The University of Venda (UNIVEN) is one of the partners in the Erasmus+ ELEPHANT project of which the Kick-Off meeting took place from 11-13 February 2020 at the “Future Africa” Conference Centre of the University of Pretoria. It included the formal appointment of the Steering Committee under the chairmanship of Prof Victor PMG Rutten of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, Netherlands and supported by Prof Anita Michel from the Onderstepoort Faculty’s Department of Veterinary Tropical Diseases; Prof Alessandra Scagliarini, Director International Relations, University of Bologna, Prof Natasha Potgieter; Dean School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences; Dr Segun Obadire, Acting Director International Relations; Prof Afsatou Traore, HoD, Microbiology and Prof Lourens Swanepoel, Senior Lecturer, Zoology. The event was opened by Prof Stephanie Burton, Vice-Principal: Research and Postgraduate Education of the University of Pretoria. The project funded to the tune of €1 million, commenced on 15 January 2020 and is scheduled to end on 14 January 2023. 

Prof Afsatou Traore, HoD Microbiology; Prof Natasha Potgieter, Dean School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences and Dr Segun Obadire, Acting Director International Relations at the Kick-Off Meeting

The EU-funded ELEPHANT project was granted to a consortium consisting of six South African and two European Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) namely Utrecht University in the Netherlands and the Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna in Italy. The six South African HEIs are the University of Pretoria, the University of Venda, University of Limpopo, University of Mpumalanga, University of Fort Hare and the Southern African Wildlife College. The consortium is led by the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University. Associate partners, National Wildlife College, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery (DAFF) and others will also contribute to the project and may benefit from its outcomes. 

ELEPHANT (Empowering universities’ Learning and rEsearch caPacities in the one Health Approach for the maNagement of animals at the wildlife, livestock and human interface in SouTh Africa) is co-financed by the Erasmus+, KA2 Capacity Building in Higher 

Education (CBHE) and aims at contributing to poverty relief, through the empowerment of South African Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) by boosting their innovation and research capacities in the One Health context, that should result in a more effective science-based health management at the interface between human, wildlife, livestock and environment. The partners’ country for the ELEPHANT project is South Africa, which has the third richest biodiversity in the world, along with a rich diversity of cultures, landscapes, climates, agricultural and land use types. The resulting variety of livestock-keeping practices, together with the increasing overlap of agriculture and wildlife settings place local scientists in a privileged position for conducting and benefiting from integrated research that is of clear importance to the country. 

Management of zoonotic diseases at human-domestic-wildlife interface in such areas clearly requires a One Health (OH) approach to reconcile the interest of local communities and wildlife conservation. In these settings, farmers experience large livestock losses due to mortality from diseases and predation by wildlife. These losses are negatively impacting food security (i.e. access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food) and on food safety (protected from foodborne illnesses). South African scientists and policymakers have thus the greatest opportunity and responsibility to take leadership of OH initiatives and develop institutional frameworks and research programmes to tackle these complex problems, where people’s lives are intimately related to the health and productivity of livestock and the natural environment including wildlife. 

The main beneficiaries of the project will be post-graduate students and researchers that will adopt a One Health methodology in research having the possibility to participate in mobility periods and operating in international contexts. It is expected that these beneficiaries will then implement the new skills to improve community-based programmes. University of Venda (UNIVEN) is particularly focused on researches on human wildlife conflict, food safety and food security. At UNIVEN the target will be researchers, post-graduate students (MSc, PhD, and Post-doctoral) who will benefit from the One Health training programmes. Other participants on the project from UNIVEN are Prof Joseph Baloyi, HoD Animal Science, Dr Jethro Zuwarimwe, Senior Lecturer Institute for Rural Development and Dr Takalani Tshitangano, HoD Public Health. 

Some of the partner representatives at the Kick-Off meeting for Elephant Project

The University of Pretoria (UP) is a highly ranked university in research, with a strong background in the area of OH, being part of other networks dealing with the topic in Africa. UP was also involved in One Health Training and Leadership (OHTL), a community-based human and animal infectious disease risk mitigation programme whose good practices will be shared within the network. Target beneficiaries in this institution will be researchers and PhD candidates that will have the opportunity to widen their perspectives tapping into discipline-based expertise from the other partners to broaden research approaches and questions as well as increase their opportunities for community based participative activities. 

Issued by: Department of Communications & Marketing 

University of Venda 

Tel: (015) 962 8525 

Date: 04 March 2020