‘The wild does not respect you if you do not respect her.‘
1. What 3 words best describe your connection with nature?
2. What are the 3 biggest lessons that you have learnt while spending so much time around animals and in The Wild?
1. The first and most important is patience. The wild doesn't share her secrets with you just because you are there, she works in ways we as humans have long since forgotten. Being patient is key to a meaningful experience in the wild, nature operates on her own schedule and how she best sees fit. Sometimes you need to spend a week with sleeping lions to finally enjoy the thrill of the hunt.
2. Respect is the second lesson. The famous saying "respect is earned" could not be more true in the bush. The wild does not respect you if you do not respect her. The animals in the reserve are treated with respect and dignity by their human custodians, the animals trust us and we trust them. There is a fine line between approaching an elephant on foot and engaging in a meaningful interaction, versus intentionally provoking an animal for the value of entertainment.
3. Appreciate the little things. Too many venture into the wild to spend time with the largest and most impressive animals, that a safari is wasted if you don't find a BIG male lion or a BEAUTIFUL leopardess and her cubs. The little things like insects, arachnids, molluscs and small mammals are equally as, if not more, fascinating than the big "hairy and scary" animals. For example, there is a small insect called an ant lion, this insect spends twelve years of it's life in its larval stage, patiently trapping ants and feeding off them. Once it is ready to pupate into its adult form, known as a lace wing, it defecates once (in twelves years), transforms, mates and dies within 24 hours of becoming an adult. No lion can do that... Summarised, life is about more than just the big things, it is about all the things. The big things would not survive if it weren't for the little things. In turn, the little things would not survive if it were not the big things.
3. Have you noticed the effects of pollution on our Environment? If so, what is the most drastic one?
Yes, definitely! The most obvious affect of environmental pollution is the climate. The areas where I have lived and worked for years have been struck by devastating drought. In 2016 the Greater Kruger Park received less than half of its annual rainfall. Buffalo and hippo populations were hit the hardest. The animals were so week we would see them collapse while traversing the bush. Some of the most tragic scenarios saw buffalo dying mere meters away from the water that would've extended their lives. The predators too suffered, the lions were inundated with carcasses to feed off, yet the carcasses themselves did not contain enough nutrition to properly sustain the lions. We watched their cubs die of an ailment called White Muscle Disease. The disease occurs when there is not enough dietary vitamin D, it's symptoms are the failure of skeletal muscle (the muscles responsible for motion and breathing). The cubs died paralysed and in pain, then the adults began to exhibit symptoms, their back legs were becoming lame and they would drag themselves from place to place. This was not the only disease to take hold, rabies cases increased and mange plagued many of the animals. Anthrax too became a concern, for not only the animals, but the human inhabitants of the reserves as well.
This was not only observed in the Kruger, but Kenya's famous Maasai Mara as well. The Mara and Serengeti reserves burned for weeks in 2017, dry grass and tinder abounded when the ecosystem was meant to receive the "short rains" which failed. As a result, the Great Wildebeest Migration failed to begin, arrived a month late and left a month early. The impact of this is still obvious in both reserves.
4. What motivated you to be so involved in The Environment and, particularly, Wildlife in Africa?
I grew up in the city but was always whisked away to the bush during my school holidays. My uncle used to call owls in his garden on warm summer evenings where we would patiently wait for them to arrive and then quietly watch them hunt. The Lion King Movie, too, sparked my interest in African wildlife; but more than just the empirical and scientific side, I was interested in the stories of the animals. Where had they come from, what challenges and triumphs have they had to face in their lives, where would they go and what would they do next. I wanted to learn about the behaviour of these animals, their individual characteristics and personalities and yes, every animal is as unique as every human.
5. What are 3 things that we can all do to help with the protection of Wildlife?
1. Stop using single use plastics, right now!
2. Do not support organisations claiming to rehabilitate wild animals while at the same time encouraging tourists to pet and play with cubs. These operations DO NOT care about the welfare of the animals at all and most of these cats will wind up in canned hunting facilities once they are too old to pet and cuddle.
3. Spend more time learning about the environment and wildlife in your local area. Find out how you can help the species in your backyard by providing a small home for them (bee hotels are a great example of this). What birds visit your garden? Are they seed eaters or insect eaters, if they eat insects then don't use pesticides, if they eat seeds consider putting a bird feeder out. Become aware about the animals in your environment and take care to learn about them.
6. What would you tell your younger self about environmental protection?
The best way you can protect the environment is to learn about it. Understand how each animal and plant species contributes to sustaining life. Share your knowledge, passion and experience with others. Keep an open mind, the wild always has something new to teach you.