildlife regions of Africa are so wrong.Chris has worked for more than a decade in game reserves where, by his own accord, he would get up at 3:30am in the morning so that he could find a pack of wild dog, a cheetah or black rhino as they got moving at first light (during the summer at around 04:30am)…. day in and day out while temperatures soared to over 40°C.While starting off Wildlife ACT to provide much needed monitoring services to reserves free of charge, Chris Kelly worked tirelessly to prove the funding model while many people queried it and had to make many personal sacrifices to prove the point and ensure its success, which he now has. This all done at his own risk and with very limited external support.[caption id="attachment_1545" align="aligncenter" width="960"]

Cole du Plessis and Chris Kelly collaring a Wild Dog

Cole du Plessis and Chris Kelly collaring a Wild Dog.[/caption]Detailed Achievements to Date (limited for the past 12 months)Continual funding and management of 6 endangered and threatened wildlife monitoring teams across 5 provincial, 1 community and 2 private protected areas. Actively coordinating and managing the following endangered species interventions other than rhino:African Wild Dogs

  • 24 wild dogs relocated, involving 10 operations
  • Fitted 6 anti-snare, 4 VHF & 6 GPS collars onto wild dogs
  • 7 wild dogs saved from snares
  • Attended 3 KZN WAG meetings & 6 local reserve wild dog meetings.


  • Assistted and complete 2 nest surveys across KZN
  • Fitted 5 GPS backpacks / tracking units
  • 12 vulture chicks sampled and tagged
  • Support at 3 vulture poisoning events
  • 3 poisoned vultures successfully rehabilitated to the wild
  • Attended 2 KZN vulture meetings and 1 PAN Africa Vulture Summit in Dakar, Senegal.
  • Driven over 4,500 km and flown 15,000 km to make all of the above possible.


  • 2 GPS collars and 3 x VHF collars fitted to cheetah
  • 4 cheetah successfully relocated
  • Over 10,000 kms driven in aid of cheetah


  • Successfully fitted 7 lions with tracking collars
  • Supported the relocation of 6 lions to KZN
Lion Collaring

Future Plans and ObjectivesChris Kelly plans to extend his impact not just provincially but nationally. His objectives align with that of the organisation he co-founded, Wildlife ACT, which aim is:

  • To support and develop initiatives to work towards a zero rhino poaching scenario by supporting Project Rhino via fundraising for security and other base initiatives.
  • To assist with the establishment of new black rhino populations in partnership with the WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project (BRREP) and assist with monitoring efforts.
  • Develop new technologies for the effective remote monitoring of rhino.
  • To provide an immediate and rapid response to African Wild Dogs and other priority species in KZN, which have been snared, poisoned, injured, dispersed, or have broken out of a protected area.
  • To develop the emotional connection between people living on the border of protected areas and wildlife, specifically children, and foster a positive attitude towards wildlife & natural heritage.
  • To obtain a better understanding of vulture's fine scale habits to allow for informed conservation management decisions.
  • To respond swiftly to vulture poisoning events with qualified personal.
  • Capacitate more personal to help support vulture conservation.
  • Work to reduce the demand for vulture parts.

We feel that Chris Kelly is deserving of the Special Award for Endangered Species Conservation.