It can be scary to start something new. To put yourself out there and try something you have never tried before. It can be daunting to create and share your passions with the world. It’s easy to back out, to change your mind and to live small but DON’T. Please, don’t back out. Believe in your vision, in your passion, in your work.
More and more, I am finding my voice – as you have probably noticed with these regular blog posts. This is something I want to continue and I am now collaborating with Morgan Pettersson to create a conservation podcast called Seeding Change. Within this podcast we will be talking about environmental conservation, the natural world and the highs and lows of our own personal adventures within this challenging but highly rewarding industry.
Although I’m nervous, I’m also so excited because this is a topic I am very passionate about and it’s something I wish we all talked about more.
Our first two episodes are available on the links below and our third episode will be available on Friday.
On Friday’s episode we will be talking all about TREES and their importance in this world. With Morgan’s reforestation experience this is going to be a very interesting conversation! Forests and their amazing role on Earth are often vastly undervalued so we are looking forward to sharing episode 3 with you all. Particularly, with all the news regarding this years forest fires.
Spending time in wildlife reserves is so good for the soul.
It allows us the opportunity to reconnect with nature, to catch a glimpse into a
wild world we have become so far removed from. It’s an opportunity to quiet
your mind. When you’re in nature nothing is guaranteed and nothing is expected.
It’s energizing, from the moment you enter a reserve there’s excitement in the
air… You keep a look out for any signs of wildlife, looking for fresh tracks along
the dusty paths and listening for the calls of wild animals.
There is so much to see. So many directions to venture in.
You are surrounded by the beauty of the wilderness and I’m not sure there is
anything in life that beats that feeling. Nature is home and sometimes we have
to go back to it to realise how vital it is.
I’ve spent a lot of time living in reserves and sometimes it’s nice to take a step back and enjoy the amazing wildlife that share this place we call home. Today I wanted to post some of my favourite photos from past adventures. There’s so much beauty on this planet, there is so much still to save. I know that sometimes news stories are very doom and gloom so todays post is just a little bit of beauty to remind you that there is still so much to fight for.
Spending time in nature is important, a lot of us are disconnected, not only from nature but also from the impact we have on nature in our day to day lives. Everything we do has an impact on the world around us and the natural world needs us to make changes. We need to step up and make better decisions, we need to be more conscious of our choices and know that we can have a positive impact on the planet by making small changes. We live in a time when we can still turn this around so please, tread lightly on this Earth and appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds us.
If you get the opportunity to visit a nature reserve or national park… Please do! You won’t regret it.
Experiencing life through conservation is beautiful and inspiring but it is also challenging. In the past 6 years I have made the most amazing memories, met the most passionate people and lived surrounded by so much wild, natural beauty. Sometimes it seems so strange to think that I’ve spent nights sleeping side by side with baby rhinos or months with a baby elephant essentially glued to my side. To live with wildlife, build bonds with them and experience the beauty of the wilderness is such a privilege … I’ve truly found myself in nature and it’s been such a magnificent journey but it has not been without its challenges. It is all too easy to paint working in conservation in a romantic way, the reality is that it’s tough. It’s hard work, it can be lonely, it’s even dangerous at times… There’s so many aspects to working in conservation. It’s not all smiles and selfies. It’s stress, heartbreak and for way too many conservationists… its burn out. I love sharing the highlights with you but the reality is that there are hard times too.
Working within conservation means being exposed to mans
astonishing disconnect to nature, it means seeing first-hand the impact of the
greed and selfish capabilities of our own species. It’s working around the
clock and living far from family and friends. At times it can be difficult to feel
optimistic or positive, it can feel like the heavy weight of all of this is
pressing down on your shoulders as you ask yourself if you are doing enough to
make a difference.
The struggle is real so if you are feeling this pressure right now I want you to know that you are enough, you are appreciated and you are not alone. Step back and look at how far you’ve come, all you have achieved and the positive impact you are having. Know that you have a positive influence that reaches further than you will ever truly realise. Be proud of every step you have taken on this journey, be proud of your bravery, of your fearless pursuit of your passion. Look at the amazing things you’ve experienced, the connections you have made and the memories you’ll always remember. Take time to look after yourself… Eat well, read books about things you love, be active and be kind to yourself. Know that caring for yourself is not selfish, it is essential. For you to continue to have a positive impact in this world you need to take care of yourself. You need to make yourself a priority.
Sometimes working in conservation is challenging but don’t let the hard times allow you to forget the great times. This journey is filled with ups and downs. It’s a whirlwind, a rollercoaster. It’s something that can be so difficult to explain to people who haven’t lived it too. Celebrate the wins and know that you are doing amazing things. I believe in you, in your passion, in your vision. I’m proud of you and you should be proud of yourself too.
Rehabilitating rhino calves has been a huge part of my conservation life. I have spent countless hours working with orphaned rhinos who have been left traumatized by poaching and the loss of their mother. I’ve had sleepless nights trying to bond with new arrivals, encouraging them to drink much needed milk or trying to settle them down as they pace and call for their mum. I’ve cried behind closed doors about the sad situation and the stark realities. I’ve had nights filled with fear due to high alerts of poacher activity. I’ve driven through the night to rescue orphans and bring them back to the orphanage. It’s been a long, tough road but earlier this year I was able to experience something amazing that showed our efforts were never in vain.
On Saturday morning I met with Alyson, who I worked alongside at Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage back in 2015, and we drove to a beautiful game reserve in KZN. Our hope for the day was to see Ithuba, Thando and Storm in the wild.
To give you some backstory: Ithuba was the first rhino calf to be brought to the Thula orphanage; he was playful, gentle and cheeky. For a while, he was our only rhino and we cared for him around the clock; keeping him company, playing and feeding him a special milk formula every three hours. He was only around 5 months old when he was rescued and he needed 24/7 care; he hated the sound of rain on the roof of his room, he panicked when it was full moon and he had spent close to a week trying to survive in the wild without his mum. Then Thando arrived and something interesting happened… Ithuba and Thando had this instant connection. They were so entranced by each other and were desperate to be together, so much so that we thought they maybe actually knew each other. They had both been rescued from the same reserve but after we did the maths, they couldn’t have met as Thando was too young to have known Ithuba before the poaching incident. Despite this, the pair were drawn to each other. Whether there was something they sensed, something familiar about each other, we do not know but what we did know was that they were desperate to be together. Once Thando was big and strong enough we introduced them and they have been inseparable ever since.
Storm is a black rhino and he was rescued in the middle of the night, the weather was so bad (hence his name) that we needed to rescue him and get him back to the orphanage otherwise it was unlikely he’d have survived the night in the wild. Storm was very vulnerable and his rehabilitation journey was incredibly rocky, there were times when he was so unwell that we worried he would not survive. When we hit a breakthrough and Storm started to gain weight, roll in the wallow and play we knew he was going to pull through.
Ever since the early days of raising a very young Ithuba, Aly and I used to talk about going to see him in the wild one day. It was something we had always wanted to experience and in 2019, it was finally happening.
As we entered the gates of the reserve we were so excited at the possibility of seeing the orphans, at the same time we knew there was a chance that we would not see them. After all, they are wild and anybody who has been on a game drive knows there is never any guarantee of seeing wildlife. We hoped that we would be lucky on this day.
Grinning from ear to ear, we climbed into an open game viewer and the search began. During this drive we saw lots of incredible wildlife including a magnificent pride of lions on the banks of a dam but we had yet to see rhinos. As we drove along the weaving roads, the one thing on my mind were the rhinos Aly and I had come to know so intimately, who were now living somewhere on this protected reserve. We slowly covered the area where Ithuba and Thando were last spotted but there was no sign of them. “Come on, where are you ‘Thubes?” I thought again and again as we searched. As there were no signs of the pair, we had to continue the drive and leave the area the two white rhinos were most likely in. We were disappointed but we always knew this could happen, as we drove away Aly and I tried desperately to search for them but to no avail. We left the area, now turning our attention to looking for black rhino storm.
We used the telemetry to track him and as we sat where the signal was strongest and waited, he emerged out of the bush. I could hear the branches breaking before I saw Storm, he was getting closer and closer. As he stepped into view I was so overwhelmed by the joy of seeing him that I began to well up. My eyes filled with tears and my heart burst with pride as this black rhino I had helped raise appeared out of the bushes. Despite all of my adventures in the bush, I have only ever seen black rhino in the wild twice and one of those was seeing Storm. He looked so well. He had grown a lot since I had last seen him and he seemed to be coping with life in the wild.
As I watched him happily eating I thought about how small he was when we went to rescue him and all of the issues we had faced. I thought of the hard times and the special moments of sitting under the heat lamp with him and feeding times. All of the memories of him as a tiny baby black rhino flooded back as I watched him, now big and thriving in the wild. To see him, even for a few minutes, left my heart feeling so full. The tears flowed freely, tears of absolute joy. Everything we had put into the orphanage, it was all worth it.
As the sun was setting, we began to make our way back to camp. Although we had not seen Ithuba and Thando, we had an amazing experience with Storm so all in all the drive was a success. Then, to our absolute delight we heard that the boys had been spotted. As I wiped away the tears from the Storm sighting, Aly and I exchanged excited glances as we may see Ithuba and Thando after all. We looked around, keeping our eyes peeled and then we suddenly caught a glimpse of two very healthy looking white rhino bums as they disappeared off into the bush. It was Ithuba and Thando. Still sticking together after all these years. They were so big now and they looked to be in great condition. Although we hadn’t seen them for long, to catch a glimpse of them against the backdrop of the setting sun was incredible.
These rhinos, they live in the wild. If you were to see them you wouldn’t know they were raised in a rhino orphanage because now they live as they always should have. That is, and always has been, the goal. Rescue, rehabilitate, release. To see these orphans, who’s stories and personalities dominated a part of my life, now living in the wild was a true honor. I am so grateful to have been able to visit the reserve where they now live and to have been lucky enough to actually see them. All of our hard work has well and truly paid off…
Thank you. To everyone who has supported rhino orphanages, to everyone involved in the rehabilitation of these amazing animals, to the team who now protect and keep a close eye on these wild rhinos… Thank you.