Category Archives: Wildlife Conservation

Extraordinary Voices: The Platter Project

Today is Nelson Mandela’s birthday – 18 July.  I chose today to share the story of this incredible woman, Di Wilkinson, because she has chosen to commemorate his birthday in her own amazing way.

Image from The Platter Project Facebook page

I stumbled upon Di Wilkinson’s story on social media.

Hoedspruit, South Africa holds a special place in my heart.  I spent many happy school holidays in that area as a kid.  The Drakensberg Escarpment provides a dramatic backdrop to the mixed bushveld plains that stretch eastwards.  The scenic Blyde River winds its way through the area bringing the waters from the escarpment down to these lowlands.  Interesting rock formations abound.  This unique mix of habitats supports a wide variety of flora and fauna.  It is a place of orchards – citrus, mango and macadamia.  It is also a place of game reserves and over the years has become a hub for conservation research and wildlife rehabilitation.  There are a number of wildlife rehabilitation centres and orphanages in this area.  I follow one of them, the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, on social media.  And this brings me back to Di Wilkinson of The Platter Project.

She is a wonderfully talented artist who produces these beautiful drawings.  Most are inspired by the wildlife of Southern Africa but as I mentioned at the start, she is currently sharing a special print with a portrait of the great Madiba.

I absolutely love her depictions of these three gorgeous southern African bird species – the Lilac-breasted Roller, the Carmine Beeater and the Masked Weaver … these hang in my home and bring my joy.

She “sells” these beautiful pieces – started on platters and is now mostly A3 prints.  All the money you pay for her art goes to charity.  Specifically charities focused on wildlife conservation, like the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, and organ donation.  A strange combination of causes to support, perhaps, but there is more to her story.

In June 2013 Di was diagnosed with kidney disease.  Serious kidney disease requiring dialysis five hours a day, three days a week.  Miraculously, in May 2018 she found a compatible donor and underwent a life-saving kidney transplant.

To think of all she has gone through during this time but not she has not given up on life, on her family, on her creativity, on her passion, on community.  In fact to still have that generosity of spirit that shares her talent with the world and using it to support lives outside of her own…. Di is a truly an extraordinary woman!

And there will be more to her story too.  She will be a partner, a mother, a daughter, maybe a sister, a friend – all those things that make us who we are.  But I suspect if we asked her she would simply say she was an ordinary woman just trying her ordinary best in space she finds herself.

I find her creativity spectacular.  I find her resilience inspiring.  I find her care and generosity moving.  I find her “voice” extraordinary.

Be well, Di Wilkinson 💚

Check out her beautiful work on Facebook – The Platter Project or on Instagram @theplatterproject.

Journey with Purpose: The Bigger Picture

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).

The Dream! Map source: https://www.peaceparks.org/about/the-dream/

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.

Greater Limpopo TFCA. Map source: https://www.peaceparks.org/tfcas/great-limpopo/

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.

Lubombo TFCA. Map source: https://www.peaceparks.org/tfcas/lubombo/

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.

The conservationist

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…

Part of the journey – no entry road, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, 2007

Ubuntu

A Zulu proverb referencing our humanity and connection to others

I have always loved this word – Ubuntu – the philosophy and the worldview behind it.

Here is a little reflection one month out from my upcoming African adventure.

I am not sure of a lot of things but one thing I am definitely sure of is that we are all connected. We impact each other every day for good or ill.

What I find particularly profound about Ubuntu is there is still room for individuality within this human story. To me this means that my actions count. Who I am and what I do makes a difference and is significant in the greater scheme of things. How empowering! This gives me hope in the face of all the tragedy and heart ache I see every day.

Taking this idea one step further I like to think of “we” as all the other living beings we share the planet with. I believe we are connected also. And while some groups of humans have not figured this out yet, I can be a voice for the voiceless. That tends to be what gets me out of bed in the morning, heading to work to teach conservation education to the next generation. A very urbanised, disconnected next generation.

And so I have been led to connect with people like Carla Geyser, founder of the Blue Sky Society Trust and organiser of the Journey with Purpose expedition I am embarking on in a month’s time. Here is woman who by her actions and what she has chosen to do believes in the power of Ubuntu. Definitely a kindred spirit!

Due to the ongoing effects of Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, our itinerary has had to change. We will head further south. The original collaring project in Gile National Reserve will hopefully go ahead later in the year.

I also follow Dr Michelle Henley on social media through the work she does with Elephants Alive. Here is another individual dedicated to wildlife conservation but not leaving humanity out of the picture.

Obviously much of the focus in my news feed will be about my beloved corner of Mama Africa and the amazing individuals dedicating their lives to helping wildlife as well as communities of humans in this part of the world.

But I also work with passionate conservationists everyday. Check out this link to an amazing wildlife experience in Sumatra. The incredible woman who put this together is also a wife, mom, team leader, field conservationist and all round inspirational human being!

And I could go on and on with examples of humans who work everyday on the assumption of Ubuntu… our individual actions bringing us together, uniting us in our efforts to make the world a better place.

What I love about this is that conservation of wildlife and wild places can no longer be seen to separate humanity from the picture. We have to take this journey together, learn to live in harmony not just with each other but with all the species we share the planet with. It is a huge responsibility and we cannot see the kindness and compassion it takes as a weakness.

I will finish off with a mention that the fundraising efforts continue, even though the itinerary has changed. And again, I do know that we are all saturated with requests for money for a million different good causes… but maybe this one speaks to you? A bit of Ubuntu