Reflecting on a gentle nature

Lately, I have found myself in a reflective state of mind. Reflecting on my work, my goals, the small successes of the campaigns I’ve joined (Sea World agreeing to end the breeding of its captive whales); the near misses (the slow progress of the UK government in deciding whether to close the domestic trade in ivory); and the complete misses (never getting to see Tilikum free of his Sea World enclosure, CITES not delivering lions with Appendix I protection, etc.).

I suppose it can weigh heavy.

In need of a little pick-me-up, my thoughts went to the beginning —in fact, before the beginning —to the chain of events which began the ripple that would eventually flow into the creation of this sea of words; articles; posts.

It begins with the memory of murdered photographer Julie Ward, whose book, ‘A Gentle Nature’, I won in a raffle many years ago.

Below is a vlog I made a few years back, explaining who Julie Ward is and a little bit about her tragic story.


This is the book mentioned, which captured my interest in the Born Free Foundation and wildlife photography and was one of the inspiring factors which made me travel to South Africa to volunteer.

gentle nature

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I had chosen to volunteer at Shamwari Game Reserve because it is home to two Born Free Foundation sanctuaries for rescued big cats, and one of these rescue centres was opened in Julie Ward’s memory.

Shamwari friends with Kate

Celebrating a job well done with my fellow Shamwari volunteers at the Born Free Foundation”s Julie Ward Education Centre.

Since that vlog was filmed, a further development arose in the Julie Ward murder case, where new DNA evidence brought detectives a step closer to finding her killers.

The following video shows a news report from BBC News in the East of England. I must apologise for the quality of the video and give pre-warning that to get the most from the video, it will require viewers to turn the volume to full. It was recorded on simple digital camera by my ever-supportive parents, and emailed to me during my year in Australia, so that I could watch it online from overseas.


Back in 2013 I even designed my own mini Go Go Gorilla to send out to Born Free‘s Julie Ward Education Centre at Shamwari.

The basic elements of my design were my Shamwari work t’shirt from my time as a volunteer there, the Born Free Foundation logo, and an image of Julie ward herself. Such were the reaches of their influence.


It’s wonderful to reflect on my own locality, and how where I grew up ultimately had an influence on ‘how’ I grew up. There are so many wonderful figures who have inspired my path into gentle nature and compassion conservation.

Those that I’ve followed throughout my life are: the late Joy Adamson (writer of the Born Free autobiographical tale of Elsa the lioness, and its sequels) and George Adamson (Joy’s husband, who had a lifetime of incredible conservation work in his own right, rehabilitating captive lions, such as Boy and Christian back into the wild) and the late Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna (who founded the Born Free Foundation with their son Will Travers, and whom played the roles of Joy and George Adamson in the Born Free movie).

I would also, like many people, have to cite David Attenborough in my list of conservation heroes whose footprints I would love to walk in. I am so grateful that, in blogging, I have found a way to honour those idols and to continue to grow in the shared goals; in all their triumphs, near misses, and total knock-outs.



What’s it like to work at a game reserve in South Africa?

Volunteering report: Shamwari Game Reserve & Born Free Foundation’s big cat sanctuaries

Before there was blogging…

Or perhaps at least before sites such as WordPress made the platform available to all (blogging was regarded as something more like a social media site, anyone remember BEBO? – Blog Early, Blog Often), I look a gap year after completing my A-Levels, and headed off to South Africa alone, a mere two weeks after my 18th birthday.

There were no ‘insta feeds’, photo filter apps; iPhones were for the extremely well off, and camera phones were such poor quality and required such a hard to come by blu-tooth connection before you could download your snaps that it made far more sense to own a stand alone digital camera. I don’t know whether they were better or simpler times, but I do know you had to be a lot more selective over the photos you felt were worth editing, and a lot more determined if you were going to find a platform for your work.

Naturally, a journal-keeper and documenter of things; I had to write about the experience.

I kept a diary of every day spent travelling and working, and wrote a summary report on the benefits of volunteering abroad, for my local education authority as a means to inspire others from my not-so-privileged hometown to aspire to such an adventure themselves, after I successfully applied for a £250 grant towards the otherwise self-funded £5,000 trip. (Mostly achieved through part time work in retail, and the unspent funds gained from the sale of an extremely rare ‘beanie baby’ card about 9 years prior).

The report was part of my grant agreement and I poured over it for days after I got home; carefully cutting borders from print-outs of my own photography at the reserve (before blogs, borders and ‘WordArt’ meant you were serious about your work and its presentation…) and painfully minding my handwriting, so as not to screw up the clarity of a word, and have to cross it out which would have certainly spoiled the piece!

Although I do not hold exactly the same views as I did back then (I read the report now and look at the photographs with a much wiser, more informed understanding), I thought it would be quite nice to share the little-seen, rarely read, ramblings of a just-returned from the adventure of a lifetime, determined to change the world 18-year-old version of myself. Enjoy!

Shamwari Report page 1

Shamwari Report page 2

Shamwari Report page 3Shamwari Report page 4Shamwari Report page 5Shamwari Report page 6Shamwari Report page 7Shamwari Report page 8Shamwari Report page 9Shamwari Report page 10Shamwari Report page 11


Could my ramblings have made a difference?!


So, the ‘Voice of Conservation’ may not have returned, but hopefully this blog played its part in bringing in a new competition?! Exciting! (Note: In case that screen grab is unclear to you, there are talks of a new ‘win a game ranger experience’ competition being run by Shamwari – in response to my previous blog post.Success!)


What Happened to the Voice of Conservation…?

I started this blog on the 31st July 2011 after being inspired… or perhaps jealous… of the Voice of Conservation winners. For two consecutive years Shamwari Game Reserve, in partnership with Worldwide Experience, ran a competition offering a three-month trip to Shamwari Game Reserve on the Eastern Cape of South Africa to be the voice of their animals – and blog, Tweet, Facebook and video share to promote the message of conservation that Shamwari and the adjourning Born Free Foundation sanctuary so strongly believe in.

I loved reading the posts, responding to the Facebook questions and polls, and feeling as though I was still in touch with the Shamwari volunteer projects that I had loved so much when I’d taken my own gap year trip there in summer 2008. So it was with much sadness that the blog and the competition seemed to disappear last year – and from the lack of activity that I have seen this year, it looks as though it is not set to return.

As a blogger, an animal lover and a nostalgic fool, the forgotten and abandoned blogs on Worldwide Experience’s website are a sad sight. I’m sure there are plenty of gap year volunteer returners, previous Shamwari guests and curious web followers that, like me, want to know what’s happening back at our beloved Shamwari. What happened to the projects we worked on? Did they ever get rid of all those wire fences that were leftover from the farms? How big have our trees grown? Where do the student volunteers go to wind down now they aren’t staying at Madolas Retreat (we still reminisce about our nights at Louis’ Bar). Please bring back the Voice of Conservation!

It would really help us ‘Shamwari 2008-ers’ to re-capture our volunteer days at the next reunion – we may not even have to stoop so low as plastic elephants next time!

Shamwari Reunion



Shamwari Memories…

Today I find myself reminiscing my adventures in South Africa, as so often I do. Though I no longer agree with all the naive tourist excursions I went on in 2008 (for example, I would NEVER encourage cub petting [linked to canned hunting], shark cage diving [known to injure sharks’ teeth and jaws] or visiting dolphinaria shows [linked to Taiji Cove dolphin slaugher]), I did so many wonderful projects and on the ground tasks to assist with the conservation of African wildlife, that there remains much to be proud of.


Shamwari Conservation Experience on Facebook

My own Shamwari Conservation Experience

Whilst Born Free Foundation and Shamwari Game Reserve have had their own Facebook pages for some time now (of which – of course – I am an avid follower of) it is only recently that Shamwari has launched a separate page for Shamwari Conservation Experience.

This new page is focused on giving updates solely on the conservation work of the volunteer projects at Shamwari, including those gap year projects similar to the one I undertook, as well as vet students and field guide training.

There is a chance for previous volunteers to share stories and memories on SCE’s wall, and to see how work has progressed through the regular posting of photos. It is also a useful way for prospective volunteers to see the kinds of things that Shamwari may have in store for them.

As it is a relatively new page, they are hoping to generate more ‘likes’ and interest by offering the chance to win safari clothes and a coffee table book ‘Beat About the Bush’ by entering the first 500 people to like the page into a prize draw.

Prizes to be won. Image from Shamwari Conservation Experience’s Facebook page

I’m interested to see where this page may go, and how it is going to be different from the existing Shamwari Game Reserve page. Watch this space…


image from: Shamwari Conservation Experience on Facebook


The Art of Conservation

I recently came across Born Free Foundation’s wildlife prints for sale after a link was posted on their Facebook page. The drawings are of some of Born Free’s own rescued animals, some of which are part of their yearly animal adoption packages. Looking through the images of the prints has got me thinking about my own art work and exhibitions.


Exhibitions can be good not only for raising much needed funds for Born Free (donating a percentage, or all of, the profits to the charity) but they can also be good for getting communities to think about wildlife and its environment.

ImageI held an exhibition of my own themed ‘African Animals’ in 2009 at my local art gallery. Many of the pieces were of animals I had seen and encountered at Shamwari: some drawn from photographs and others actually began as sketches in the field.

ImageI tried to capture the spirit of Africa in my exhibit, by decorating the room with fabrics, print and materials that reminded me of Shamwari and even included some of my photos of my time at the reserve as well as information about the work and projects I did there and newspaper cuttings about some of the conservation issues that the animals in my exhibition face.


I’m looking at holding another exhibition late this year or sometime next year with proceeds going to Born Free – it would be great to hear any ideas or suggestions for this…

UPDATE: Read about my second art exhibition raising funds for Born Free.


The Julie Ward Case

For those of you who don’t know, I’m currently living in Australia as part of a study abroad year for my degree, so English news is not always readily available. Luckily my family back in the UK have been keeping me informed of all the important things, and I discovered today that there has been new development in the Julie Ward case (see my earlier blog post for more info ).


image from telegraph.co.uk

The case has apparently been re-opened with the discovery of new DNA evidence perhaps bringing detectives a step closer to finding her killers.

The following video shows a news report from BBC News in the East of England, I must apologise for the quality of the video and give pre-warning that to get the most from the video it will require watchers to turn the volume to full. It has been recorded on simple digital camera so that I could watch it online from overseas.