Criticisms have been persistently voiced over some time by local and visiting scientists about a perceived deterioration in the state of many of South Africa's major natural science collections; these criticisms were raised at high levels of science administration. In early 2009 the National Research Foundation (NRF) commissioned an audit of the national science collection under the management of Totem Media. Simultaneously the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) was planning its own survey of significant zoological collections as part of its newly assigned legal responsibilities for zoological biodiversity under the Biodiversity Act (Act 10 of 2004). SANBI’s Director, Zoological Systematics, Professor Michelle Hamer collaborated with Totem to conduct a country-wide audit of collections.

The audit was designed to be the most comprehensive inventory of South African collections yet compiled. The purpose of this audit was to assess the state and sustainability of the natural science collections of South Africa, which are major national assets that have sadly not been recognised as such.

The collections have always played a fundamental role in scientific inquiry, but they are now of new and pressing importance when it comes to understanding critical issues for the well-being of all South Africans, including food security, disease control, climate change and the negative effects of rapidly dwindling natural resources. There is an immediate strategic imperative to secure South Africa’s natural science collections. They will rapidly lose their value if strategies are not put in place to develop the policies, practices and governance structures necessary to sustain them. 
Until this audit, no comprehensive inventory of all South African collections had been compiled. This study has created a baseline of information on the country’s natural science collections to be used for deciding current interventions and for future monitoring. Urgent interventions have been suggested to ensure that the value of these assets does not erode. Collections all through Africa are in crisis. We need to ensure that South Africa’s collections do not suffer mismanagement and neglect.

The Natural History Collections audit was completed in 2011 for the NRF


Totem Media are pleased that the NRF and the DST has now acted on a number of recommendations made in the report and funding, albeit less than had been suggested, has now begun to a number of collections.

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