I remember the heat and that heavy atmosphere that made me certain that any moment there would be a crash of thunder and heavens would open. The air smelled like mud, but the ground below my heavy walking boots was still solid as a rock. I didn’t care if it rained, I’m not even sure I’d have noticed if it did, because the ranger in front was beckoning me forward. My heart was racing and my eyes were fixed. About 10 feet ahead was a wild lioness looking right at me. I wasn’t in a vehicle or behind a fence, but I was there in the African wild, with nothing between us. It was my first game walk and I knew that moment would never leave me.
But that isn’t where it all began. My interest in conservation comes from a love of wildlife that I have had my entire life. It was this love that prompted my parents to ‘adopt a lion’ for me as a present for my 6th birthday. The money from this ‘adoption’ went to the Born Free Foundation and I have been an active supporter of the charity ever since.
Needless to say, I have ‘adopted’ countless Born Free animals since then and as the years passed I have found other ways to actively support the charity, from selling raffle tickets to recycling mobile phones; if there is a way to help, I will have tried it.
But my ultimate dream was to see some of these animals in real life and actually have the chance to visit a Born Free Sanctuary. In 2008, after 3 years of fundraising, I was finally able to make that dream a reality, and my passion for conservation was firmly cemented.
I had chosen to volunteer at Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa, which is home to two Born Free Sanctuaries. One of these was built in memory of murdered photographer Julie Ward, whose book ‘A Gentle Nature’ (which, incidentally, I had won from purchasing one of the very raffle tickets I’d been selling) was one of the inspiring factors which made me pick South Africa.
Born Free also has sanctuaries in India and the USA but Africa was the top choice for me. I’d never been before, but for years I had read books, watched documentaries and even collected magazine cut outs of majestic scenes of African nature at its most proud.
I spent 13 weeks working at Shamwari Game Reserve and every moment felt new and fresh and inspiring. Every day and every experience was unique; it felt like I’d just been born and this was my education on the world.
I had originally chosen to volunteer because I wanted to feel I was making a difference. But now I have a different perspective: I want to make other people make a difference, because conserving Africa’s amazing wildlife is not just a one woman job.
I want those experiences and those memories to be available to the generations after me, and to think of any of those magnificent animals or breath-taking landscapes being mistreated or threatened in its existence makes me truly sad.
Imagine a world where a lion’s roar can never be heard rumbling across the plains of Africa. Imagine that those plains once filled with colourful birds, galloping antelope and chattering monkeys will one day lie quiet and desolate. Imagine that the only way our children or grandchildren may see those animals is from pictures in a book. This is the reality we may one day face, and this is why conversation is important.
As humans it is our responsibility and indeed duty to maintain and protect our planet’s wildlife and its environment. It is our duty to sustain the areas of nature that we as a species have largely caused the decline and endangerment of. Although putting our efforts into conservation sadly cannot reverse the destruction that our planet has already undergone, we can however, preserve and repair that which we are left with.
Considering, specifically, the conservation of African wildlife there many species pushed to the brink of extinction. For example the black rhino, the cheetah and the powerful African Elephant are just some of the species considered to be endangered. Through voicing the issues of conservation and how we can work together to achieve the sustainability of these species; we can educate future and existing generations and give these animals a chance.
Shamwari Game Reserve plays a large part in helping to sustain the environment and its reserve includes five of South Africa’s Biomes. By carrying out tasks such as eliminating alien plant species, removing wire fencing and building natural dams to control erosion they are able to create an area where wildlife and vegetation can be successfully restored.
The other element to Shamwari is of course the Born Free Sanctuary located there. The Born Free Foundation rescues injured and mistreated animals and relocates them to rehabilitation centres that are as close to their natural environment as they will ever get. Sadly, most of these animals will never be able to survive in the wild as most of their instincts have been lost, but they are able to live out their days in a safe, comfortable sanctuary in the beautiful African setting where they belong.
This kind of work is important because it is our planet and its future that is depending on us. Only we can make the choice of whether we continue to have these beautiful animals in our world, or whether we will stand back and watch them disappear. Who really wants to live in a world where animals are just something we see in museums?