What is the significance of finding your tribe? You are in your element, time stands still leaving your open heart to soak up all you are experiencing, really seeing the people in front of you and really hearing their stories. There might be no other purpose to this than for those people to be seen, to be heard. But it could be that in this flow you are being given access to knowledge and understanding which moves you forward on your path. For me those 14 days on our Journey with Purpose was the latter. I feel compelled by all I have seen and heard to champion these stories, to spread the word about the incredible work of these passionate individuals working for wildlife and community.
Now I love nothing better than seeing the “bigger picture” and some of you reading will know how I love a good map! And I didn’t see this straight away as we progressed through our itinerary, but I think I see it now…. What connects all our conservation and community stories from this expedition together is the increasing collaboration and building towards recognising the increasing value of Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs).
Here is where I mention the Peace Parks Foundation. Their single purpose is “to restore a tomorrow for life on Earth”. Their dream – “to reconnect Africa’s wild spaces to create a future for man in harmony with nature.” What does that look like in action? Helping, guiding, supporting, facilitating TFCAs. Creating a hub for a conservation collective in a particular region. This hub transcends national borders and helps take these seemingly small, individual actions and bringing them together – the dragonfly effect.
Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith are a husband and wife team who have applied what they term the dragonfly effect to using social media to affect social change. Their book – The Dragonfly Effect: quick, effective and powerful ways to use social media to drive social change – is an interesting read. They talk about the dragonfly being the only insect to move deftly in any direction when all four wings work in unison. This effect is similar to the ripple effect and is used in sociology, psychology and economic circles to show how small actions can create significant change. While their focus is the use of social media, I think the effect applies to the situation I am describing here.
Our JWP01 South expedition took us into two significant TFCA areas – the Greater Limpopo TFCA and the Lubombo TFCA. The people we got to meet and spend time with, the projects we got a little glimpse of on our journey were some of these small pieces working to their strengths and their passions. Placed in the bigger picture of the TFCA landscape there is more than a little hope of significant, lasting change both for wildlife and wild spaces as well as the human communities coexisting here.
For me this sort of hope is especially inspiring as I am on my own journey where I am currently planted to demonstrate how this dragonfly effect can work for conservation and community upliftment anywhere in the world.
Very introspective at the moment…. a middle age thing perhaps? Today I have been thinking about the label “conservationist”. I have thought of myself as a wildlife conservationist since I was probably 10 or 11 years old.
At 3 maybe 4 years old, sitting on the back steps by the kitchen door looking out over this part of the Highveld that would one day soon be taken over by the southern suburbs of Johannesburg. Our house was one of the first in the new subdivision, still surrounded by the grassland and mixed acacia bushveld typical of this area.
It’s May on the Highveld and everything is tinder dry. A black patchwork shows where the veld fires have been this season in the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve just across the road from our house. Walking through one of these patches bits of burnt grass crackling underfoot. Then the dull thud of footsteps on dry, baked red earth. But always life – the titter of a group of red-faced mousebirds in the acacia, the screech of the fiscal shrike, the various species of dove cooing, the flash of red from the black collared barbet darting by, a rustle in the grass maybe a snake or the flash of a tail as a mongoose disappears deeper into the bush and, of course, the black-shouldered kite sitting on the powerline surveying all.
As I got older we ventured further afield, driving during family holidays to protected spaces to witness this life, to immerse ourselves in it temporarily. The most natural thing in the world, where else would you want to just BE? Kruger National Park, the Soutpansberg, the Drakensberg, Umfolozi, Mkuze, Karoo National Park, Tsitsikama National Park to name a few.
By the time I was a teenager being back at home in the big smoggy city felt strained. I felt cut off from the natural world where I belonged. Even in a city like Johannesburg where the wildness of Africa still finds its way in to the urban space, I still felt uneasy. And so I came to understand the fragmentation of wild spaces and how I would want to spend the rest of my life speaking for the voiceless.
What a strange journey it has been and continues to be… my conservationist journey. It certainly hasn’t been a linear career path and there have been many times when I thought I had lost my way completely. Thinking how could where I am and what I am doing right now possibly be about following my passion. But what I have realised recently is that every apparent detour I have had along the way has equipped me with a rather unique world view.
It quickly became clear that my work was not going to be that of the traditional conservation ecologist. I have had to come to terms with the educator within. To work through the discomfort I feel as an introvert to relate to people of all ages and stages in the course of sharing one all important message – wild lives and wild spaces matter.
The upshot of all this is that the model of conservation I was immersed in as a child is no longer valid, if it ever was. We cannot hope to make a difference for wildlife and wild spaces by putting fences up and keeping human communities out of the picture. Wildlife conservation should be an everyday practice for all of us wherever we find ourselves on this planet. We need to learn to live in harmony with the other living beings we share this planet with.
Sometimes in my more selfish moments I think over the incredible moments I have had in wild spaces and those magical close encounters with elephant, hippo, leopard, and cheetah – wild ones in wild habitat. Not ones that I had to pay an awful lot of money for in a contrived 5 star luxury safari setting.
But more often I want people to have these sorts of magical encounters with wildlife in their own backyards so to speak. Let it be a normal, everyday occurrence – reconnecting humanity back with nature.
These days my original passion for wildlife conservation feels closer, my course more true…. My journey as a conservationist continues…