Tag Archives: Wildlife Conservation

To Sustainability and Beyond!

On Friday 27 September 2019 I had the opportunity to participate in the Schools Strike 4 Climate Change in Auckland, New Zealand. As a conservation educator it was a thrilling moment to be able to march alongside my colleagues and the youth of the world as we speak up to secure our World’s future.  To continue to walk my talk of many years.

Image from Bitmoji App

Now not everyone agrees with Greta Thunberg’s or Severn Suzuki’s type of action.  But this is just one approach that supports countless others as we each work or fight for change in our own way.  The future of our planet really does rely on every individual, mindful action as well as policy change at the highest levels of government.

I was sixteen years old when 12-year-old Severn Suzuki gave her moving call to action at the UN Earth Summit in Rio 1992.  The South Africa I grew up in was only just emerging from the evil, tragic grip of apartheid.  Rio’s Earth Summit certainly did not play out widely in my troubled environment.  I didn’t even hear about Severn and the Rio Summit at the time.  I only got to hear about her and the Earth Charter at university a few years later while completing a degree in Environmental Science.

There was no such thing as recycling of rubbish while I was growing up.  But I did have an inspiring Geography teacher who talked about CFCs and the hole in the ozone layer, rising sea levels and global warming.

An immense amount of Good Work has been done since then.  Voices for action can derive hope from that, I think.  I know I do.

My personal journey with Sustainability started as a child, privileged to be surrounded by the magic of prolific wildlife.  Though back then I would not have described my passion as ‘in aid of Sustainability’. 

Wildlife conservation is my original passion.  For me, the heart of my desire to make a difference in the World has always been derived from my intense love of all things wild in Africa – wild, pure, open spaces and all the marvellous creatures that are so precious, deserving of their right to life and their perfect role in a thriving ecosystem – simply because they are, like I am! 

As I hit my tweens, I started to realise that the human world I had been born into was messy.    I became aware of the concept of Ubuntu.  In light of this ancient truth I could see that South Africa was in a dark place.  I am because we are – for me “we” is all aspects of Mama Africa, and by extension, Mother Earth.

The ‘wildlife’ concept of conservation had to be expanded to include human communities.  Some decades later I guess we would now refer to this more holistic approach as ‘Social Sustainability’.

My degree focused on Environmental Science and Conservation Biology.  I began to understand sustainability – the complexity of unsustainable human practices that focus on technological advancement, convenience and to some degree simply because we can…. pushing the human brain to its creative limits.  This level of advancement and focus on economics, profits and convenience is energy-intensive, to say the least, and the highest cost has been to Mother Earth.

Even to people whose compassion doesn’t extend beyond their own family it must be becoming alarmingly obvious that the outcomes of unsustainable practices, particularly since the start of the Industrial Revolution, will affect their future – health, ability to generate wealth, perhaps even their whole way of life.

You would think that I would be a sustainable living Champion, with all the information I have gleaned in my education and in the course of my professional life as an environmental scientist and conservation educator!  But it has been a journey of years to put  the picture puzzle pieces together and genuinely start living sustainably.

To be honest, my practical buy-in started really simply with the 3RsReduce, Reuse, Recycle.  What’s possible in terms of recycling looks different in diverse parts of the world, depending on infrastructure and resourcing.  It varies greatly between urban and rural areas in New Zealand, where I am currently living.  And it will continue to change over time, hopefully rapidly and for the better.  Even just getting the 3Rs right can be confusing, frustrating and certainly inconvenient, depending where you live.

Image from Bitmoji App

So here’s what I’ve learned … being mindful of how I tread on this planet, and making environmentally conscious decisions, has to supersede convenience.  I recognise that it is not my right to live conveniently at the cost of All around me.

These days I work with the 7Rs in mind – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rehome, Replant, Rot.  Here is an image of what that looks like, taken from ubuntunomad.com.

The 7Rs of waste-free living – ubuntunomad.com

I also like this image (below), with RETHINK at the centre, taken from a Google image search – Be mindful of your consumption, your relationship with “things” and your relationship with the Earth.

Google image search – difficult to trace the source of this image.

From a place of Rethink anything is possible.  This is motivation to mindfully, actively, continuously pursue the 7Rs strategy.  For example, we can find out about composting in our area.  For me a recent delightful discovery has been that my hair salon belongs to the Sustainable Salons initiative – I’m very happy to support ingenious organisations like this. 

There are so many amazing examples like this now.  Yes, it does take a little extra time and energy to do the research, but I believe it is worth it in the long run. Spending money with local businesses that have sound sustainability initiatives is a simple and practical contribution everyone can make.  I have found social media to be an invaluable tool in connecting with environmentally conscious groups and organisations I can support.

So that’s it in the daily micro-moments of my life. Turning off lights and electronics on standby, separating out the soft plastics for recycling, refusing disposable cups or straws or single use plastic bags, thinking about water use and saving where I can, being a mindful consumer as much as possible for everything from clothing to cosmetics, being aware of the palm oil predicament and only purchasing products containing certified sustainable palm oil.

The list goes on and I will make it longer as I learn to tread as lightly as I can.  I have to believe that each of our small mindful actions will make the necessary difference in the end.

In my bigger picture, I try to make my mark by taking my conservation education career very seriously – and I never forget about the beleaguered African wildlife that planted this seed in me that lead to greater knowledge of the plight of life everywhere . 

This year my focus has been to look at conservation and sustainability when travelling, which is another great love of mine.

I spent a number of years working in high end ecotourism lodges in Botswana.  Such an incredible time in my life!  What particularly stands out for me is the environmentally sensitive architecture used to construct these lodges –  the temporary footprint they are able to create, completely off the grid and very sustainable.  If this can be achieved in extremely isolated areas of the Okavango Delta, I think there is little excuse for organisations based in areas of the world which are better resourced!

I finally managed to get back to Mama Africa this year.  Previous blog posts cover this absolutely amazing Journey with Purpose.  I chose that particular trip because it ticked so many of the environmental and social sustainability boxes that I am trying to be mindful of in my travel choices.

On my bucket list, since always, is to visit East Africa, the birthplace of safari, so I constantly search in hopes that a perfect option and opportunity will arise.  I am looking for tourism organisations that focus on wildlife conservation, community conservation and sustainable practices in their delivery to guests.  My experience in Botswana tells me exactly what to look out for.

I have been following Asilia Africa on Instagram for a while now, and I find their authentic community conservation initiatives utterly inspiring.  Of course, their tourism offering looks stunning, too!  And Yellow Zebra Safaris appears to be a good bet to organise a truly caring, conservation-conscious safari in Kenya!  Their concern for solo travellers backs that up.

And so my journey dreams continue … next on my agenda is how to tackle the carbon footprint of air travel, especially from this part of the world?  For such a vast distance,  I’ll have to look further than contributing to the planting of thousands of trees.

I will finish off this rather long post with a thought-provoking excerpt from The Infinite Game – How to Live Well Together by Niki Harré:

“Well, changing the behaviour of other adults has always seemed to me both patronising and misguided. What we need, if we are going to promote human and ecological flourishing, is people working together on creative solutions, not experts training others like circus animals. The enormous beauty and power of our species lies in our capacity for collective innovation. It is an endless, uncertain task, improving this world of ours and trying to do so with love and joy. It takes both big, powerful players and small, discrete players each working within their sphere of influence – experimenting, adapting, and negotiating new practices; and the policies, laws and technological innovations that help hold these practices in place. We need to ignite that creative capacity in each other – not smother it with assumptions that ‘we’ (whoever ‘we’ may be) know best.”

Image by Bitmoji App

 

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.

Journey With Purpose: Finding A Tribe

A map of the original journey. Our itinerary had to change after Cyclone Idai hit the Mozambique coast in March 2019.

It’s been a month since one of the most profound travel experiences of my life so far began.  For my last blog post on May 4th I couldn’t even find the words I was so excited about the upcoming adventure and so just posted a pic of a recent painting.  But here I am at the other end of it and still processing. And while I have been posting photo highlights in Instagram @dragonfly.travelling, it is taking time to reflect in writing.

In the days since I got home and back into my “life as usual” routine, I have also spent a lot of time writing about this journey.  This writing has been with the hope of being published on a few different travel platforms that help champion Blue Sky Society’s Journeys with Purpose.  Now that task is mostly complete, I have time to shift focus to reflecting in my Pure Spaces way.

To be honest I did not have any real expectations about this trip.  Rare for me but I decided to just be in the flow of the moment, so utterly grateful for an opportunity to set foot on African soil again.

Now as I continue to reflect on these past weeks, I am starting to put pieces of a much bigger picture together.  I have decided the universe works in some mysterious ways. It will take a couple of posts over the coming weeks to show what I mean by this.

Let’s start with introducing Carla Geyser, the founder of the Blue Sky Society Trust.  The organiser and leader of our expedition and the brains behind Journeys with Purpose. In 2016 I’d read about the Elephant Ignite Expedition, the first of Carla Geyser’s epic African journeys – an all-female crew travelling 10 000 km through 10 African countries raising money for conservation NGOs, raising awareness for the plight of African wildlife and raising the profile of women working with wildlife.  At the time I wrote in the margin of my journal “blue sky society trust”.  Then life happened.  Fast forward to November 2018 and Carla opens applications for JWP01 May 2019 – fundraising for Elephants Alive and the expedition being to collar elephants in Gilé National Reserve, Mozambique.  Without hesitation I applied.

On 15 March 2019 Cyclone Idai hit the Mozambique coast making landfall at Beira and causing devastation up and the down the coast as well as inland.  JWP01 going ahead in May seemed doomed.  But Carla got straight onto Plan B and JWP01 South eventuated.

I now have the honour of calling Carla a friend and kindred spirit.  Sharing the road with her, Dora and the rest of our small crew was infinitely rewarding and so so much fun.  And that is saying something for this introverted wanderer who travels alone most often.

Dora is Carla’s 22 year old TDi Defender short wheelbase landy well kitted out and beautifully branded with her pink accessories.  She has oodles of character just like proud “mom”, Carla. 

JWP01 South Day 1 – Dora & Charles at OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg

So we couldn’t get to Gilé to help with the elephant collaring project.  But it turns out a new purpose was playing itself out…

And so on a cool, clear May day five adventurous ladies set out on an overland expedition to visit some out of the way places in north eastern South Africa, northern eSwatini and southern Mozambique over 14 days.  Our Journey with Purpose was to immerse ourselves in the African bush to soak up some Mama Africa time…. Oh so good for the soul!

The next 14 days held so many delightful wildlife moments and new landscapes to explore. The mixed bushwillow plains around the Hoedspruit area with its stunning escarpment backdrop providing dramatic vistas at every turn.  The autumn colours of the Mopane bush around the Letaba area in Kruger National Park.  The top of the world rocky outcrops of the Lebombo Mountains in eSwatini.  The coastal plains, undulating grassy dunes and tangled forest of the Maputo Special Reserve in Mozambique.  The clear, blue waters of Maputo Bay edged in mangrove.  We saw so many species – insects, reptiles, birds and of course all the iconic mammals.  Special moments with elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard, spotted hyena, giraffe, zebra, impala, nyala, kudu, hippo, a pod of endangered humpback dolphins and so much more.  I think our leopard count was 5!  The one lion sighting was this lioness up a tree!  For me the rhino sightings were extra special as they are my spirit animal.  I think Cat was okay with our cat count as they are her favourites.  Remke loved the ellies and the monkeys.  And I think Carla and Bella got a kick out of everything wild we saw.  All of us aware of the privilege to encounter this wildlife at all.

A stunning moment with this beauty who took very little notice of us as she went about her day.

I felt so at home travelling with these amazing women from the very beginning.  If I had any trepidation in the lead up to a trip like this it would be how five strangers would get along in such close quarters.  I don’t think that was a problem for us at all.  In fact it was the evening of day 3 and we were sitting round the fire at the end of an incredible day in the bush tracking elephant when I voiced to the group that I felt I was among my tribe.  That evening proved quite profound for me.  A feeling of absolute peace like I haven’t felt since I was a child.  Feeling truly at home and among my tribe.  And all this to the soundtrack of the Fiery-necked Nightjars and the calls of the Black-backed Jackal.  Bliss…

The Tribe from left Remmie, me, Bella, Cat and Carla outside the Elephant Museum, Letaba Camp, Kruger National Park

Period poverty – this is going to get a little personal

I remember my first period really clearly.  I was 11 years old and it was awful.  Even though I knew what was coming, understood its reason biologically – my mother is very pragmatic and we had already had “the talk” – it was still awful.  I had fairly scientific leanings even then and while my rational mind could make sense of the biological function of it all, this pretty early blooming, relatively speaking, made me feel quite defective.  As an introvert I was already struggling with how to be more invisible but somehow this experience made me feel like I had a big, scarlet “P” on my forehead – “she’s a woman now!” – which completely freaked me out. Quite bizarre thinking back on it.

Unfortunately getting my period also signaled the beginning of a 30 year struggle with my body and its hormone functions – a legacy of “woman’s issues” in my family.  Every doctor, naturopath, acupuncturist, chiropractor, endocrinologist visit under the sun.  Countless hours reading everything about women’s’ health and I won’t even hazard a guess at the amount of money spent on these visits, procedures, tests and medication.  Who would want to be a woman?

But I am not sharing any of this really personal stuff to solicit sympathy. No, I am about to utter words of absolute gratitude.  Never once have I had to wonder how I would afford my next pad or tampon or even pairs of underwear ruined by flooding.  Never once have I had to say I will just live with all this pain and agony around that time of the month – there was always a new doctor to try, a new treatment within reach.  Never once did I have to sit in shame, alone thinking I was dirty or unclean.  Never once did I have to face any of the medical stuff alone or keep all this to myself for fear of shaming my family.  Never once did I have to face as a child making the decision not to go to school because of my period or later in life postpone happy travelling adventures because of my period.

I have just watched “Period. End of Sentence” – a 26 minute Netflix doco that brought me to tears.  One thing I know for sure from talking to all sorts of women over the years is there is nothing straight forward about periods.  The documentary highlights what is going on for women in rural India with regard to their periods.  They can’t even talk about it, don’t understand why its happening, have no access to even basic sanitary products never mind trying to navigate pain, complications, disease, hormone imbalance and all the other complexities that often arise around our monthly bleed.  My heart is broken.  And then all I could think was these are disposable pads they’re making! What about the waste, what about the planet!  These women have only just found some empowerment, access to a basic need.  Just in time for others to probably tell they are clogging up landfills with their waste!  My heart is broken again.

In my little bubble of a world the new conversation is all about waste-free managing-your-period alternatives like moon cups, period underwear or reusable cloth pads.  Most of these options come with a hefty price tag.  You would have to approach this with an investment in the future mentality.  While trying to find an option to suit me I came across a New Zealand start up – I am Eva.  Brilliant!  I invested and I am sold – great product!

But no sooner had I started congratulating myself for another little waste free win than I read something that shocked me.  Period poverty is thing.  Right here.  Right in my backyard.  Young girls in New Zealand are missing chunks of school every month because they cannot afford sanitary products!  Even older women working minimum wage jobs are sometimes missing work for the same reason.  This is insane to me in a country like New Zealand.  Thankfully there are amazing things happening out there to try and solve this.  I am Eva is one example – you can buy period underwear on behalf of women and girls who cannot afford this basic need.  Australia has just taken sales tax off sanitary products… perhaps we should be doing the same?

In May I am adventure bound once more – an elephant conservation project in Mozambique.  Part of our plan is to visit village schools along the way with environmental education materials but also reusable cloth pads for girls.  The importance of girls staying in school cannot be overstated, not to mention a little dignity with a side of empowerment.  I am humbled to be a part of this Journey with Purpose and to help in a small way support the work of armswideopen.org.

If after reading this you feel inspired to give, I am asking for donations in support of my expedition in May – for more info click on the link – https://www.givengain.com/ap/a-bit-of-ubuntu/

In my early 40s now I have finally learned to stop fighting my body.  I have learned to find stillness and listen to the sacred rhythms of womanhood.  This may sound weird or airy fairy but it is truth.  Seriously.  And I wouldn’t even consider myself a feminist.  All I can speak to is what I have learned about life from tapping into the wisdom of what makes me feminine – our periods are so much more than biology.  My wish is for us to find a way to lift taboo and allow all girls to tap into their sacred feminine too. And we can’t even consider that if most girls don’t have access to basic sanitary products.